Six Pros Share Their Holiday Wine & Food Pairings

Food & Drink

The Omicron variant of the coronavirus might alter many December celebrations (after 22 months of pivoting, we’ve got this, right?), but for those who still want to raise a glass—be it at home or in a friends-and-family pod—here are some picks from the pros.

Ashley Rawlinson, founder and owner of HERitage Wines, a lifestyle consultancy in the Raleigh-Durham area that focuses on women of color, recommends Fritz Windisch Niersteiner Spiegelberg Riesling Kabinett from German’s Rheinhessen region for an all-purpose home-entertaining wine

“This holiday I am making this a house staple because it is a wine that my sweet-wine loving guests would adore and a wine that my dry-wine drinkers would appreciate,” she said. Medium bodied and off-dry, she describes the wine as “bursting with tree fruit flavors (apple, peaches and pears)” while featuring the grape’s trademark high acidity.

“I am pairing this with my Cajun Crab Dip, before the big meal starts. This way I can get started sipping before all the guests arrive and [it] keeps me sane while I finish cooking for my large family.” she says. The Kabinett style, she says, offsets the spice in the dip while amplifying the fruit flavors of the wine. And, it moves through the courses, all the way to her banana pudding dessert. “The light and not too overly sweet dessert will not overpower my semi-sweet wine and the wine will also not upstage the dessert,” she says. “That’s one thing I love about Riesling, it’s good for any occasion and will pair with almost anything.” 

Celene Santiago, who while not working as a private chef, is the operations coordinator at Kitty’s Market, a food and wine retailer in Hudson New York, plans to make Bacalao con Vianda, a traditional Puerto Rican dish of salt cod and root vegetables. “It’s one of my favorite dishes to make for the holidays,” she says. Top of her list pairing for pairing is Davide Spillare Crestan Garganega 2018, form Italy’s Veneto region. “Medium bodied with some [saline] and an herbal finish, it pairs well with the richness of Bacalao con Vianda.” 

“I’m very much into Italian reds these days,” says sommelier Carrie Lyn Strong, founder of Strong Wine Consulting and business development manager at Sommation, an online collective for the hospitality industry. And, she says, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo are her current staples.

“[They] make great pairings for different reasons: Sangiovese can be bold yet elegant and regal, while Nebbiolo’s amazing acidity and tannins dance with rich holiday dishes,” she said. Looking to her family recipes, she says the Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, “with ripe cherry, pomegranate, violet, Mediterranean herbs, sings with my Greek family recipe for our salty, earthy, buttery and cheesy Spanikopita.” On the Swedish side, she says, her grandfather’s creamy-dill meatball stroganoff will call for a Piedmont Nebbiolo, which “elevates the savory meat flavors and streamline the richness in the dish so you can fill your tummy to fit that Santa suit!” Strong’s producer picks: Vietti, GD Vajra, Massolino or Pio Cesare.

Hai Tran, a Cary, North Carolina-based sommelier in the Sommation community, says if you’re thinking of duck, lamb or a honey-baked ham, Chile has the answer: J. Bouchon’s País Salvaje 2018 (red).

“It’s a wine that has an amazing story that I look forward to sharing with family and friends,” he said, noting that País—the first grape variety planted in the Americas—has a history in Chile spanning nearly 300 years.  “This particular example is quite unique in that they [vines] have gone wild, leaving their fine rows and thriving in a thicket of woods entwined amongst the trees in such a way that to harvest this wild País, workers must climb a ladder into the overhead canopy,” Tran explains. “This is a wine that has the flexibility to pair with a lot of the traditional dishes you find during the holidays, but also for those of us that might go in a different route. He says Bouchon’s version is up to the task with juicy fruitiness, mouth-watering acidity and firm but not aggressive tannic structure. There is a savoriness and spiciness on the palate that underlines the umami rich notes of this wine to highlight what you will find on my holiday table.”

Also from the Tar Heel state, Trevor Wood, general manager for Aria Tuscan Grill and the Cicchetti wine bar and shop in Charlotte, calls out a food-friendly red from France. “One of my favorite holiday wines is Gamay, preferably Beaujolais Cru or Villages, or from Loire Valley,” he says. “The bright, candied red fruits such as raspberry, cranberry and cherry really speak to the season. The grape’s soft tannins “pair well with lean turkey and salty ham and the acidity cuts the richness of gravy”— even starchy sides such as macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes. “Gamay is approachable enough for even the novice wine drinkers at the table,” he says.

New York City sommelier Doreen Winkler, founder of the Orange Glou wine club and a retail shop, says amber-colored wines “make for amazingly versatile holiday pairings.”

“For a party with snacks and bites or your appetizer course, I recommend the Grawü Gewürztraminer from Alto Adige,” she says, noting it extended skin contact (90 days), results in both a full body and a rich minerality. “The texture and minerality perfectly complement the rich flavor of classic pork crown roast, which I am making this year.” Winkler’s recipe involved seasoning the pork overnight with salt, pepper, fennel, paprika and allspice, and serving it with glazed carrots, roasted apples and onions and a celery/potato mash.

For Dallas sommelier Tiffany Tobey’s signature ham, Zinfandel is the way to go. “I am planning to slow cook a spiral ham with a thick glaze of orange juice, honey, cloves, brown sugar, and pineapples pinned all over. A perfect combination for the zing of a glaze on such a flavorful meat is a nice juicy Zinfandel from California Central Coast with plenty of acid and rich dark fruit. I’ll use drippings and some zin to make a thick gravy to put over potatoes, stuffing, everything… and the wine will tie it all together.”

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