It’s the most wonderful time of the year — time to round up family and friends and gather in a warm kitchen around the stove, fridge and oven, where delicious appetizers, main courses and wines can be found.
What “makes” your holiday? For me, it’s both the wines and the foods, thoughtfully paired. My Christmas dinner started with two local sparkling wines and ended with a magnum of pinot noir.
I recently emailed seven winemakers for their thoughts on holiday foods and wines, and each responded in detail, sharing answers to my three questions:
» Every family has a tradition regarding holiday foods. What is yours? As you grew up and realized the joys of pairing wine with holiday foods, how did you experiment? What were/are your successes?
» Feel free to use your own wines when describing your successes, both in the past and for this year. Or, share a favorite from a go-to colleague.
» Describe what the tradition of holiday food and wine means to you and yours.
Tara Gomez, winemaker and co-winemaker/co-owner with her wife, Mireia Taribó Tena, of Camins 2 Dreams Wines; Ernst Storm, winemaker/owner of Storm Wines and a consulting winemaker; Laura Roach, winemaker/owner of Loubud Wines and assistant winemaker at Sanford Winery; Andrew Solt and Claudia Falkenburg, owners of Rancho Boa Vista in Ballard Canyon; Karen Steinwachs, general manager/winemaker at Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard and winemaker/owner of Seagrape Wine; and James Sparks, winemaker/co-owner with his wife, Anna Ferguson-Sparks, of Kings Carey Wines and winemaker of Liquid Farm Wine.
“We try to keep it fun and simple around the holidays and a little more traditional on Christmas Day. Our families are big wine drinkers, so with two winemakers in the family, there is always a lot of options. (Storm’s brother, Hannes, also a longtime winemaker, launched Storm Wines-South Africa in 2012.)
“We typically don’t overthink pairings but always try to start with fresher white wines and then progress to pinot, then syrah or cabernet sauvignon as the food gets richer.
“You can never go wrong with a classically styled pinot noir and turkey on Christmas Day. The cranberry sauce plays right into those fresh red-fruit aromas and flavors that you get from wines like the pinot noirs from Storm or Chanin Wines. Some favorites of mine are the 2018 Santa Ynez Valley Storm Sauvignon Blanc, which is perfect for the pre-game and can be enjoyed with all appetizers or on its own. The 2016 Storm Pinot Noir, John Sebastiano Vineyard, pairs perfect with the traditional Christmas dinner. We always try to drink both local and imported wine to keep things interesting.”
Tara Gomez and Mireia Taribó Tena:
“With our family in Catalunya, we normally celebrate Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and also the 26th (which is a day off for us, too). One of our traditions for Christmas Eve includes a light dinner, an appetizer, cheese and charcuterie, or some seafood that we normally pair with a cava or champagne.
“For Christmas Day, our family always meets for lunch, as it’s the main meal of the day. It is really common to have ‘Escudella i Carn d’olla,’ which is a broth/soup with all the meat that you use to cook the broth, and then we add large pasta shells. It is a really simple meal but really typical in Catalunya during winter. As an entrée, we generally have roasted chicken with prunes and dried apricots. The leftovers from Christmas are traditionally used the next day (on the 26th) to make canelons (rolled pasta filled with roasted meat). Of course, there’s also a ton of sweets like turrons, polvorons and neules.
“It is difficult to pair all these dishes with the same wine, so we like to drink sparkling — a brut or brut nature-aged for some years — from the beginning to the end. The nutty flavors from an aged sparkling (champagne or cava) and the brightness form the acidity, and bubbles are the best match when you are having so many different flavors.
“Here in California for Christmas Eve. we like to feast on fresh-made beef and chicken tamales that some of our family members make. We pair those with Camins 2 Dreams’ rosé of syrah or reds such as Kitá’s pinot noir or grenache. For Christmas Day, we love to make a dry-rubbed prime rib with rosemary, potatoes and a green bean casserole. We like to start with sparkling wine and then move to reds such as Camins 2 Dreams’ syrah and Kitá’s cabernet sauvignon.
“Our family loves dessert, and we always end up with more dessert than the main meal. With this, we will for sure open a bottle of Camins 2 Dreams’ first pet-nat, made with grüner veltliner. We only made 40 bottles of this sparkling, and we hope to release it soon.”
Mireia: “For me, being born and raised in Spain, food and wine always go together. In our culture, it is customary to drink wine during the meals, and if we add holidays and family to the equation, we have the perfect pairing.
“We are both really family-oriented, and we love to have our family over at our house for lunch or dinner for the holidays. It is great to be able to share our wines with them since they are our support group, helping at the winery, tasting room, harvest or bottling.
Tara: “We love to always host our family during all the holidays, but when it comes to the fall holidays, it means so much more. Maybe it’s because it’s a sign that we are getting to the end of the year, or maybe it’s because the holidays generally mean the end of harvest and we can finally take a break after a hard-worked year. Regardless, we love sharing our wine with food, especially with the family who helped make it and enjoy the fruits of our labor and our labor of love.”
“For our family, we like to enjoy Cornish pasties for Christmas Eve dinner. This is a tradition that followed my dad’s grandma, whose heritage stems from Cornwall, England. A staple for the table is malt vinegar, used to dress the buttery crust, which is filled with steak, onions and potatoes. For pasties, we found them deserving of a hearty red wine, such as a Napa cabernet sauvignon.
“Most of my pairing ideas came from my wine classes at UC Davis, but were also supported by my years traveling and working in different wine regions around the world. During these travels, I made a point to fill up my backpack with wines from everywhere. Over the years, we’ve experimented with different wines for our holiday table, but a sure-fire win is always sparkling wine because it pairs with everything — especially bacon, eggs and cinnamon rolls in the morning! More recently, we’ve been privy to opening up the traditional method sparklings I make in Santa Ynez Valley — both for Loubud and Sanford.
“Since I live 400 miles away from most of my family, the holidays and the traditions that surround our dinner table are very important to me. This is an opportunity for us to enjoy each other’s company, feast to our hearts’ content and find solace from the pressures of everyday life. Wine encourages our conversation, and the conversation encourages the wine.”
Andrew Solt and Claudia Falkenburg:
“Every year on Christmas Day, we have our family over at the vineyard for lunch. We do buffet style, with an array of make-your-own sandwich options — turkey, smoked salmon, honey-baked ham, a variety of cheeses, salads, and my daughter Dakota’s savory jams and pickled onions. We love pairing this meal with our light Grenache blanc and Claudia’s rosé. It’s the perfect combination for lunch, as both of these RBV wines have fruity undertones and a crisp finish.
“One year we traveled to Mammoth to go skiing, and there was a snow storm on our drive home on Christmas Day. We couldn’t get back in time, and ate potato chips at a gas station. That was one of our favorite Christmas experiences! An unexpected disaster turned fun and memorable.
“Since our fateful Mammoth trip, we’ve spent our Christmas holidays at the vineyard. We’re so grateful to still have Claudia’s mother and father, who are both in their 90s, with us. It’s important to share our Christmas traditions with them. Our lunch has become the main event, but we do like to ‘bury the bones,’ as Claudia puts it, which means to eat all the leftovers for Christmas dinner. This meal usually consists of roasted rosemary chicken, fingerling potatoes and either asparagus or broccolini prepared by Dakota. Our 2016 Syrah or 2017 Syrahvá (Syrah + Petite Syrah blend) is our go-to for Christmas dinner.”
“As you know, James has dabbled in baking in both a recent past-life (his Another Bread Co.) and much longer ago, when he still resided in Idaho. As part of this, he’s always been partial to creating baked goods, and now that he’s in the wine industry, he’s found a sort of ideal, celebratory pairing. One of the things that he loves to break out for holiday gatherings, especially for New Year’s Eve, are his gougères. The sharpness in the cheese incorporated in these airy, cheese-puff, mini-souffle-like, savory pastries pairs fabulously with Liquid Farm chardonnays — either Golden Slope or White Hill would be our recommendation.
“And for Kings Carey, I insist on making fresh cranberries every Thanksgiving and Christmas, no matter where we spend those holidays. This holiday side dish heightens the dried fruit notes in Kings Carey Grenache, which also pairs well with other, traditional holiday entrees like turkeys and hams.
“For us, holiday foods are something which should be looked forward to year ’round — or at least, until that special season arrives. As for holiday wines, this season provides the best excuse to break out those special bottles which have been sitting in the cellar or fridge, to enjoy in the company of friends and family at the most merry of times.”
“My family really wasn’t much into food, and I don’t remember there being wine. Christmas dinner was usually with the grandparents, and simply a repeat of Thanksgiving dinner (turkey, etc.) — delicious and totally enjoyable with all being together around the table, but wine-less.
“Today, that would be all about rosé. When I joined my late husband’s family in England for Christmas, the day was an immense feast from morning to night, and then Boxing Day came the following day. That’s when I learned the joy of a roast with Yorkshire puddings and a good claret. Now, making a Yorkshire pudding is a real art, and to be honest I’m still trying to get it right. The challenge, too, is that the weather here isn’t miserable enough! Roast beef and Yorkshire pud needs cold, dreary, stay-inside weather to huddle in the kitchen and then enjoy the feast with a good, hearty red Bordeaux. Yes, I took ‘coals to Newcastle’ in that our (Buttonwood) Bordeaux blend, Trevin, often made the trip.
“I have adopted the English side of the family’s tradition of sparkling wine with breakfast and gift opening. And although a PetNat is fun, Christmas morning requires methode champenoise — our Buttonwood Blanc de Noirs is the perfect candidate. Or, get some champagne before tariffs, and support our French colleagues!
“In my family, the German ancestry did come out for New Year’s Day. One must have pork and sauerkraut for good luck in the coming year. I’ve experimented with the pork n’ kraut over the years, and like it slow cooked with apples. A little bit challenging for wine pairing, but I must say — my Seagrape Gewurztraminer works beautifully with it. The aromatics can hold up to the ‘bouquet’ from the sauerkraut and the acidic profile of the wine (it’s dry) work in tandem with those of the kraut and apples. It’s a tough one to think of pairing, but this really works!
“What I really love is the different ethnic traditions of food (and therefore wine) during this time of year. We all actually take the time to create the traditional dishes (Feast of Seven Fishes, tamales, aebelskivers) and then sit together around the table (no politics!). And those special-occasion wines often come out — that bottle being saved for a special occasion, mulled wine for cold evenings around the fire, sherry before dinner with the elders.
“This year, perhaps for the first time ever, I’ll be staying home for Christmas. Just me and my fiancée (and the cats), and we’ll be in the kitchen. Perhaps new traditions will be created — we might just go cook up a few lobsters as we sit on the Ocean Pearl (our fishing boat) in the harbor and watch the world go by.”