Sommelier Roundtable: Favorite Extravagant Pairings

Just in time for the holidays, seven wine experts from Restaurant Award winners suggest splurge-worthy matches fit for celebrations

Sommelier Roundtable: Favorite Extravagant Pairings
Nothing fits the festive spirit of the holiday season like an ultra-luxe pairing such as caviar and Champagne. (Lisovskaya/Getty Images)
Dec 15, 2021

Wine-and-food lovers know that the perfect pairing can be a truly mind-blowing experience, one that elevates any occasion or becomes a memorable event in and of itself. Sometimes that comes at a high cost, but one thing’s for sure: If you’re going to splurge, the results should be worth it.

For some inspiration this holiday season, seven sommeliers from Wine Spectator Restaurant Award winners share their most-beloved extravagant wine-and-food matches, from classics like caviar and Champagne and Wagyu with Cabernet Sauvignon to some pairings that might surprise you. See what they suggest to go big at your next celebration, or to simply get swept up in the fantasy of enjoying all these oh-so-lavish picks.


Wine Spectator: What are your favorite extravagant food-and-wine pairings?


Karen Barger, owner and wine director at Best of Award of Excellence winner Seasons of Durango in Durango, Colo.

Oak-grilled Wagyu beef with rosemary potatoes, served with Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon from Columbia Valley. Wintertime makes me think of heartier dishes, and Wagyu beef tends to be luxurious and tender. The complement of a Washington Cabernet, with softer tannins and herbal and spice flavors, provides harmony on the palate. Some freshly cracked pepper on top of the steak mixes well with the darker fruits and amazing structure of the wine.


Juan Pablo Escobar, beverage director at Best of Award of Excellence winner Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca in New York

During the holiday season, Babbo is all about Alba white truffles. In that case, my ideal extravagant dish would be a classic in Piemonte and here at the restaurant: brasato al Barolo with white-truffle polenta and shaved white truffles.

It's a beautiful braised short rib set atop a bed of whipped white-truffle polenta, and the extra truffle shave adds a really nice aromatic experience to the dish. The bold flavors of the brasato need a wine that can match its intensity, so I would have to pair that with a wine like Cappellano Piè Franco Barolo 1998. The fact that this wine comes from original rootstocks means it delivers a concentration and structure on a whole different level for the wines of Serralunga d'Alba. The intense flavors of the brasato and the wine make this a harmonious and borderline-emotional pairing.


Ali Yakich, wine director at Grand Award winner Flagstaff House Restaurant in Boulder, Colo.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc is amazing as an aperitif or to start the night with. Domaine du Pégaü is my favorite. But the most luxurious [pairing] would be Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée St.-Vivant with mushrooms and truffles. It’s to die for.


Zach Bingham, assistant wine director at Best of Award of Excellence winner the Cave Bistro & Wine Bar in Naples, Fla.

We recently hosted a wine dinner with Scott Roughgarden, a representative from the importer for Daniele Conterno, grandson of Giacomo Conterno. Daniele’s top-line release, his sensational Sette Anni Barolo, is a Barolo that—through dedicated patience and unparalleled commitment to quality—drinks absolutely perfectly upon its initial release; and yet it still carries that hallmark age-worthiness of decades in the making.

What is truly unique about this wine, though, is that Scott has recently been traveling around the United States hosting dinner experiences that pair the Daniele Conterno wines with, of all things, sushi. And the more we discussed it, the more we realized, these two elements are truly made for each other: Balanced minerality, vibrant umami flavors, layers upon layers of textures. For me, a small amuse bouche of raw uni on grilled brioche, a kiss of white truffle oil and a rich sesame reduction glazed over top simultaneously puts Barolo in a whole new class of wine pairing and gives the Sette Anni’s age the spotlight it deserves.


Marcello Cancelli, wine director at Boka Restaurant Group in Chicago, which includes Best of Award of Excellence winner Swift & Sons

Lots of ossetra caviar and Salon Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne Le Mesnil (perfection as a food and wine match), and a foie gras terrine with a well-aged Château d'Yquem. Beyond the obvious, wild venison rack simply roasted with huckleberries, paired with Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage from France’s Northern Rhône region; turbot in lobster-butter sauce with Joseph Drouhin Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche from Burgundy. And one more: Truffled tagliatelle with hare and Bartolo Mascarello Barolo.


Paola Embry, CEO and wine director of The Wrigley Mansion and Best of Award of Excellence winner Geordie's in Phoenix, Ariz.

I really look forward to the fall and winter months of October through January for white truffle season. It’s the time of year when I feast on a plate of creamy Parmesan al dente risotto with thin shavings of white truffles. Try it with an older vintage Champagne! Older Champagne (such as Krug or Bollinger R.D., at least 18 years old) takes on a beautiful umami richness, earthy mushroom and truffle aromas which makes it the perfect match for a dish like this.


Sanae Halprin, sommelier at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas, which includes seven Restaurant Award winners such as Grand Award winner Piccaso

I enjoy sushi items like uni and ikura. High-quality Champagne like Krug with gentle saltiness from the ocean and a touch of well-crafted Japanese soy sauce makes me very happy!


Want to stay up on the latest news and incisive features about the world's best restaurants for wine? Sign up now for our free Private Guide to Dining email newsletter, delivered every other week. Plus, follow us on Twitter at @WSRestoAwards and Instagram at @WSRestaurantAwards.

People restaurant-awards sommelier-service

You Might Also Like

Legends of California Chardonnay

Legends of California Chardonnay

Winemakers who raised the bar for the Golden State’s star white grape

Jul 31, 2022
Under the Umbrian Sun

Under the Umbrian Sun

A son of old Napa relocates to an underrated corner of Italy

Jun 24, 2022
Chardonnay for the People

Chardonnay for the People

How Kendall-Jackson propelled America's favorite white wine

Jul 31, 2022
The Two Gentlemen Behind Napa's Gentleman Farmer

The Two Gentlemen Behind Napa's Gentleman Farmer

Joe Wolosz and Jeff Durham started their winery because they love hospitality, whether it's …

Jun 17, 2022
Sommelier Roundtable: Restaurant Guests Behaving Badly

Sommelier Roundtable: Restaurant Guests Behaving Badly

7 wine directors share their “worst customer ever” stories

Jun 10, 2022
The Rising Stars of Greco di Tufo

The Rising Stars of Greco di Tufo

Petilia’s founders champion a great Southern Italian white—and small farmers’ role in the …

Jun 7, 2022