Sommelier Roundtable: What's Your Favorite Winter Pairing?

11 wine pros give us their tips for fireside sipping and holiday feasting
Sommelier Roundtable: What's Your Favorite Winter Pairing?
From Christmas ham to Peking duck and Cabernet to Sherry, here's what the experts are serving this season. (iStockPhoto)
Dec 1, 2017

Winter is a season full of chilly nights indoors and festive holiday parties, and both call for plenty of wine. It's also a time of diverse drinking, from big reds with warm roasts to bubbly for celebratory toasts. You may already have some favorite food-and-wine pairings for the season, but if you want to add to your repertoire, check out what these 11 sommeliers and restaurateurs recommend to keep the good cheer flowing.

Wine Spectator: What's a favorite winter or holiday wine pairing of yours?

Heidi Turzyn, wine director at Best of Award of Excellence winner Gotham Bar & Grill in New York: If you're going to do a traditional turkey dinner with the cranberry, stuffing and dark greens, I would definitely do a cru Beaujolais—I like the Morgons very much. I would [also] do a Burgundy with it, maybe a Marsannay—I really like Denis Mortet Marsanny with a turkey dinner.

Then I really like a roast chicken dinner with a butter-lemon sauce, some carrots and roasted potatoes with a white Burgundy. And if you're going to cook a pot roast, I'd say a red Rhône, because you've got to have a red Rhône in the winter.

Swati Bose, owner and wine director at Best of Award at Excellence winner Flight in Washington, D.C.: I love the Seebrich Niersteiner Oelberg Riesling Spätlese paired with a turkey or ham. It is trocken, or dry, but it has all the lovely aromas and flavors of the late-harvest fruit that pair well with some of the spices that can be used for these meals. For a red, we have been having some fun stepping away from the traditional Pinot Noir and pairing a Nerello Mascalese with these meals—a Benanti Etna Rosso, maybe. For a more affordable option, the Gamay and Pinot Noir blend from Roche de Bellene, Bellenos Cuvée Rouge, is delicious.

For Christmas, we sometimes make a beef stew, in which case we would go with a bigger red. I would change things up a bit here, and instead of drinking a traditionally Old World wine, I would pour the Trellis Red from Boxwood Winery [in Virginia]. I use a similar type of wine in the stew itself. So the flavors match, the wine can hold up to the heartiness of the dish and the tannins in the wine cut through any fat in the meat.

James Yu, owner and wine director at Best of Award at Excellence winner Great China in Berkeley, Calif.: Worldwide, we're known for our Peking duck. Peking duck was such a special dish growing up; it was not an everyday thing. When I had it, it was always so amazing, and it was always the highlight of my meal. When we became known for Peking duck, I thought it should be really special. People are traveling far just to come here and eat Peking duck—wouldn't it be great to have a nice glass of wine with that? A lot of my customers really like to drink Cabernet, and that's fine—the fruit actually stands up really well to the hoisin sauce.

Courtney Olson, wine director at Best of Award of Excellence winner Coi in San Francisco: Fortify from the cold with a little palo cortado Sherry (Bodegas Tradición VORS 30 year is a treat!) and some mature farmhouse Gouda or cheddar at the end of the holiday feast. The nutty and saline character of the palo cortado blends harmoniously with aged, salty cheeses.

Stéphane Vattepain, wine director of D.ream restaurant group in Istanbul, including Best of Award of Excellence winners Vogue and Ulus 29, and Award of Excellence winners Capricorn, Da Mario Etiler, Fenix, Gina, Lacivert, La Petite Maison, Masa, Nusr-Et Steakhouse and Parlé; and Selen Gözen, former sommelier at Vogue and current wine consultant at Somelyer:
SV: I will say the very traditional grilled meat kebab with yogurt, from the old ex–Ottoman Empire countries. In Turkey, it’s something that’s very common, so the base of the kebab is pita bread and cheese, pan-fried and placed at the bottom of an open dish. You take thin slices of lamb leg, spiced; grill that; and you finish cooking it in the oven. You have grilled tomatoes and green pepper, and you roast those. Because you have the yogurt and the grilled meat, it’s a bit tricky to pair because of the lactic side of the yogurt. And so we found something that fits pretty well. It’s something that’s not very lovable; it’s a Turkish grape, Boğazkere.
WS: Why do you say it’s not a lovable grape?
SV: It has a leathery, sandy [consistency], makes medium- to [full]-bodied wines, very, very rough tannins, red to black fruits, a bit spicy, so the good point of it is that it doesn't have too much body. This is a very traditional pairing, and I think pretty well-matched.
SG: The place where the wine and the food is coming from is the same.

Tawanda Marume, sommelier, and Jean Engelbrecht, owner of Best of Award of Excellence winner Rust en Vrede Restaurant in Stellenbosch, South Africa:
TM: One would be our beef fillet. It comes with chestnut puree with smoked potato croquette, and we pair that with our Rust en Vrede Estate Syrah 2012. What I like about that pairing is how the flavors in the dish accent the flavors in the wine, so the smokiness of the wine is put out by the potato croquette, and the toastiness with the chestnut puree, and also the black fruit that works with the beef jus, which is quite meaty.
JE: If I'm going to drink white, it has to be scallops. And otherwise, I like game, especially from an animal called springbok—springbok medallions, which we serve here. I'd like that with red wine. If I drink blended wine, I like Cabernet-based; if I drink single-varietal, personally, I like Syrah.

Brian McClure, beverage director at the Greenbrier resort, including its Best of Award of Excellence–winning Main Dining Room in White Sulphur Springs, W.V.: When you have something kind of sweet or spicy, it's fun to figure out what works with it. We have a dish [at In-Fusion, the resort's Asian fusion restaurant], a Korean barbecue short rib, that has a bit of a sweet aspect to it, but it does have a little kick. So I usually like to come at that with something that has a nice fruitiness. Believe it or not, a Monastrell with it is phenomenal. You could go with a Pinot Noir, but the Monastrell is one of my favorite pairings.

Brahm Callahan, corporate beverage director of Boston-area Himmel Hospitality Group that includes Grand Award winner Grill 23 & Bar and Best of Award of Excellence winners Harvest and Post 390: For me the winter is all about Nebbiolo. There is something haunting about Nebbiolo, and when it is done well, it is so comforting and the absolute pairing for a cold winter day and a bowl of stew or a hearty ragù with pasta.

Virginia Philip, wine director at Grand Award winner HMF and Best of Award of Excellence winner Flagler Steakhouse at the Breakers in Palm Beach, Fla.: My favorite winter pairing is a Gigondas or Châteauneuf-du-Pape and a Tootsie Roll. I know that sounds awful, but I love it! If I'm just wrapping up dinner and there is wine left over and I want something a little sweet—but not too much—I can appease my craving with a small bite.

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