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Leave the Milk & Cookies to Santa: Holiday Wine & Food Pairings from our Wine Director

December 12, 2012
Kirsty Gumina

Looking to eat, drink and be merry this holiday season? In the spirit
of the upcoming winter celebrations, we have asked our in-house wine director and former executive chef, Peter Koenig, to share his recommendations on festive food and wine pairings.

As the aromas of cooking fill our homes, we often ponder what wines should accompany our meals. Full bodied red wines can be expected to pair favorably with many traditional holiday meals of hearty roast meats. Cabernet Sauvignons marry well with beef or lamb dishes, while Peter suggests pairing Syrahs or Zinfandels with sweeter meats, such as a honey glazed ham. For fowl dishes we enjoy the lighter notes of wines like Pinot Noirs. Peter particularly recommends those Pinots hailing from the Santa Lucia Mountains, such as the Pisoni Pinot or the Paraiso Pinot Noir, if you enjoy something with more heft. Peter also favors the Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a fiery and spicy Rhone blend that would make even Jack Frost feel toasty.

While red wines often steal the savory show, white wines are the standouts when pairing with desserts. To accompany traditional fruit pies and fruit compotes, open a bottle of late harvest Riesling, Gerwürztraminer, or even Sauvignon Blanc. For something semi-dry and not too sweet, try the Johannisberg Riesling and partner it with a bread pudding for a particularly harmonious and delicious dessert course. Fruit distills are also excellent accompaniments to ice cream dishes. Sprinkle some Kirschwasser, William Pear, or peach distills over a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream for a simple, yet flavorful sweet treat.

Born and raised in Switzerland, Peter fondly recalls Christmas memories of chestnuts roasting on open fires out on the streets and enjoying a complementary young Pinot Noir or Beaujoulais. Another personal holiday favorite that reminds Peter of home, and is easy enough to create in any kitchen, is Gluehwein. A spiced wine similar to hot cider, Gluehwein is a concoction of a hearty red wine, sugar, lemon peels, cloves, and cinnamon sticks that is boiled for a couple of minutes and then strained creating a steaming, delicious drink that will keep the chills of a foggy San Francisco night at bay. (See Peter’s full Gluehwein recipe below.)

As much as we enjoy a nice glass of wine, we think nothing gets you into the holiday spirit like bubbles. Kick off your festivities with a sparkling Rosé such as Peter’s favorite, Blanc de Noir. Another tried and true holiday beverage, what else says Christmas like a cup of Eggnog? Peter likes his made with Rendezvous Rye Whiskey or Bulleitt 95.

If you aren’t entertaining this holiday season, the above wines and spirits also make great gifts for the wine and cocktail lovers on your gift list.

For more information about Peter, please visit his bio on our website:

Peter’s Gluehwein Recipe
1 liter hefty red wine (Peter suggests a Merlot, Cabernet or a spicy Syrah. The key is a good and inexpensive table wine.)
2 cups sugar
3 cinnamon sticks
10 whole cloves
Zest of one whole lemon
Combine all ingredients in a pot and boil for two minutes. Strain before serving. This recipe makes 6 – 6 ounce servings. Share with those around you and enjoy!

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