Pairing wine with Christmas

There are so many articles on food and wine pairing leading up to Thanksgiving, telling you what to pair with the myriad array of foods on the table. But then when Christmas comes, not so much.

christmasThe Christmas dinner table seems less about trying to find a wine to pair with the meal and more about finding a wine that really celebrates the season. So instead of picking wines that you can use on your table, I’m giving you wines that taste like Christmas! Ever smelled a wine and thought, this smells like Christmas? Or at least smells like a Christmas candle? All those spices of clove, nutmeg and allspice come shining through…

These are the kinds of wine you like to have in hand as you curl up next to a roaring fire, gaze at your well-decorated tree and enjoy the season.

Argyle Nuthouse Chardonnay – spices of clove and nutmeg make you think, eggnog! This wine is rich but balanced and will have you craving some rum-tinged eggnog after a glass or two.

DeLoach Russian River Estate Pinot Noir 2007 – lots of ripe fruit and sweet spice coming through. A medium-bodied Pinot. This is what I call cocktail wine, though it would hold up to a meal as well. But it really is a perfect wine while hanging by the Christmas tree.

Domaine de Fondreche Cuvee  Nadal 2006 – delicious pepper, cinnamon and clove make this fleshy, ripe and spicy wine perfect for fireside sipping.

Cline Small Berry Mourvedre (or the Ancient Vines Mourvedre) – I love how toasty and Christmas-y this wine is. Careful, this wine can be too easy drinking – it is silky-smooth, full of all that Christmas spice that makes it nice.

So there you have it, the wines that will bring you Christmas, or whatever holiday you may celebrate, to you in a glass. 

Gift of the Season

The roads of Napa Valley are now dotted with wineries at every turn – some grand, some small, some new and some old. Quaint towns with boutique stores, gourmet cafes and Michelin star restaurants are nestled between rows and rows of vines. Hard to believe this area was just agricultural land 30 years ago.

Napa Valley is a destination, and a worthy one at that. Though there is much hype and money surrounding the area, the valley still stands as the gateway to California wine. It is the place that put California – and the US – on the wine map. That all happened 30 plus years ago, in 1976, when Chateau Montelena Chardonnay beat out classic Burgundy wines at a tasting in Paris, a story recently re-told in the movie, Bottle Shock.

Speaking of which… Chateau Montelena is now one of the most respected and revered wineries in Napa. Established in 1882, the winery is known for its beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. This is a stately and classic property to visit, though appointments are required. Which leads us into the purpose of our Tip of the Day – Gift of the Season.

BAOThis year we introduced a new gift called “By Appointment Only.” It’s a new style of gift for us because it includes a unique experience not offered anywhere else. Beyond the three classic wines included in this package, the gift includes an experience, an incredible, one-of-a-kind experience.

With this gift pack, you get three wines:

  • Quintessa
  • Caymus Special Selection
  • Chateau Montelena Estate

    But much more than that, you receive passes for you and up to 3 guests for a VIP tour and tasting at each of the wineries, which are typically closed to the public and are open by appointment only.

    Why is this so special? It really is about the experience. Wines can be bought and consumed anywhere, but the tour, the tasting, the exciting opportunity to visit these historic and classic properties is truly extraordinary. It’s not just a visit. You’ll taste current, past and future releases, including barrel samplings. You’ll receive tours of the vineyard (weather permitting) and winery, with red carpet treatment at every turn. At each visit you will experience history, innovation and passion.’s founder, Mike Osborn, tells you more in this video.



  • Holiday Entertaining Tips and Video

    Mike and I recently had the opportunity to spend some time in the kitchen with Chef Ruth van Waerebeek, the Executive Winery Chef at Concha y Toro in Chile. We tasted some delicious wines and cooked some delectable treats for the holidays.

    Chef Ruth likes to pair her foods to the wine, so the focus is on finding flavor combinations that bring out the best in a wine.

    Check out our videos as we cook with Chef Ruth!

    Recipes, pairings & video:

    Crispy Fried camembert cheese with nut crust
    (Makes 8)


    Pair with Concha y Toro Casillero Del Diablo Carmenere 2008


    8 pieces (4-ounces each) of camembert or Brie cheese
    1/3 cup toasted walnuts
    1/3 cup toasted almonds
    1/3 cup toasted sesame seeds
    2 large eggs
    ¼ cup heavy cream
    Oil for frying
    Quince or guava paste for serving
    Mixed salad greens for serving (opt.)

    Place the cheese in the freezer for 30 minutes.

    In the food processor place the walnuts and almonds and process until coarsely chopped. Transfer to a shallow plate, add the sesame seeds and combine.

    In another shallow plate mix to combine the eggs with the heavy cream. Take the cheese out of the freezer, Dip each piece of cheese in the egg mixture and dredge in the nut mixture, pressing to coat well. Arrange the cheese on a platter, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 45 minutes or up to 6 hrs.

    Before serving, heat the oil in a deep fryer or wok until hot. Add the cheese, a few pieces at the time, and fry, turning once, until browned on both sides, about 4 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining pieces. Serve at once with a slice of quince or guava paste and some mixed greens.


    Chupe de Jaiva (Creole-style crabmeat pie)
    (Makes 6 single servings)

    Pair with Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay 2007

    5 cups stale white bread, crusts removed and cut into small pieces
    1 ½ cups seafood broth (or bottled clam juice), hot
    2 tablespoons canola oil \
    ¾ cup scallions, finely chopped
    ½ red bell pepper, in small dice
    1 medium carrot, coarsely grated
    2 cloves garlic, finely minced
    1 cup corn kernels (defrosted)
    ½ teaspoon dried oregano
    ½ teaspoon paprika powder
    ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
    ½ cup milk (or more)
    1/3 cup heavy cream
    ¾ pound lump crabmeat (picked over)
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
    1 tablespoon spicy red chili sauce, or to taste
    ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese


    altPlace the bread in a large bowl, pour the hot seafood broth or clam juice over it and let soak for 15 min. Crumble and set aside.

    Preheat the oven to 370°F.

    Heat the oil in a large skillet; add scallions and bell pepper and sauté, stirring frequently, for 4 min till soft. Add carrot, garlic, spices and herbs, corn, and reserved soaked bread, and stirring, pour the milk and cream into the mixture. Cook, stirring, 3 minutes longer, (if the mixture is too dry, add a little more milk). Take off the heat and stir in the crabmeat. Season this mixture with salt, pepper and chili sauce to taste and mix to combine. Butter 5 to 6 individual gratin dishes and divide the crabmeat mixture evenly over the prepared dishes. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and bake the hot oven 20 to 25 minutes until nicely.

    A great dish to enjoy with this elegant, well-balanced Chardonnay – the perfect combination between a rich, buttery mouth feel and a refreshing, crisp aftertaste.

    Grilled lamb skewers in merquén marinade,  with a Chilean-style mint salsa
    (Makes 4 servings)

    From the Northern Andean foothills till the Patagonian grasslands, tender lamb is the meat of choice for the “ Parrilla” or Chilean grill, especially when spiced up with the pungent and exquisite merquén mixture, an unique smoked chili pepper mix from the indigenous Mapuche Indians. Served with a refreshing green mint salsa.

    The ideal match for a great Chilean cabernet!

    If merquén is not available you can make your own spice mix based on: mixture of ½ teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika powder ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon ground coriander seeds

    Pair with Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Reserva Privada 2006

    Ingredients for the merquén marinade:
    ½ cup olive oil
    3 tablespoons plain yogurt, preferably whole-milk
    2 tablespoons onion, grated
    2 garlic cloves, finely minced
    1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
    1 tablespoon merquén or other smoked chili pepper mix

    For the skewers:
    1 ½ pounds leg of lamb, deboned and degreased, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
    36 fresh bay leaves
    4 small firm peaches, quartered
    8 12-inch bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes

    For the Chilean-style mint salsa:
    ¼ cup scallions, chopped
    ½ cup fresh mint leaves
    ¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves
    ½ jalapeño pepper, seeds removed
    1 clove garlic
    3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
    1/3 cup canola oil
    ¼ cup cold water
    1 tablespoon sugar
    Salt to taste

    Prepare the marinade; combine all the ingredients for the marinade in a glass oven platter. Add the lamb, mix to combine and let sit for up to 2 hours.

    Prepare the Chilean mint salsa: Put all the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasonings, this salsa should be brimming with flavour. Refrigerate until ready to serve or up to 3-4 days.

    Prepare charcoal, gas or electric grill to medium hot.

    Thread 3 pieces of lamb, 2 quarters of peach and 3 bay leaves loosely on each skewer. Lightly oil grill rack. Grill skewers, turning occasionally, until just cooked through, 10-15 minutes. Serve with mint salsa.

    And how does it all taste? Mike and I taste through what we’ve cooked with the wine pairings.

    Wines to have on hand for unexpected gifts and guests

    260x135_HOLbottlestogiveWhen it comes to unexpected gifts, a bottle of wine is an easy – yet thoughtful – way to go. It’s a good idea to have a few on hand for when you need a quick gift. For unexpected guests, you’ll want some wine to serve, whether it’s a couple of friends who stop in on their way to dinner, in-laws staying the night or neighbors stopping by.

    Here are a few wines to have on hand and what they are best used for! Oh, and today only, 15% off 12 or more bottles, so stock up on them today!

    Unexpected Guests

    Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs – Your go-to aperitif – Under $20
    A perfect bubbly to pull out if you want something sparkling for your aperitif. This often happens in our home – we are about to start getting ready for dinner and then think, should we start with some bubbly? But then move on to the question, do we have any bubbly? Try this wine! It is rich and fuller-bodied, a great wine to start the night or pair with appetizers.

    Oregon Pinot Gris – The perfect white wine for aperitif and dinner – most under $20
    Yes, a bit of a broad statement, but I think having a couple bottles of Oregon Pinot Gris in your cellar or wine cabinet is the perfect solution for any dinner party. Not only does it make a great aperitif to sip before a meal, it is delightfully food friendly for a starter course or for that guest who only drinks white wine. Versatile. A few great producers are Benton Lane, Elk Cove, King Estate, Adelsheim and Eyrie.

    Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 – Your dinner red – $25
    A favorite Cabernet Sauvignon, showing what Cabs are like from Sonoma Valley. Great mint and herbs on the nose, with other spices and black fruit and cassis. Palate is structured, great acid and tannins balancing out lovely herbal and fruit tones. Great finish. A perfect dinner wine as it is not too heavy.

    d’Arenberg Stump Jump Shiraz – Your whenever red – about $10
    Need a red to pull out for drinks, dinner or a party? This is the one to have on hand. Ripe and expressive and just plain old easy-drinking. A wine to have on hand all year round.

    Unexpected Gifts

    Gosset Grand Reserve – For the classic gift of Champange – $60
    A delicious NV Champagne, this wine is rich and creamy, with toast and biscuit notes backed by crisp acidity. Long, lingering finish. $59.99

    Anaba Chardonnay 2006 – For the white wine lover – $25
    This is one of my favorite new finds. I love this Chardonnay – it is crisp & complex with delicious layers of fruit and subtle oak. It will make you re-discover quality Chardonnay. Perfect wine to give as a gift to any white wine lover, or for a nice sit down dinner.

    Club Claret Collection – for the Bordeaux or old world wine lover
    This is a fantastic collection of approachable, affordable Bordeaux, hand-picked by Master of Wine, Anthony Foster. Ranging from $13 – $20, there is a wine in here for everyone on your list. My two favorites are the Château Bel Air La Chapelle Fut de Chene 2005  and the Château St Nicolas Premiere Cotes de Bordeaux 2006. The former is well balanced all around with great fruit and spice and length, the latter is a bit more rustic with a lovely earthy component.

    Kathryn Hall 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon – For the big & bold classic red wine lover – $75
    One of our favorite collectible Cabernet Sauvignon… this wine is delicious. Intense, concentrated, balanced… For the person who loves big, ripe, rich California Cabernet, this is the wine for them.

    Grape-Region Decoder Ring

    A colleague of mine was recently in a Spanish restaurant where she was presented with a simple wine list, about 10 whites and 10 reds, but not one wine was recognizable. Everything was lowercase print and it was not clear what was the italygrape or the region or the producer… Confusing to say the least. And while a lovely wine steward helped her select a nice wine to try, that kind of menu can be frustrating, even with only 20 wines. To help on that end, here is a quick cheat sheet on grapes & regions from Spain and Italy (since these are often the ones that have the more confusing indigenous grape varieties to stump us).

    White Wines

    What you might see

    What is it?

    What’s it taste like?


    A region in northwest Spain, Rueda produces white wines made from the Verdejo grape, occasionally with some Sauvignon Blanc blended in.

    Crisp, dry, refreshing, with an almost herbaceous character. Good citrus and mineral aromas and flavors. If you like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, you will probably enjoy Rueda.


    A grape from the Galacia region of Spain – Rias Baixas to be exact.

    Makes a delicious aromatic wine, with floral and tropical fruit notes. Very crisp acidity balances this wine out – a perfect match for seafood.


    A white grape grown in Southern Italy.

    Apple and bananas. Not really taste like that, but can have great tropical fruit aromas and flavors, but not too heavy. A good medium-body wine.


    A grape from Piedmont region of Italy.

    Floral and nutty, with stone fruits like apples and pears as well. Crisp, medium-bodied. This is a very cool variety and goes with lots of foods.


    What you might see

    What is it?

    What’s it taste like?


    A red grape from Spain, also known as Mourvedre in France and most other wine-producing regions. Monestrell wines usually come from Jumilla, Yecla or other regions in Spain.

    Often from old-vines, Monestrell makes wines with concentrated ripe black fruit and spice. Typically rich and intense, occasionally “jammy”


    A region just south of Barcelona in Spain, producing wines from old-vine Carignan and Garnacha in sandy soils

    Very concentrated and intense, Priorat can have structured tannins with concentrated fruit. Some bottles are collectibles and age-worthy.


    Barbera is a grape that actually makes it onto the label of the wine. Barbera d’Asti or Barbera d’Alba are the most popular.

    Barbera is a light bodied grape with lots of great fruit and acid – excellent food wine! Think pasta with red sauce.


    It’s Zinfandel! Same grape DNA, but different name when it comes from Italy.

    Also has a different flavor profile. Primitivo is not as concentrated and dense as some California Zinfandel. More rustic spice going on. But great fruit as well.

    Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

    Montepulciano is the GRAPE here, Abruzzo is the region

    Lots of ripe fruit and easy drinking. These are very approachable wines.

    Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

    Montepulciano is the REGION here and the grape is Sangiovese, which is the noble grape (vino nobile) of the region.

    Similar to Chianti. Sangiovese-based Tuscan red with good acid, cherry fruits and dusty tannins.

    We’ll follow up to this segment next month so let us know what other grapes and regions cause confusion!

    The Official Blog