By Rick Riozza

I woke up today with an incredible appetite; felt like a bear after hibernating.  What’s up with that!  I guess all the Thanksgiving table and fanfare has simply ushered me into the gastronomic ethos, for which there is no escape until we are well into the New Year 2017 A.D.

Indeed, mentioning the term “dieting” during this time period not only sounds rude and politically incorrect, but borders on uncivilized.  And since I’ve been receiving many email requests for suggested holiday food and wine pairings, let’s allow my cuisine craving desires to fuel this article with some culinary lessons I’ve learned eating and reeling through the years.

I don’t see any particular rhyme nor reason to be methodical with first, second, third course dishes, so why not think of the first thing to come to mind and see what wine idea follows: bon appétit & cheers!

Smokey Glazed Ham with Red Pepper Jelly: Now I’m not a big sweet food enthusiast—I usually huddle to sour, salty, and savory; but baby it’s cold outside and there’s nothing more comforting than a big baked ham staring me in the face.  The sauce recipe is “easy game-day execution” that can be prepared a day or two in advance.  The sweet-sticky glaze of Dr. Pepper, wine, sugar, honey, vinegar, onion, ginger, peppercorns and chilies all brought to a boil and lathered on the baking ham is the bomb!


And, I’m dreaming of a red pinot wine:  Oregon Pinot Noir tends to be spicy and berry-rich—great with the flavorful ham.  Willamette [will-LAM-et] Valley wines are somewhat a bridge between true French Burgundian complex-style and the California fruit forward vino. Kudos to Kudo’s Oregon Pinot Noir at only $13.99, everyone’s happy with this pairing!

Herbed Pork Rib Roast: Such a versatile cut of pork, it can be sliced into chops and cooked individually or roasted whole and carved at the table. Simple enough to blend sliced garlic with the olive oil, thyme and rosemary. Rub the herb paste all over the pork roast and let stand at room temperature for 2 hours or refrigerate overnight. Just thinking of this dish brings to mind LA’s venerable “Phillipe’s Restaurant with their “double-dip” pork sandwiches.  (Can you tell I’m a bit hungry?)

Let’s shake things up a bit and think first of a white wine to go with the pork.  A creamy Chardonnay with tasty hints of fruit and oak can shake you from that limiting ABC attitude (i.e., anything but chardonnay) when properly paired with this scrumptious pork dish.  I know there are many Rombauer and La Crema fans out there—but may I suggest the River Road Russian River Chardonnay Reserve at only $16.99 a bottle.  It’s vibrant, with a hint of vanilla and bright fresh pear flavors in a full-bodied format, with a long clean finish.

As for a red wine, always think of a light-bodied Beaujolais-Village, with its lip-smacking tangy wild raspberry and strawberry notes surrounded with savory spices.  Move up to a Cru Beaujolais for a bit more age and complexity.  We enjoyed a 2012 Morgon at Thanksgiving: ‘twas the consummate holiday red.

For you diners who are embracing “retro dishes”, I swoon at the thought of a well-made cheese soufflé: puffed high and golden brown, with its center still a molten sauce. Google a good recipe for certain, but I do know they require the best eggs and cheese, and, no one’s scoffing at adding a touch of truffle.  Using Gruyère is the classic, but also adding Parmigiano-Reggiamo to the mix is deliciously decadent!

One reason for suggesting the soufflé, is the fact that you readers consistently bring up the fact that I never recommend your favorite wine: Pinot Grigio.  But check this out: I can’t think of a better wine than the white-peach nuanced pinot grige to pair with such a rich dish.  Santa Margherita is always popular, but I’m recommending the Tesoro della Regina Pinot Grigio at only $14.99.  Along with crisp peach and apple notes, the Tesoro carries fresh orchard blossoms and minerality that moves and energizes the soufflé to soft splendor.

Well—I’ve done it.  I can’t get cheese and eggs out of my frame of mind.  So let’s talk about a Spaghetti alla Carbonara dish that’s a great cold weather dish, easy to prepare, and makes for great entertaining during the holidays. This unassuming presentation of pasta, eggs, pancetta and black pepper fills the mouth with comfort and flavor. 

The wine pairing here is simple: Sangiovese!  Either by way of a Chianti or a Toscana red, this bright fruity wine with earthy and sanguine notes brings out the fabulous savors of the dish that’s served happily at breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Mangiamo! Tutti!

Of course, when coming to a table that’s yet to be dressed, or, when a panoply of  surprise dishes are presented, our go-to wine is always the welcomed Brut Rosé Champagne or sparkler that matches with pretty much everything culinary, and, simply wonderful chilled-up by itself. Check out the delicious Louis Bouillot Crémant de Bourgogne at only $18.99.

Whoa!—sorry, looks like my eyes and stomach were too big for this week’s article space with only a few suggestions.  Timely and hopefully tasty, perhaps we’ll keep with this theme throughout the holiday season.  And, should you readers have an epiphany pairing you’d wish to share with us, forward it to me—I’d love to mention it.

Let’s eat, drink, and be merry!

Rick is the valley’s somm-about-town eating and entertaining about.  Contact him at or come by Total Wines & More and talk turkey with the wine team.