Wine Country Holiday Traditions: Food & Wine Pairings To Grace Your Table

Food & Drink

It’s not just cheese and charcuterie any more. As California tasting rooms continue to push the envelope on food and wine pairings — really, immersive culinary experiences for guests — winemakers are celebrating their own diverse heritages that manifest in food pairings for their wine portfolios. And wine country subculture is not as homogenous as one might assume. There are as many traditions — cultural and culinary — as there are wines showcasing the abundance and quality of some of the most sought after wines in the world. Here are three examples of favorite recipes with wine pairings that are especially meaningful to some of our most beloved winemaking families, with stories from each about why these dishes are perfect with specific wines.

Remi Cohen, Domaine Carneros: Latkes with creme fraiche, applesauce, or a dollop of caviar | Domaine Carneros Estate Brut or the tête de cuvée Le Rêve, a Blanc de Blancs

Growing up in a Jewish family, I always enjoyed Hanukkah celebrations, especially when they involved latkes. Latkes (potato pancakes fried in safflower oil) are a traditional Hanukkah dish that celebrates the part of the holiday story where the small quantity of oil in the temple miraculously gave candlelight for eight days instead of just one. All types of fried potatoes, from potato chips to fries, make a classic pairing with sparkling wine.“ 

2 large Russet potatoes, peeled, grated, and squeezed of all liquid

1/3 cup grated onion

1/4 cup flour

1 egg



 Safflower or other vegetable oil for frying

·      Coarsely grate the peeled potatoes and drain out as much liquid as possible. Mix with the grated onion.

·      Mix the egg, flour, salt and pepper until the flour is well blended.

·      Fill a frying pan with 1/4 to 1/2 inch of the oil and heat until hot. Scoop a heaping tablespoon of the mixture into the oil. Flatten each scoop with a spatula. Cool for 3-5 minutes until the edges are brown and then flip and cook another 3-5 minutes to brown the other side.

·      Transfer the latkes to a plate lined with paper towels to drain excess oil. Sprinkle with salt.

·      Accompany with applesauce, creme fraiche, and chives (and caviar makes this dish even more special).

Katie Bundschu, Abbot’s Passage: Grilled Duck Marinated in Orange, Rosemary, and Garlic | Abbot’s Passage Points Unknown Rhone-Style Blend

“For the holidays, this wine has a dark, brooding opulence that stands up to the richness of the duck, yet has a balanced acidity that pairs nicely with the brightness of the orange marinade. Plus, the wine’s earthy and savory notes of soft leather, black pepper, and sarsaparilla root complement the gamey flavors of the duck.


  • 1 large duck, skin intact
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 Tbsps kosher salt
  • 2 cups fresh orange juice
  • 2 Tbsps fresh rosemary, minced, plus extra sprigs for garnish
  • 1 Tbsps freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2-3 fresh small oranges, halved, for garnish


Rinse duck and pat dry. Remove neck and giblets and save for another time. Using a cleaver or other heavy knife, remove spine, splitting the duck in half. (You can always ask your butcher to do this for you.) Remove excess fat from cavity and tail area and trim off a bit of excess neck skin. Prick duck skin all over with tip of sharp paring knife, making sure not to penetrate meat. Place the duck into a shallow dish and set aside.

Make a marinade by combining the remaining ingredients, reserving ¾ cup of it for basting the duck while grilling. Pour the rest of the marinade on the duck, turning to coat. Cover the container and refrigerate for 2-4 hours, turning often.

When ready to cook the duck, heat a well-oiled grill to medium-high heat. Using long tongs, carefully place the duck on the grill, skin side down. Grill until the skin is evenly browned, about 12 minutes, then flip over and continue grilling to desired doneness, about 6-8 more minutes for medium rare. If grilling oranges for garnish, brush them with olive oil and put them on the grill when you flip the duck. Grilling them will not only give them flavor but also release the juices.

Just before removing duck from the grill, baste liberally with reserved mixture. Place the duck on a platter and garnish with rosemary and grilled oranges, if desired.

Serves 4-6.

Megan and Reed Skupny, Lang & Reed Napa Valley: Pork Chops | Lang & Reed Cab Franc 

Reed and I took to the hobby of purchasing whole pigs from kids who raised them to earn money for the 4H and FFA. Our first pig we purchased was named Sunday, and she was one fat and happy sow. We decided we were going to butcher her ourselves. Seemed like the perfect weekend activity. Well, it turned into quite a fiasco, as you can imagine. We stumbled our way through it, and had some very tasty (albeit very roughly cut) pieces of pork by the end. Our favorite cuts, by far, were the bone-in pork chops. This is our go-to for having company, especially over the holidays. It comes out of the oven and is a showstopper every time (even when we make it just to eat on the couch while watching a movie).“ 

Active time: 30 minutes

Total time: 10 hours

4 servings

1 cup of salt

½ cup sugar

10+ whole allspice

10+ whole black peppercorns

3 thyme springs (if you have them)

3 bay leaves

1 dried arbol chili (optional)


2-4 large pork chops (bone-in for more flavor)

Napa Valley Spice Rub

2 cups wood chips (We like applewood, but you can choose anything.)


1.    Combine ingredients through dried arbol chili in a medium saucepan and cover with a finger’s depth of water. Bring to a slow boil until sugar and salt dissolved.

2.    Let brine chill by adding it to ice in a large bowl.

3. Add pork chops and add more water to cover meat, if needed.

4. Cover and refrigerate for 6-8 hours.

a. Note – you can reuse the brine for a whole chicken or any other meat.

5. 1 hour prior to finishing brine, soak 2 cups of wood chips in water for smoking.

6. After 6-8 hours, remove pork chops from brine, rinse, and pat dry.

7. Lightly season each pork chop with Napa Valley Rub from Whole Spice, Napa Valley or Herbes de Provence.

8. Place wood chips in smoker according to your smoker’s directions. Smoke for 2-3 hours. This might take a few pans full of wood chips. You’ll need to monitor how fast they smoke.

9. With a few minutes left in the smoking process, turn the broiler on and place a cast iron pan in the oven to preheat.

10. Remove pork chops from smoker. Place in preheated pan and return pan to broiler for 3 minutes per side. A general rule is 3-4 minutes if the chop is more than one inch thick and 2-3 minutes if the chop is less than one inch thick.

11. Remove from broiler and place pork chops on cutting board. Let them rest for 5 minutes. Serve immediately with fresh aioli and crispy broccoli or sautéed green beans.

Get adventurous this holiday season with these tried and true recipes and their perfect pairings.

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