What's on Tap

What's on Tap

Local experts offer holiday wine pairings

Posted November 25, 2014

Louis Martini wine

— Given our vibrant and bustling wine scene in the heart of North Carolina and beyond, we have much to be thankful for and not just for the wonderful food!
Each family has its own unique story, heritage, and concept of this day. For some, it is the soul of their family tradition, and for others it is just another day to be thankful for. That said, if entertaining is in order during this season, food will be consumed no matter the occasion, and wine pairings are part and parcel of the entertaining experience. I asked four of the areas notable wine experts for thoughts on traditional and versatile wine pairings, and got some great responses!

Aris Ragouzeos has been a noted authority on wine for decades in the Triangle and now teaches at Wake Technical Community College.

"An important point about holiday meals is that they are mixed gatherings of family, friends, and foods, where conversation and friendship take first place and the wine and food are supporting actors," he said. 

The sentiment was the same with fellow wine connoisseurs -  Inez Ribustello of On the Square in Tarboro, Max Kast of Fearrington House and Ryan Elliot of Ridgewood Wine and Beer in Raleigh.

Wine choices ranging from white, red, rosé, and sparkling may be good to cover all bases. We even discussed cider! Keep in mind that the palate of a cider is a bit less complex than the average wine.

All told, our experts favored some lively, balanced wines that would not exhaust the palate. A number of these are thoughtfully and conscientiously produced.


The Ribustellos consider Thanksgiving a great time to splurge a bit on some really great wines. Both Ribustello and Ragouzeos considered Gruner Veltliner, an Austrian wine, which could go well with cheese plates or savory stuffed bites:

"I love the idea of Gruner Veltliner," Ribustello said. "At $10 a bottle, Anton Bauer makes a crisp little beauty that has flavors of pink Grapefruit and pink peppercorn.” This would offer some nice contrast to the richness and creaminess of cheeses.

Cider was a great suggestion it turns out. Ribustello loves L.L. Draughan’s Fishing Creek Hard Cider ($18). Kast also recommended a good cider, Foggy Ridge Cider out of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which uses a variety of apples. For reds with cheeses, Ribustello suggested a Pinot Noir like Wildewood from the Williamette Valley ($16) or La Rioja Alta “Vina Alberdi” Rioja ($20).

RoséWine pairings

Max Kast made an interesting observation on rosé, suggesting a Gamay Rosé from Franck Besson wines, ($20+) farmed organically in Beaujoloais, grown in pink granite, and made via Méthode Traditionelle (Champenoise). Sounds fascinating! It is known for good acidity, lively fruit, and of course, bubbles! This one is certainly fit for a party.
For connoisseurs, he recommended the Duval – Leroy Rosé (Brut) Champagne. The Premiere is made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes (approx. $40+).
Ryan Elliot of Ridgewood also suggested sparkling Rosé or Rosé Champagne – i.e., Lucien Albrecht Cremant Rosé - Alsace, France ($22). “A sparkling wine that can go from appetizers to dessert, something I could drink with everything on the table; Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut Rosé - California ($25).”
Inez Ribustello suggested a deep-pink bubbly that goes great with cranberry sauce. Renardat-Fache Cerdon de Bugey ($20) is from the Savoie region of France and made from Gamay and Poulsard.

Turkey Talk


Aris Ragouzeous recommended a Riesling Kabinett from Mosel, Rheingau, Pfalz or Nahe. (Kabinett is medium-bodied with a mild sweetness rating that is versatile.) Max Kast gave one example as Reichsgraff von Kesselstat Josephshöfer 2012 Riesling Kabinett of Mosel, Germany. Inez Ribustello’s example was Robert Weil Riesling Kabinett from Rheingau in Germany ($38). It has “lots of orange blossom and tangerines with a hint of sweetness that could even suit duck or goose.” For fans of drier Riesling, Max Kast suggests Dr. Konstantin Frank Riesling 2013 ($15) of the Finger Lakes region, known for its dry (Trocken) wines.

Other Whites

Ragouzeos cited flexible wines such as Alsace Riesling or Pinot Gris; Friulana from Friuli, or Verdiccio from Marches, Italy; and Spanish Albariño or Rueda. Ribustello suggested Benito Santos “Igrexario de Saiar” Albariño ($21) which flatters greens and verdant veggies. Vermintino from Marches in Italy such as a Giacomelli “Pianacce” ($17) of Liguria goes well with hams. Elliot also suggested a wine with lemon notes for hams, Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc/Viognier - California ($15). “Light peach and Meyer Lemon flavors give a nice balance of fruit and acidity.”

Two Gewurztraminers were mentioned for turkey and stuffing, Villa Wolf Gewurtztraminer of Pfalz, Germany $12 by Elliot and Virginia Marie Lambrix ($25) by Ribustello.
More whites to ponder: Assyrtiko from Santorini or Moschofilero from the Peloponnese, (also good with fruity sides or fruit and cheese plates); Sauvingnon Blanc, (New World such as New Zealand has lots of citrus); French Loire Valley Sauvignon de Touraine; or East Coast Chardonnay or Viognier, such as Chatham Hill (NC) or 2013 Barboursville (VA) ($18-22).


These are traditionally crowd pleasing wines that won’t break one’s budget. Kast suggested a 2012 Three Valleys Zinfandel from Ridge Vineyards in Sonoma; this has some old vine Carignane. He also mentioned 2012 Zinfandels from Turley Wine Cellars. Turley makes 34 wines that are certified organic from old vine Zinfandels and Petite Syrahs. There is a wealth of choices there ($20-45).

Lighter Reds

Additional Beaujolais worth trying are those from the Fleurie Cru, offering high fruit, with some richness, that balance well with poultry and assorted dishes, such as Domaine Bernard Metrat de la Roilette, and Clos de Roilette, (each about $15-18).

RedsWine pairings for the holiday season

“Sweet potatoes love a fun blend from Australia such as Vinaceous Cellars' Red Right Hand,” said Ribustello. This is a blend of Grenache, Tempranillo, and Shiraz with “lots of sweet, dark fruit” ($15). Bourgogne Rouge, Savigny les Beaune or Santenay Pinot Noirs; Cotes du Rhone from Rhone Valley; Rioja Crianza from Spain; Chianti and Barbera from Italy’ and Xinomavro from Macedonia were among Ragouzeos’ suggestions.

Ryan Elliot at Ridgewood included Valle Dell'Acate Frappato - Sicily, Italy ($18)  This was “medium-bodied and reminiscent of Pinot Noir but with a little more complexity at a nice price.” Scaia Corvina - Veneto, Italy ($12) Bright cherry notes with a little peppery spice on the finish. Bodan Roan Pinot Noir - California ($15) a classic California Pinot with balanced acidity and alcohol.

Fearrington recently won the 2014 OpenTable Diner’s Choice Awards for the Top 100 Wine Lists in America. It weighs in at 56 pages! I was allowed to tour the cellar there. I noticed that Italy is prominent across the board among our experts. At Fearrington House cellar, I was shown some truly great reds; a 2006 Capellano Barolo, a 2005 Barbaresco, and 1989 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Riserva Asili. These are exceptional Nebbiolo wines and one would call for pricing.

Duck or Goose - Red

Ribustello had more thoughts on the other poultry consumed this time of year. For duck or goose,“I like red wines that have a little funk going on, like the Lidia & Amato Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from Central Italy ($14).”


Not everyone loves poultry! For pescatarians (vegetarians who eat fish) or those considering a stuffed whole fish, Elliot recommends: “A medium-bodied white that has nice acidity such as an Albariño - Legado del Conde Albariño - Rias Baixas, Spain ($18), Moreau Petit-Chablis - Burgundy, France ($20) for minerality, and a Cremant style sparkling, Berlucchi Franciacorta NV - Lombardy, Italy ($20).”


Let’s not forget dessert! Pumpkin, pecan, or apple pies, gingerbread, and more may grace a table this time of year. Some suggestions from Max Kast were Broadbent Rainwater Madeira (1/2 bottle $17). This “warm and luscious” wine is great for cold weather and is smooth but gently sweet, without being overbearing. Also recommended was the Ferreinha 10 year Tawny Port (750ml $22) of Douro, Portugal. This too is a great ‘warming’ wine. It uses no less than 6 wines as a blend and has notes of spice cake, toasted nuts, and dried fruit. Ribustello offers up a Sekt Riesling, Fitz Ritter ($19), that is off-dry and compliments a range of flavors.

Favorite Food Memories

When asked about a favorite food memory this time of year, Max Kast reminisced about his German heritage. One of his favorite dishes was the homemade sausage that his father made on Thanksgiving.

Inez Ribustello discussed the meaning of the holidays as an irreplaceable experience of home and family. One of her favorite foods was her Nana’s Tipsy cake. We are very fortunate to have passionate, dedicated wine and beverage professionals in our area who have generations of experience at their fingertips!

Whatever the holidays mean to you, this time of year is a time of togetherness and positive reflection. Cheers!


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