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Drink in the holidays 

Local winemakers share their culinary plans

At this time of year, I love calling local winemakers to ask their holiday dinner plans. It's like peeking in through their dining room window. This year, I chose artists who are skilled in the kitchen, too. They provided delicious ideas that you can still use to enhance your table during the holiday season. I also discovered that these winemakers prefer drinking their own wines during the holidays, which allows them to find the most delicious food pairings--most of which will work any time of year. They provided excellent tips on bringing ingredients in the food to compliment a chosen wine. If you're like me, their dinner plans will probably have you running to your favorite wine shops to pick up a bottle or three for your table.

click to enlarge A TIME FOR FAMILY :  Winemaker Ardison Phillips (right) planned on enjoying a traditional Thanksgiving with family and friends. Also pictured is his son, Bailey. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • A TIME FOR FAMILY : Winemaker Ardison Phillips (right) planned on enjoying a traditional Thanksgiving with family and friends. Also pictured is his son, Bailey.

# From Santa Maria, the talented Ardison Phillips--a winemaker, chef, artist, and cookbook author--said he'll enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with his family and close friends. He's opening a three-liter bottle (the equivalent of four standard bottles) of his McKeon Phillips 2005 Pinot Noir Reserve, but he wouldn't dream of limiting his guests to just one wine.

"I also like Chardonnay with turkey, but the Alban Roussanne has a wonderful flower characteristic that will taste great with it," Phillips said. "Turkey is dense enough to take rose or light red wines."

Phillips described his wife Susan as a traditionalist, but he likes to mix it up a bit: "One year I sauteed whole quails and put them in the stuffing. When the turkey was done, as I pulled out the stuffing I said, 'Look, dear, baby turkeys.'"

This year he's planning a special wine-friendly dessert of cranberry/orange upside down cake with a cranberry relish and brown sugar topping.

"I like fruit dishes after a meal, not heavy desserts," he said. "I'll serve it with Claiborne & Churchill Douce Amie, a sweet orange Muscat. It's also spectacular with cheese."

Winemaker Vance Rose of the new 5 Mile Bridge wines based in Atascadero said his Thanksgiving is strictly non-traditional.

"There won't be cranberries anywhere to be found. We have our dinner at night, and it's usually six or seven courses that starts with Champagne. My mother has to have Champagne," Vance said with a chuckle, noting two favorites: Billecart-Salmon Blanc de Blanc and vintage Pol Roger. With the bubbly, he prepares pickled Fanny Bay oysters with Osetra caviar. This is hardly surprising from a man who was befriended by superstar chef Thomas Keller of the French Laundry in Yountville (Napa Valley). Whenever Vance has some free time, he cooks with Keller at his renowned restaurant. I can tell you this much: Keller doesn't let just anyone with a few knife skills into his shrine devoted to epicurean delicacies.

Vance says he'll follow appetizers with leek confit soup paired with a good dry Muscat.

"Next, we'll have a fish course with whatever's freshest in the market, perhaps skate wing on creamed cipollini onions with beet essence," he said. "The combination of onions and beets is wonderful. I'll serve it with a fuller, richer Chardonnay with some oak."

He plans to serve elk loin, oven roasted in butter, with truffle oil and custard, which he said will pair beautifully with his 5 Mile Bridge 2005 Syrah. For dessert--made from scratch like every single dish on his menu--he'll serve vanilla ice cream with caramelized pears and caramel sauce.

In Edna Valley, Kynsi Winery is quite popular for its annual events that feature co-owner and co-winemaker Gwen Othman's delicious foods that she prepares to complement their wines. She and her husband Don are well known for their excellent Pinot Noirs, which Gwen thinks are the best choice for the traditional turkey.

"Pinot goes with such a broad range of foods. You're not as locked in as when you choose a hearty wine that requires heavier dishes," she explained. "Pinot bridges the flavors better than any other varietal."

With her turkey, she plans to prepare a cranberry, blueberry, red onion, and thyme sauce, which she described as more compote than relish, because it ties in with the fruit components in her Pinot. She noted: "The Pinot also takes the sharp edge off the cranberries."

"It's hard to beat Pinot on the holiday table," Gwen said. "By simply adding a little of the Pinot, you're drinking to the food as you prepare it. It ties everything together."

For her salad, she'll add pears poached in the Pinot and use some of the poaching liquid in the lemon vinaigrette. She's also preparing a butternut squash soup she tops with apple-cider-enhanced mascarpone cheese (Italian cream cheese) to tie in with the wonderful apple component of her 2006 Chardonnay Edna Ranch.

After the traditional heavy meal, Gwen says her family prefers fruit for dessert. Not surprisingly, she prepares pears poached in her rich Syrah.

"It's absolutely delicious served with ice cream and paired with the Syrah--my favorite of any Christmas dinner," Gwen said, adding that she usually serves her Syrah with dark chocolate. "I like to experiment. I look at current magazines and search online. Cookbooks also spark ideas. If I find a recipe has something I don't think I'll like, I add the ingredient I do like."

That's sound advice for preparing great meals to complement your wine year round.

INFOBOX: Taste what's new

Wood Winery, a red wine specialist with an 80-acre vineyard at the base of Cuesta Grade, has opened a tasting room in the old Village of Arroyo Grande. The grand opening takes place Nov. 23 through 25. For a $5 tasting fee, guests can taste six wines and keep the logo glass. Wood Winery's tasting room is open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday and Saturday until 6 p.m. at 136 Bridge St. (across from McLintocks). Info: 489-9663.

INFOBOX: Holiday hotlines

Cooking disasters happen to every cook, whether a newbie or a long-timer, but it's much more stressful during the holidays when cooking for family and friends. It's nice to know that fast help is available via a hotline or website. Here are few good choices: USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, 1-888-674-6854, www.fsis.usda.gov California Poultry Federation, 1-888-822-4004, www.cpif.org and Foster Farms Turkey Hotline, 1-800-255-7227, www.fosterfarms.com.

Contact New Times' Cuisine columnist at khardesty@newtimesslo.com.

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