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Wines for the holidays 

click to enlarge MATCHMAKER :  Grape maestro Ardison Phillips of McKeon Phillips winery marries holiday fare and wine with exquisite success, thanks to his training as a chef. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • MATCHMAKER : Grape maestro Ardison Phillips of McKeon Phillips winery marries holiday fare and wine with exquisite success, thanks to his training as a chef.
I love the winter holiday season when most of our celebrations with family and friends are centered at the dining room table, where we spoil ourselves with comforting foods and excellent wines. My husband Dan Hardesty and I always pull our best wines from the cellar to share at dinner, and it’s always fun figuring out which wine variety best suits the various dishes.

During the holiday festivities we open a minimum of three wines to taste, or more depending on the number of guests. And whether we’re with wine novices or wine geeks like us, there’s always one wine that resonates among everyone as the most versatile choice at the table. That said, no matter how much anyone may love a certain producer, the best match usually surprises us and it’s never the same variety or winery each year.

I have several preferences when it comes to winter dishes because the array most Americans serve is difficult to pair with just one variety. At Chez Hardesty, we lean toward sparkling wine, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir, and Grenache. Of course, you can’t go wrong with Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, or Merlot because they appeal to a wide array of tastes.

I called on two local food and wine experts to get their recommendations for holiday meals this year, and the result provided some fabulous ideas. With all of the great wineries in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, you won’t have any difficulty finding these varieties in tasting rooms, wine shops, and restaurants.

Chef Erich Koberl of Koberl at Blue in SLO, a European-schooled chef, creates special menus befitting the season. In winter, his guests love the excellent smoked sturgeon with potato pierogi and caviar with a glass of sparkling wine, Brut or Blanc de Blancs, which also pairs nicely with Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris. Blue’s award-winning wine list offers many excellent wines by the glass. “We have great success with cured meats and melted raclette which goes very well with Riesling or Syrah,” Koberl explained. “We try to find an element with foods that you’re not able to cook at home because it’s not easy or too labor intensive. When dining out people want dishes that provide a comfort level or that they’re familiar with. They also want dishes that are cleaner and simpler.”

He told me about delicious treats he will be offering and the wines best suited for them. “During the Christmas season, it’s very traditional in Europe to offer roast goose. I serve it with a huckleberry-Port sauce, chestnut stuffing, and braised red cabbage,” said Koberl. “I really like a full-bodied Pinot Noir with it, but you can enjoy it with Syrah as long as it isn’t too heavy (full-bodied).” During the winter holidays Koberl also offers special game dishes on his menu: with buffalo short-ribs he recommends Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah; pheasant with Riesling or Beaujolais Nouveau; and with his quail the chef suggests a medium-bodied Pinot Noir or a light Zinfandel.

Vintner and winemaker Ardison Phillips of McKeon Phillips winery in Santa Maria was formerly a chef in Los Angeles. He relocated to Santa Maria to build his winery and tasting room. This talented man also teaches wine and food pairing at Allan Hancock College. When he serves his family and friends holiday meals, he offers several of his very good wines as well as those of his peers. This year he’s serving two other brands from Santa Barbara County, Fiddlehead and Core.

“I’m serving the traditional turkey three ways: deep-fried, barbecued, and roasted with a stuffing of cornbread, leeks, and onions,” Phillips said. “The Core 2006 Grenache Blanc, which has a little Roussanne and Marsanne, and my 2005 Leonardo Sangiovese will go best with the fried turkey because it’s the lightest dish. The barbecued turkey with a jalapeno/mint jelly glaze will be paired with my 2006 Malbec and Core 2007 Grenache-Malbec.” This chef/winemaker said he roasts the turkey upside down so the juices flow into the breast, keeping it moist, and then turns it breast-side up for the last 30-45 minutes to brown the skin. “I’ve chosen my 2005 Reserve Pinot Noir and the Fiddlehead 2003 Pinot Noir Fiddlestix from Santa Rita Hills with the roasted turkey.”

It’s certainly a great time of year to pull library wines from the cellar for unforgettable meals. But aged wines aren’t necessary with most holiday meals and there are many great wine choices in local tasting rooms, where they can help you pick the perfect accompaniment.

You can reach New Times’ Cuisine columnist at


Eat Out Save Lives—one day only!

Friday, Dec. 4

Dine out on Friday at these participating restaurants and you’re helping support the terrific people at the AIDS Support Network (ASN) of San Luis Obispo County, who provide fresh food and pantry items for SLO County citizens living with HIV or AIDS. Eat Out Save Lives, an annual fundraiser honoring World Aids Day, helps ASN stock their larder for the upcoming year. During these difficult times, they’re busier than ever supporting people who are desperately in need. Dine at any of the participating restaurants at breakfast, lunch, or dinner and the restaurants donate ten percent of their sales to ASN. You can make a difference simply by purchasing a cup of coffee and a pastry or enjoying a full meal. To catch any last minute restaurant additions visit, and learn how you can help them out year round.


Eat Out Save Lives Restaurants:

Atascadero: Fig Good Food, Nardonne’s Pizzeria,

Thai-Riffic, Village Caffe

Avila: Mama’s Meatballs

Cambria: Robin’s

Los Osos: Jimmy Bump’s Pasta House

Morro Bay: Orchid at Inn at Morro Bay

Oceano: Mama’s Meatballs

Paso Robles: Buona Tavola

Pismo Beach: Splash Cafe

San Luis Obispo: Big Sky, Black Sheep, Buffalo Bar & Grill, Buona Tavola, Cafe Roma, Cal Poly Campus Dining, Chino’s Rock & Tacos, Corner View, Crushed Grape, EAT at Embassy Suites Hotel, Et Voila, Jaffa Cafe,Koberl at Blue, Linnaea’s Cafe, Louisa’s Place, Mama’s Meatballs, Mee Heng Low, Novo, Petra Mediterranean Pizza & Grill, Spirit of San Luis, Splash Cafe, That Caribbean Restaurant, Upper Crust Trattoria, West End Coffee & Espresso



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