What to DRINK With: An Italian Christmas Dinner

DRINK editor Treve Ring asks local wine experts how they would approach pairing dishes and flavours. For this holiday edition, we’ve tasked them to pair to classic Italian Christmas plates.


Our Experts:


Lisa Haley (LH)

Wine Director, Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar


Haley arrived to the West Coast from Montreal, where she managed Wienstein & Gavino’s before taking over as Manager/Sommelier at Tuck Shop Restaurant. She was an advocate of natural wines there, as well as her stint as General Manager of Vancouver’s Burdock & Co. Haley is a firm believer in championing the best organic and natural wines sourced from B.C. as well as the most preeminent and celebrated wine regions around the world. Whenever possible, Haley will feature varietals produced from grapes grown organically or biodynamically and fermented using naturally occurring yeasts without manipulation by chemical or industrial processes. At Boulevard, Haley’s carefully cultivated wine list is a direct reflection of both her personal philosophy on winemaking and an ideal companion to the organic, local and sustainable ingredients on the menu.


Colin Southcombe (CS)

GM, The Strath Ale Wine & Spirit Merchants 

colin southcombesm

Southcombe’s 50 year career in Food and Beverage started in the kitchen and with graduating from Hotel School in London. His career has taken him to Europe, Bermuda, Asia, Australia and Canada. He was the founder of the Victoria Branch of the prestigious Chaîne Des Rôtisseurs in 1984. Retiring as an international hotel general manager 15 years ago, he drew on his many years of wine experience and became a wine merchant. In addition to GM and Wine Buyer duties at The Strath, he operates a Wine Club and the Island branch of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. His life passions remain wine and food, which he deems inseparable. He still cooks and delights in discovering new wines to taste.


What to DRINK With: Italian Christmas


First course: Seafood Antipasto alls Venezia 

LH. This super simple seafood dish screams for a white with some character. I love themes, so I would stick with Italian wine for this dinner and pair the antipasto with a falanghina from Campania. These wines tend to have good body and their floral, citrus, and tree fruit notes will keep you coming back for more. I especially like the idea of drinking a fuller white during the holidays – the season for patio pinot grigios has passed! Falanghina has enough acidity to handle the rich shellfish in this dish and the fullness of the fruit will balance the heat from the hot chili flakes. I’ve been loving Terredora’s Falanghina and think it makes a great holiday white.


CS. In Europe and especially Italy, wine is enjoyed with food and usually the local cuisine has developed over the years in harmony alongside the local wines.  So seafood in Venice, which sits on the Adriatic Sea, seems to call for Soave, one of the best known white wines from Italy.  Some of the Soave we see here is a bit bland, or flavor free.  So I would recommend finding a Soave Superiore Classico, as these come from lower yield vineyards and are aged for at least 6 months. The wine is a blend of 70% garganega, with chardonnay, pinot bianco and trebbiano and the resulting dryness will work well with the seafood that has been steamed and then drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.


Pasta: Agnolotti filled with ricotta, spinach & pumpkin served with butter, sage and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

LH. The first thing I thought of when I imagined this dish was Franciacorta from Lombardy. Italy’s sparkling wine made in the traditional method from chardonnay, pinot nero, and pinot bianco has many of the rich notes of Champagne. I’d go for a brut or extra brut, and let the acidity and bubbles cut through the richness of the butter and cheese.  The buttery, brioche notes often found in Franciacorta would be the perfect match for warm pumpkin and silky homemade pasta.  Bubbles in the middle of the meal may seem out of place, but I like them anytime!


CS. Ricotta is a smooth albeit slightly grainy and moist cheese which is found all over Italy, but is famous in Sicily for stuffing pasta. Spinach and pumpkin seed would add welcome texture and dimension. Parmigiano is the Italian adjective for Parma and Reggiano that for Reggio Emilia, which lie in north central Italy around the city of Bologna and only cheese from this area, may use the name Parmigiano-Reggiano. As I think the latter would be a more dominant flavour in this dish, I would choose a red wine to handle the hard cheese and the pasta, such as one from Colli Piacentini DOC which is made in the same region as the cheese.


Meat: Marinated  Pork Rib Roast (oranges, fennel, thyme, rosemary)with Balsamic-Glazed Cipollini Onions 

LH. While everybody else is pairing Beaujolais and turkey, Italian Christmas calls for something a little different. I’d love to try a Cerasuolo di Vittoria from Sicily with this pork rib roast. I don’t like anything too heavy with pork and the best of these blends of frappato and nero d’avola are medium bodied, fruity and savoury. My favourite ones have notes of wild strawberries and citrus peels that will complement the orange and fennel while the floral (think rose) quality of frappato will pair with the thyme and rosemary.  COS is an obvious choice, but my favourite isn’t even classified as Cerasuolo di Vittoria, if you can find a bottle of Occhipinti’s SP68, snap it up; it would be a great match for this dish.


CS. Staying in the same northern part of Italy in Veneto and seeing a dish of pork, I thought about the Valpolicella DOC as its lighter style would typically partner pork.  But the recipe has some very complex flavours including orange, herbs and especially the Cipollini. Their flat shape makes them ideal for roasting and being slightly sweet with higher residual sugar than regular onions, they caramelize beautifully. Doing that with balsamic adds a whole new dimension; I think this dish needs a wine richer in flavor and more full bodied. Therefore, I would pick a Valpolicella Superiore Classico Ripasso.

Written By:

Treve Ring is a wine writer, editor, judge, consultant and certified sommelier, and has been with EAT Magazine for over a decade.\r\n\r\nIn addition to her work with EAT, she is a Wine Critic and National Judge for ...

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