Tune Your Holiday Meals to Be Wine Friendly

Chef Joey Altman

Chef Joey Altman knows how to make your holiday dinner parties really rock. The Bay-area chef, musician, television host, cookbook author and expert entertainer applies to cooking, party planning and wine pairing some of the lessons he’s learned as a guitarist in the Back Burner Blues Band, a blues-rock group of food pros and chefs. Altman, chef consultant for Diageo Chateau & Estates wineries, has developed artful strategies that can improve the fun and flavor in holiday meals, whether you’re gathering friends for wine tasting, or staging a celebratory feast.

1. Give Everyone a Gig: “Having something to do makes people feel that they are part of the party,” says Altman. “They become one of your ambassadors who are now helping you host.”  While you’re cooking, have a kitchen task ready for your guests, such as:

  • Set up the fruit bowl or cheese plate
  • Decant the wine
  • Thread satay or kebab skewers
  • Assemble bruschetta elements
  • Help guests choose a wine. Joey’s favorites for holiday foods and festivity: zippy Sterling Vineyards Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc; luscious and affordable A By Acacia Chardonnay; jammy Rosenblum Cellars Zinfandels; tasty Pinot Noirs from Chalone Vineyard, hearty Cabernets from Provenance and Hewitt, and, his personal favorite indulgence, Beaulieu Vineyard Reserve Tapestry, a meritage blend.

2. Tune Up Your Musical Flavors: “It’s all about creating a good harmony—in your food and the party’s mood,” says Altman. Dishes should balance sweetness, salt and acid, or in musical terms, think of flavors as treble, mid-range and bass. With their jammy ripe fruit and spicy notes, Zinfandels are great to pull out when a smoked turkey, or savory ham hits the table. The more structured, robust Cabernets work well with roast beef or lamb.

3. Compose Meals to be Wine Friendly: “You don’t want the wine to fight against any stark contrasts of flavor,” says Altman. “One of the fastest ways to make something more red-wine friendly is to add bacon to it. Bacon gives a smoky meatiness that allows the red wine’s fruit to come forward.” The same chemistry applies to adding roasted garlic to mashed potatoes; roasted carrots or red peppers to soup, or caramelized onions to sauces. Anything with goat cheese is a natural with the acidity of a Sauvignon Blanc.

4. Take Wine Lessons: “Make your table a teaching opportunity,” recommends Altman.  “I encourage hosts to bring wine out of the background and make their holiday meals a wine experience. When you have a lot of people, you can open several bottles, pour small tastes and compare how the wines pair with different foods,” says Altman, who keeps a supply of inexpensive wine glasses ready for such occasions.

5.  Rehearse: “The most important key to successful entertaining is planning your menu,” says Altman. “Don’t overwhelm yourself with a menu so ambitious that you can’t even enjoy your own party.”


Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines (DC&E) is part of Diageo (Dee-AH-Gee-O), the world’s leading premium drinks business. DC&E produces and markets premium wines from around the globe including Napa Valley, Sonoma, the California Central Coast, France, Italy, New Zealand and Australia. Brands include: Beaulieu Vineyard, Sterling Vintner’s Collection, Chalone Vineyard, Acacia Vineyard and Rosenblum Cellars. DC&E is also a leading importer of estate-bottled wines from Burgundy. For more information about Diageo, its people, brands and performance, visit us at http://www.diageo.com.

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© 2011 Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines, Napa, CA. Please enjoy our wines responsibly.