We are knee-deep in the holiday season of family, friends, food, and...of course wine. It's that time of year where we can consume food and wine with little regard for our waistlines or liver counts...at least for a couple of weeks. During this time, we ask ourselves, `What should we drink?' `What do we eat?' And `How long are the in-laws staying?' All tough questions that demand easy answers (accept the in-law thing...can't help you there).

Let's talk wine, because at Off the Vine in Norwalk, pairing wine and food is our specialty. All of us share similar dining traditions at Christmas and New Year's, so that makes it pretty easy to recommend a wine that will pair well with most all of your holiday feasts. Baked ham, turkey, and beef-like filet or a standing rib roast will most likely make it on your plate at some point before Jan. 2, so let's taste some wine.

For ham and fowl, at this time of the year nothing speaks celebration more than a sparkling wine in your flute (and they don't all have to be from France!). Cava from Spain (Juve y Camps 2005 $15.99), Prosecco from Italy (Prima Perla $10.99), or American Sparkling (Gruet $16.99). Of course I would be remiss if I didn't suggest a beautiful tasting French Champagne that I just tasted and brought into my wine store. It's Vranken Demoiselle Brut Tete de Cuvee ($45.99) and Wine Spectator gave it 92 points. It's across the board with Brut (Dry) sparklers. You get toasty notes on the palate, along with crisp acidity, which makes it any food's best friend around the holidays. Of course it's great with chocolate-dipped strawberries too.

For beef we want to go big. Think red with medium tannins. This yields a sensation created from the seeds of the grapes, some stems, and the oak it gleans from the barrels it was aged in. The newer the oak the more pronounced the oak will be, which in turn, means your wine will have to age a bit so those unruly young tannins can mature and settle down a little. The reason that tannins in your red wine work so well is that the fat in the beef mellows them out in your mouth in a harmonious way that makes the beef and wine sing in tune. Kind of like the way a glass of scotch mellows grandma out to the point that she is snoring on the couch.

If you have filet, which is very low in fat, then you would draw upon the fat in the Béarnaise to work with the astringent tannins. A few wines that come to mind are a Tempranillo from Rioja Spain (Muga Reserva 2006 $24.99). A Merlot from Napa Valley 2006 (Muga Reserva $19.99), and a Cabernet Sauvignon from the legendary Washington State 2005 Vintage (Betz Family Winery $78.99). This last wine is pricey, but well worth it as it scored 95 points from Robert Parker and makes a great gift if anyone is looking for a bottle to give me for Christmas.

Now for the part you all have been secretly waiting so patiently for...the recipe from Chef David Repp of Splash Restaurant in Westport. This was created out of the need to feed your loitering friends and family whom you still find sitting on your couch and finishing off your good booze, beer, and wine after Christmas.

How do we feed these people and get them on their way? Repp can help you with the food part, which is at least half the problem. What better way to follow up the decadence of Christmas than by eating a nice hot bowl of soup with a kicked-up Italian-style grilled cheese? Picture this: fireplace roaring, Grandpa snoring, full sleepy tummies and no arguing throughout the house. My alcohol suggestions for this meal, which we will taste at my store this weekend, are:

Tenuta Delle Terre Nere, Rosso Sicily 2008 ($16.99) Think Pinot Noir with more body and intense flavor.

Captain Lawrence Brewing Company, Xtra Gold Tripel Ale, Pleasantville New York ($10.99) Beer and soup...is that ever a bad combination?

John Noakes is the Owner/Sommelier of Off the Vine Wines & Spirits in Norwalk Connecticut 203-434-8833. Visit us on the web, www.offthevineonline.com


1 lb dried split peas rinsed and checked for pebbles

2 Tbls butter

1 large onion diced

2 carrots peeled and diced

3 celery ribs diced

1 Tbls garlic minced

7 cups low sodium chicken stock

1 cup Captain Lawrence Xtra Gold Tripel Ale

3 smoked pork hocks

3 sprigs thyme chopped

3 Tbls white vinegar

Salt and pepper


Heat butter in a large Dutch oven and sweat the garlic, carrots, onion, and celery with a little salt and pepper.

Add the rinsed split peas, smoked pork hocks, chicken stock, beer and thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours or until the pork hocks are tender.

Remove the smoked pork hocks, let cool then pull the meat off the bones chop into small pieces and reserve.

Puree the soup using a hand blender, add the white vinegar, salt and pepper to taste and simmer for 5 minutes more to cook out the vinegar.


1 loaf of Italian bread

8 oz Prosciutto

12 pieces dry mozzarella sliced thin

2 cups flour

4 eggs beaten and mixed with ½ cup of water

3 cups Panko breadcrumbs mixed with 1cup Parmesan, 1Tbls salt, and 1Tbls dried oregano and basil

Olive oil for frying


Cut the crust off the bread to form a square loaf

Cut 18 square pieces a ½ inch thick

Layer the cheese and prosciutto on 12 pieces and stack them to make 6 triple-decker sandwiches

Push down the sandwiches and skewer them with 2 tooth picks to hold them together

Flour, egg, and breadcrumb the sandwiches then set on a rack to dry

Set a sauté pan on medium heat and fry the sandwiches on all sides then place in 350 degree oven until cheese is melted.