Napa Valley winemaker helps us choose the right wine to go with latkes, brisket and jelly doughnuts

This Chanukah, Napa Valley winemaker Judd Finkelstein will get out the big frying pan, the one that covers all four burners, and cook latkes the way his dad used to.

And alongside the crisp latkes he’ll serve a sparkling wine, just right for cutting through and complementing the fatty goodness. He’ll also serve his own Judd’s Hill Estate pinot noir, a light-bodied red with enough acidity to keep things fresh-tasting.

There will be brisket on the table, too, and for that he might turn to a cabernet sauvignon, a traditional pairing, or a ripe, juicy zinfandel that will pick up on the heartiness of the meat.

Pairing wine with the traditional Chanukah meal can be a challenge thanks to its emphasis on fried and sweet foods, but it’s certainly not impossible.

Judd Finkelstein looks over a glass of wine at Judd’s Hill Winery in Napa. photo/ap/eric risberg

Joe Campanale, beverage director and co-owner of several Manhattan restaurants, including L’Artusi, dell’ anima and Anfora, sees Chanukah pairings as being akin to Thanksgiving, with its big mish-mash of flavors, not to mention personalities.

Campanale, who grew up celebrating Chanukah, says the meals are typically “a lot of different flavors, different types of foods. It’s going to be a lot of family together. I’d try to go for something that is a crowd-pleasing kind of wine that also pairs well with a variety of different foods, wines that are more acid-driven, that are crisp, that are actually going to cleanse your palate.”

For red wines, that could mean a barbera, a red wine from northwestern Italy, or a white wine from France’s Loire Valley. On the domestic front, he recommends a wine like Sandhi Santa Barbara County Chardonnay that has been aged in neutral oak to give it more acidity and freshness. Another possibility is Yarden Galilee Sauvignon Blanc 2009, imported from Israel.

Crisp, lively wines are a good choice at Chanukah to go with the fried foods and dairy that are a big part of the holiday.

Because styles of latkes vary from mild to spicy, Finkelstein says that’s something to think about before choosing a wine. Brisket is another holiday favorite and here, too, the important thing when it comes to wine pairing is paying attention to how it is cooked. At the Finkelsteins’, the brisket will be braised with onions, tomato and garlic, hence the cab and zinfandel pairing options.

Looking to try a few cocktails this Chanukah?

Distillery No. 209 in San Francisco, producer of No. 209 gin, makes a special version, No. 209 Kosher for Passover Gin. It was developed so observant Jews could enjoy gin over Passover, but it works for Chanukah, too, says head distiller Arne Hillesland.

“Gin and red meats like beef are just made for each other,” he says.

He’s even got a solution for the tricky issue of sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts).

Try a classic Alexander cocktail, he advises, one part gin, one part creme de cacao and one part heavy cream. “It’s a wonderful dessert cocktail,” he says.

And if you’re looking for a one-size-fits-all solution, Campanale agrees with Finkelstein that sparkling wine is a good choice.

“Chanukah’s a celebration,” he says, “and what’s more celebratory than bubbles?”