While December might have dibs on the phrase “holiday season,” spring has its own rituals. This year, Easter and Passover again fall on the same weekend, which means families and friends across the world will gather to eat, commune, and reflect. What better way to celebrate the bounty of the season than with a bottle of wine made in Pennsylvania?
We’ve partnered with Kirt Heintzelman, a wine specialist at Fine Wine & Good Spirits in Lemoyne, to pair PA wines with some iconic holiday dishes. His love of wine was inspired by a long career as a server in hotels, restaurants, and high-end clubs. “I used to follow around the wine guy like a little puppy and listen to everything he said,” he recalls. “Now I’m the wine guy!”
Easter: Sunday, April 21
Deviled Eggs: Easter is a celebration of renewal, rebirth, and, well, eggs — eggs made of chocolate, eggs imbued with color, plastic eggs filled with trinkets. For your next holiday table, choose the highest calling an egg can meet: Deviled eggs. Boasting a mustard-y zing and dusted with paprika, the iconic American potluck dish is back in fashion.
“I think you need something with high acidity to balance the creaminess and play off the mustard,” says Heintzelman, who recommends a Vignoles or Vidal Blanc, two hybrid white varietals that thrive in Pennsylvania.
Lamb: Cooking lamb is a traditional celebration of spring. To wow your guests, roast a whole lamb shoulder with rosemary and garlic, and serve it with lemon wedges and herbed yogurt. Cabernet Franc has become a signature grape for the state, and would make a delicious counterpoint to the earthiness of the lamb.
“The acidity of a Cabernet Franc grown in this climate is wonderful with food,” says our expert. “And I love those green pepper notes — they’re heavenly.”
Baked Ham: Another holiday classic, baked ham is ideal for chatty gatherings where the food lingers at room temperature and leftovers are part of the point. Try a maple-and-bourbon-glaze this year, and make sure you get the outer shell to a high sheen.
“I love Pinot Noir with ham,” says Heintzelman. “Fero Vineyard‘s (located in Lewistown) Bison Roots Blue [aged for 18 months in French Oak] from is delicious. Another fun option would be to use a sweet wine such as Concord as an ingredient in the glaze.”
PEEPS: Close out your meal with some tea and a spread of sweet treats. Did you know that PEEPS are from Pennsylvania? Bethlehem to be exact — so on brand for Easter! What better to pair with a whimsical dessert than a whimsical wine. Heintzelman suggests Bubbles Galore, a sweet, sparkling Niagara made by Naylor Wine Cellars in Stewartstown.
Passover: April 19-27
A quick note that we’ll be focusing on Pennsylvania wines, which are not kosher. If your family keeps a kosher home, you’ll have to look elsewhere, but we hope the varieties listed below can still inspire you.
Matzo Ball Soup: A piping hot bowl of Matzo Ball soup is a staple of the Passover table. To take the dish to the next level, make your own chicken stock, top the dish with a handful of fresh dill and parsley, and add a healthy dose of black pepper.
“They’re light, crisp, and clean, with great acidity,” he says. “A dry sparkling wine would also be nice.”
Gefilte Fish: This traditional appetizer might be an acquired taste, but it’s one that Jews of Eastern European descent have indulged for decades. Served cold with a generous spoonful of fresh horseradish (the pink kind tempered with beet juice), this slightly-sweet fish cake is a must-have.
For this dish, Heintzelman reaches for one of his favorite Pennsylvania varietals: Traminette. The hybrid grape’s notes of mango and pear provide a lively counterpoint to the bite of the horseradish. Available in both dry and off-dry styles, this white wine can hold its own against bold flavors.
Braised Brisket: With so much work to be done — setting the table, preparing all the ritual foods, pulling your hair out over the seating chart — it’s good to have a main dish that can be made a day in advance. Brisket is a wonderful option, especially when braised with red wine and root vegetables.
“I think Pennsylvania does Chambourcin very well,” says Heintzelman, a big fan of the herbaceous, high-acid, vibrant red. “It’s a little lighter, and with oak aging, it would be particularly lovely with brisket. I think Chambourcin should be more popular — it’s amazing how many people aren’t familiar with it.”
Matzo Bark: Flour-free desserts can be surprisingly delicious, whether you go for coconut macaroons, a dense chocolate cake, or matzo bark, a combination of the traditional Passover flatbread, chocolate, toffee, nuts, and sea salt.
“I like a dark, heavy wine with dark chocolate,” says our expert, mentioning Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc. “But if you want something sweeter, Steuben would be great due to its grape and strawberry notes.”
Whether you celebrate a religious holiday or just the new spring season we hope you do so with PA wines around your table!
Listed below are the wines mentioned in this article.