Sommelier at Clifton Wine Bar Talks Holiday Wines, Party Pairings

"The right wine is going to enhance your food and the overall experience," says Regan DeBenedetto, director of operations at Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas.

Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas
Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas in Clifton offers more than 600 different wines by the bottle and over 40 by the glass. Photo courtesy of Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas

After six months of study and training, restaurateur Regan DeBenedetto completed the introductory sommelier course from the Court of Master Sommeliers this year.

At Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas in Clifton, where she is director of operations, DeBenedetto has largely curated the wine collection, which includes more than 600 different wines by the bottle and over 40 by the glass.

DeBenedetto grew up in an Italian family who appreciated wine. “When I found out we were opening a wine bar, I immediately hit the books,” she says. “I began learning about much more than just the three wines that I liked to drink.”

This year, Spuntino received the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for its wine list. The award recognizes restaurants that excel in offering guests critically acclaimed selections from top producers and regions around the world.

The restaurant is featuring a Feast of the Seven Fishes menu through December 24.

“At Spuntino, we constantly have new selections,” DeBenedetto says. “Pairing wines with dishes really elevates the overall experience of your menu, especially during the holidays.”

Headshot of Regan DeBenedetto

Regan DeBenedetto is the director of operations at Clifton’s Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas, part of Doherty Enterprises. Photo courtesy of Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas

What are some of your favorite wines available at Spuntino?
Regan DeBenedetto
: Especially at this time of year, sparkling wine comes to mind. It’s perfect for celebrating. I really love the Luca Paretti prosecco. A sparkling riesling is also a really fun one that a lot of people probably haven’t tried before, like the Fitz Sekt. We love doing everything hyperlocal, so I am looking into adding some New Jersey wines to our list.

Do you have any other go-to wines this time of year?
A nice, medium unoaked Chardonnay is always nice to have. Another great choice is the Antinori Bramito del Cervo, which will be light enough to go with any of your white meat, fish, veggies, casseroles and more.

My personal favorite is the Gemstone cabernet from Yountville in Napa. It runs around $175 a bottle and is a great wine to splurge on during the holidays.

Can you recommend some more food and wine pairings for the holiday season?
Sparkling wine is perfect with things like charcuterie boards or butter boards, or anything salty and with a little bit of a higher fat content. It adds a nice, crisp acidity as you move from appetizer to appetizer.

When it comes to red, something medium-bodied and with a lower alcohol content is perfect if you are serving multiple courses. Something like a pinot noir—like a Burgundy wine from France or a fruit-forward wine from Oregon or Washington State. These are delicate on the palate and pair well with robust meals like braised beef, a rack of lamb or a large roast.

What wines are your guests enjoying right now?
There are some really nice Burgundies. One is the Domaine Faiveley Gevrey Chambertin, and one of the most famous Burgundy wines, the Maison Louis Latour Hospices de Beaune. These wines are approachable and under the $150 mark.

During the holidays, a California cabernet is always a promising choice—especially for the New Jersey palate. People really go crazy for these wines! Caymus cabernet is a real crowd-pleaser, but it does run around $90 a bottle. For a more budget-friendly cab made by the same winemakers, Bonanza is under $25.

All of our wines are available to go. We also always have more than 40 wines available by the glass—so if people want to come in and try something before committing to a purchase, they can always do that.

What can wine pairings do for a holiday dinner?
It can be really fun for your guests. The right wine is going to enhance your food and the overall experience. Matching the weight and intensity of flavors in the food you’re serving will elevate your dishes and bring out the best in them.

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