Christmas in California Tuscan Style #ItalianFWT


Let the name roll romantically off your tongue.

Tusssss… can…neeee.

It’s seductive, yes?

Like a kiss?

While I have never been to Tuscany, it is a region of Italy that captures the imagination: sunsets, rolling hills with views of the ocean, vineyards, and bottles of Chianti wine in those quaint straw bottles. But Tuscany offers much more to the world of wine than Chianti!

Regarded as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance and home to BotticelliLeonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo as well as Dante, Tuscany is one of the most popular places for tourists to visit in Italy.  It’s population of almost 4 million is approximately that of Los Angeles and with its strong linguistic and cultural traditions, it is sometimes considered “a nation within a nation” according to Wikipedia. (And yes LA feels that way sometimes too!)

Christmas celebrations in Tuscany begin on December 8 and continue until January 6; Christmas eve is marked by having a meatless meal, New Year’s Eve typically features seafood, and Christmas Day usually has chicken, so for our meal we went with turkey! Other traditional dishes include pasta; these days a typical meal includes sausage tortellini so we purchased sausage ravioli and Sue made a tomato sauce with fresh herbs, lamb and Italian Sausage (recipe to follow).

In October and November, the Italian Food Wine Travel group explored Chianti, a region of Tuscany that is well known for its wine; we were supposed to get samples but they just arrived a few days ago! At one point, I reached out to a contact in the wine industry for samples of wine that we could write about. (here’s what we wrote about in October and here’s what we wrote about in November). Instead of Chianti, he offered us two wines from another region in Tuscany that he thought would interest us, and they instantly caught our attention; a red wine blend and a white wine blend both from Ca’Marcando from Gaja.  While they wouldn’t fit into our Chianti publication plans, I knew we wanted to feature them for December’s prompt: Wines for the Christmas Feasts!

Last year, for a similar theme, we wrote about Italian traditions for California conditions, and Sue went all out: she and her mom visited their Italian family traditions for the meal, and they even made Italian sausage ravioli to feature in our meal.

This year, however, our demanding schedules had us wondering whether we could participate at all! At the last minute, the siren call of these wines got us to rally and pull together some research into Christmas feast traditions in Tuscany — and to produce a meal to match the inspiring wines from Gaja’s Ca’ Marcanda.

Importer and distributer Terlato reports that “Legendary Piedmontese winemaker Angelo Gaja first opened the doors of his family’s stunning Ca’Marcanda winery on the Tuscan coast in the 1990s. Today, the beautiful estate – an architectural landmark that also houses part of his art collection – is widely considered one of the greatest producers of Tuscan Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Sauvignon Blanc. Its name means “the house of endless negotiations,” a playful reference to the many years it took Gaja to convince the original owners to sell him the coveted property.”

In addition to the Ca’ Marcandra red blend dominated by Cabernet Franc and a white blend dominated by Vermentino, Sue picked up a Prosecco from Whole Foods and I found a beautifully hued Italian rose from Cupcake to add to the evening.


  • LaTur – Triple milk cheese – Goat, Sheep and Cow, creamy gooey goodness.
  • Organic Pate aux pommes et cidre 0rganic chicken pate with apples and cider
  • Blue Gorgonzola Dolche Latte Guffani
  • Fresh Asiago (so different from aged!)
  • Creminelli – Varzi – uncured Italian salami
  • Procuitto
  • Roast turkey
  • Italian Sausage Ravioli with tomato sauce with ground lamb and Italian sausage
  • Green salad with apples and pistachios and lemon vinaigrette


Cupcake Vineyards – Sparkling Red – Italy – 7.5% – SRP $16 on sale for $9

On its own this wine is so unimpressive that we decided we would never purchase it again and we didn’t even really want to drink it. However, after creatively mixing this wine with Italian liquors to create new and exciting cocktails,

we decided that we absolutely appreciate this wine as a  holiday mixer!

This is definitely a cocktail wine, a mixer wine, or a wine for those who love sweet wines. As a mixer it has a low alcohol content that won’t overwhelm a drink; with a shot of limoncello or ferret-branca and twist of orange or meyer lemon or a sprig of rosemary, this is very, very nice.

  • Color: Very pretty and festive, beautiful in a cocktail.
  • Nose: Rose petals and cotton candy with little bit of cinnamon spice.
  • Palate: Tastes like roses as well; really sweet

We made John taste this wine without warning him. He sniffed  the wine and said “you would never know how sweet this wine is by the nose.” This wine did not become palatable to us until we started creating cocktails with the wine.

definitely try this wine with pomegranate seeds, limoncello, and a twist of lemon peel…We also mixed pomegranate seeds, Fernet, and this sparkling red wine with a garnish of rosemary for another really nice holiday sparkling cocktail.

Fernet is a digestive made from herbs and spices including myrrh, rhubarb, chamomile, cardamom, aloe, and especially saffron, with a base of grape distilled spirits.Very herbal, fun and complex. The bitters make the sparkling so much better, and the pomegranates are fun to crunch on. Even lavender would be a fun and interesting twist  for this sparkler. Pair this wine with a traditional anise biscotti for a wonderful dessert and digestive.

The herbal qualities of this drink is like drinking a semi-sweet Christmas tree. And so colorful!

Our limoncello cocktail went beautifully with our cranberry biscotti.

As a cocktail mixer, it totally changes our perception of this wine. It becomes fun and interesting.  This cocktail can be enjoyed all year long without the pomegranate seeds which are totally holiday seasonal. This is a very refreshing cocktail. We also mixed this with pomegranate seed with absinthe but we felt that the it overwhelmed the wine a bit, even when we tried to mellow it out with a bit of lemon peel, but it still wasn’t the hit that the other two cocktails were. I should know by now that a hint of this spirit goes a long way! Might be fun with Campari, but we ran out of wine before we could try it!

What we did learn was while it was not very good on its own to us, it went beautifully with liquors to make beautiful holiday cocktails that paired well with these desserts.

I bought this wine on sale at Vons.

Presto – Prosecco doc brut – 11% alcohol – $13.99 at Whole Foods – also available in Magnum size for $24.99 at whole foods. 

  • Color: Pale, light straw
  • Nose: Apples and pear, not outstanding nose, or dynamic, but not off at all. It wasn’t outstanding, but many excellent sparkling wines have an indistinct nose, including champagne.
  • Palate: Even and easy to drink, smooth, and paired well with almost everything we threw at it tonight, which is very impressive for a prosecco. When John said “It wasn’t dry at all”,  I replied, “It wasn’t sweet either.” Typically I do not  like prosecco because it is kind of sweet and simple. John likes it for what it is, a bubbly wine.

This is a lovely prosecco: it is dry enough to have with food. This is a nice opening wine, a great value. Great around the fire, after skiing or being outside in the air.

The Presto went very well with our chicken liver pate. The prosecco brings out a nice peppery quality in the pate. It also played well with the La Tur which has an earthy funk to it, There are nice minerals present in this wine that pop with the earthy pleasure of the cheese. this also went very well with the goat cheese and oven roasted tomatoes which is always a favorite of ours.  Gwen felt the finish was harsh with the sundried tomatoes. With our green olives it was perfect, “A revelation” brings out the baking spices in the wine.

This prosecco went so well with our meal from beginning to end. From the cheese and pate plate, to the salad, to both of our pastas, to the turkey.

A perfect prosecco to go to a party, or a dinner party, it will participate in and flow through the meal from beginning to end.  Most proseccos cocktail wines without the depth to carry them through the entire meal, while this wine went beautifully. We finished this one first because it paired so well with everything this evening.

Sue bought this wine at Whole Foods.

2016 – Ca’ Marcanda – Vistamare – Toscana – Gaja -14.0% alcohol – $65 1k cases
60% Vermentino and 40% Viognier
Fermented separately then aged for six months: Vermentino in steel, Viognier in wood.

  • Color: Pale yellow, straw, but not oxidized or dark or anything like that
  • Nose: Salt and seaweed, conjures up the ocean, minerals, intriguing; jasmine florals
  • Palate: Well balanced, has an engaging complexity which we found difficult to pin down; stone fruit and citrus are present. Engaging from the front of the palate, mid palate, well into the long lingering finish.

Green olives with this wine are a hit, bringing out the brininess in the olives, and adds to the mouthfeel. It went perfectly with our gorgonzola which you would not normally think of going with a white wine. The two of them really make your mouth pop with fruit. With our oven baked tomatoes, it reminds you of a caprese salad.

The name and the label conjures up images of the sea that matches the wine, and in fact the name is inspired by the sea breeze, sun, and “cheerful, lighthearted outlook of the Tuscan coast” and means sea view which these vines indeed enjoy.

An ideal Christmas wine for seafood or a salad course, enjoy with shrimp scampi, or fresh shrimp; it’d be great with linguini vongoli or sand dabs, and it can go from a really light white fish to shrimp or crab and on a subsequent evening I paired it with seared ahi tuna.

John could taste the green grape of the wine as he was drinking it, it reminds him of the grapes from the house down the street, a bit wild grapes, super good and sweet, in the summer they would grab them and they were so good, that is the way this wine smells, like those wonderful wild grape vines.

We loved this wine throughout the evening. If you are looking for a non-pedestrian wine, if you are an ABCer (anything but Chardonnay), this wine is a special treat. Their website points out that “Vistamare is a very limited production wine and the only white wine produced by the Ca‘ Marcanda estate, providing wine collectors with a true gem: Angelo Gaja’s exclusive expression of Tuscan white wine.”We agree.

This wine was provided as a sample for our review consideration. Thank you!

2015 – Ca’Marcanda – Magari – Bolgheri – Gaja – 13.5% alcohol – $65
Grapes: 60% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot – 100% Estate

Magari means if only it were true!, an expression used often in Italian to express desire, hope, and a vision of a bright future.

In this case, it is true: this wine satisfies your desire, and provides for the holidays a vision of a bright future.

With the grafting over of some vines to Cabernet Franc, the Magari now is predominantly made of Cabernet Franc with a small addition of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot to contribute structure, acidity, roundness, and color.

  • Color: Dense, very pretty wine – young, bright, like the inside of a purple plum, catches the light nicely
  • Nose: When first opened I got fresh cherry fruit, eucalyptus, and mint. I recommend decanting this wine. After opening up this wine has aromas of earth, violets, and sweet tobacco.
  • Palate: When we tasted the wine on its own, it was very nice but when paired with food our enthusiasm was boundless. At first it was very closed in, with subtle savory and earthy notes, but as it opened we found more cherry as well as black and blue fruit. Very enticing and intriguing.

With the LaTur cheese, this was wonderful. With our pate, comes forth flavors of cloves and cinnamon in the wine, making the pate super sweet. This wine really loved our salami, it brought forth cloves and cinnamon and the nutmeg of the food, a horse barn leather type thing going on with the wine, your really want to have some good salami with this wine. Both salami and wine taste better when paired together. With the wine the prosciutto seemed really salty to me. Also super amazing with the gorgonzola cheese.

John felt that this tugged at his nose hairs a bit, not from the alcohol, possibly from the mint and eucalyptus aromas in the wine??

The wine is big and bold, but can go very well with a rosemary turkey meal, which often requires a lighter, fruitier red wine. Surprisingly this wine does extremely well with the turkey, maybe because of the rosemary garnish.

Sue loved the Cab Franc characteristics that came out in this wine as it opened up.

Savor this wine. Set it aside. Serious aging potential!

This wine was provided as a sample for our review consideration. Thank you!


Join us for our chat on Sat. Dec. 2 at 8am PST of check out the hashtag #ItalianFWT. Look for the following posts from our group #ItalianFWT group:

Katarina from Grapevine Adventures brings us “Sparkling Wine All Through the Christmas Dinner with D’Araprì Winery.”

Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla offers up “Buon Natale, Baccalà, and Barolo”

Tracy from The Traveling Somm shares “Tis the Season for Barolo.”

Lauren from The Swirling Dervish pens a piece entitled “Feast of the Seven Fishes and Wines to Match.”

Lynn Gowdy from Savor the Harvest adds “A Vin Santo Holiday”

Jill Barth from L’Occasion writes “A Romantic Italian Christmas At Home.”

At Avvinare Sussanah Gold writes about “Prosecco DOCG and Chianti Rufina, Wines for the Christmas Feast.”

6 thoughts on “Christmas in California Tuscan Style #ItalianFWT

  1. Pingback: Christmas Traditions: Feast of the Seven Fishes and Sweet Treats by the Dozen – The Swirling Dervish

  2. Can’t wait to get the details on the ravioli in lamb rags – my husband and I will love it, I’m sure. I’ve had the Ca’ Marcanda red blend before and enjoyed it, but next time I’ll be sure to pair it with some salami. Cheers, Gwen!


  3. Pingback: Prosecco DOCG and Chianti Rufina, Wines for the Christmas Feast for #ItalianFWT Chat – avvinare

  4. I’ve passed Fernet many times but never picked up a bottle. Having a snort after dinner with biscotti… liking your idea Gwen! On the lookout for the Ca’Marcanda two wines.


  5. As always, I’m gushing over your menu!

    I love the new ingredients you introduce, along with traditional classics. What a wonderful holiday feast!

    Happy holidays to you, Sue and your families.


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