With soaring views of the San Francisco Bay Bridge, Coit Tower and Alcatraz as dramatic backdrop behind him, Jean-Charles Boisset exuberantly greets his guests with a kiss, Champagne bottle in hand.
As the group is whisked onto comfortable sofas and chairs in the main sitting room, it’s clear that Boisset, the president of historic Burgundian producer Boisset Family Estates, is no novice at hosting. His social ease and sense of fun make for the ideal afternoon as he and wife Gina Gallo, winemaker for Modesto, California-based Gallo Family Vineyards and granddaughter of late wine icon Julio Gallo, host a holiday feast in their elegant but whimsical Nob Hill apartment.
The guest list—a mixture of family, old friends and cherished colleagues—reflects the down-to-earth nature of a duo that also exudes glamour and sophistication. The balance seems totally natural for the two vintners who claim country beginnings—Gina in Modesto and Jean-Charles in Beaune, France—but also grew up with the opportunity to travel and experience diverse cultures. Their marriage in 2009 joined two of the world’s most powerful wine families, but accounts of their meeting and subsequent romance sound much like the beginnings of many couples: boy meets girl, boy is smitten, girl plays hard to get, and love conquers in the end.
Gina’s sister, Mary, reflects on the family affection for wine and food: “[Growing up during the holidays] we would be in the kitchen cooking, Mom would be playing the piano and we would all sing carols,” she says. “Food was a main focus and then the wine—we’d have bottles out and would taste all sorts of different stuff throughout the day.”
Her description of the Gallo holiday feast, “somewhere between casual and formal but always boisterous,” is played out in the living room where Jean-Charles’ characteristic devilry and the comical waddling of the couple’s French bulldog (whose name varies from Frenchie to Yoda to The Emperor, depending on mood) keeps the group in jovial spirits.
“This is such a unique time,” Jean-Charles explains as he and Gina pass out squares of fragrant frittata and serve up frog legs to the guests. “We can all slow down and enjoy one another during the holidays, which with busy schedules doesn’t always happen.”
Taking time to enjoy family was a creative exercise in the Gallo clan, Gina recalls. “As a child I remember my mom coordinating plays for all of us cousins before dinner, like the Nativity scene or other holiday plays. This would usually take about an hour to organize and then we would put on a show for the adults,” she says.
Interestingly, Christmas plays are popular in Jean-Charles’ family, too. “One wonderful tradition in Jean-Charles’ family is that his grandfather, Louis, as well as a few other family members will write plays,” Gina explains. “During the holidays there will be at least one play acted out by various family members. Even historical memories are acted out: last Christmas his grandparents told the story in detail of being in the resistance during World War II and what it was like for his grandfather escaping as a prisoner of war with the amazing help from his wife.”
Grandma Aileen Gallo’s Frittata
Grandma Aileen Gallo’s Pesto Hots
2009 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Gris
Dungeness Crab Legs with Butter, Garlic and Parsley
Wild Colossal Shrimp and Bay Shrimp with Cocktail Sauce
2009 JCB No 81 Chardonnay
Claudine Boisset’s Country Terrine
2008 Gallo Family Vineyards Sonoma Coast Two Rock Chardonnay
Pére Louis Deschamps Escargot
2007 Gallo Family Estate Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
Jean-Charles Boisset’s Frogs Legs
2005 Domaine de la Vougeraie Clos Blanc de Vougeot Monopole
Gia Passalacqua’s Ravioli
2008 MacMurray Ranch Russian River Pinot Noir
2007 DeLoach Vineyards Russian River Pinot Noir
Gina Gallo’s Roasted Turkey with Grandma Aileen Gallo’s Bread
Stuffing with Mashed Potatoes and Fresh Cranberry Sauce
2005 Domaine de la Vougeraie Clos de Vougeot
1967 JC Boisset Charmes-Chambertin
Claudine Boisset’s Braised Rabbit à la Moutarde
2005 Gallo Family Estate Northern Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon
2005 Raymond Vineyards Generations Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
After Dinner Salad and Dessert
DeLoach Garden Greens with Julio Gallo’s Vinegar and Matt Gallo’s
Olive Oil served with 24-month-aged Fiscallini Cheddar, Brillat-Savarin, Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam and Comté cheeses
JCB Neige Première Cidre de Glace
Write down your menu and a list of the ingredients for each menu item. Then, do as much of the prep as possible beforehand. This will make the day of the party more relaxing and enjoyable.
When sautéing onions or garlic in olive oil or butter, start with a cold pan. Put your fat of choice in the pan along with the savory you are using and gently simmer to slowly release its flavor into the fat. This develops background flavor and the essential foundation for your final dish.
When appropriate, balance a dish with an acid to brighten flavors. Lemon juice, wine or vinegar can work wonders for a dish.
In cooking, use your best judgment. Taste, taste, taste. Recipes are useful guidelines but by tasting, you might decide to make adjustments to the recipe.
Cook simply. Sometimes the best, most flavorful dishes have the fewest ingredients. Let the ingredients shine!
Turn your leftovers into another simple yet delicious meal. Mix some Parmigiano into your leftover mashed potatoes, spread out into a shallow baking dish and bake until crispy and warm.
Use adequate salt. Salt gives life to food.
Fresh, seasonal flowers or evergreens make for beautiful additions. Simple, natural décor is always tasteful.
Keep it simple, prepare as much ahead of time as possible, in order to maximize the amount of time you can spend with guests—and your guests will feel more comfortable seeing their host relaxed.
Seat guests next to someone they do not know; guests will leave with new friends. Remember place cards are very helpful.
Appetizers are important, especially if you are serving wine or bubbles. It allows for guests to try a variety of foods and keeps them satisfied while waiting for dinner.
Something flop? It happens to all of us—if you don’t let it ruin your evening, neither will your guests. Remember, entertaining isn’t about perfection. Most people are happy to simply be part of the fun.
Stay in your comfort zone. Consider coming up with a list of “house specialties”—those tried-and-true favorites you can always count on to please guests. If you wish to experiment, complement your house specialties with dishes you’ve wanted to try.
Don’t forget wine and proper stemware—Riedel stemware is a great choice. Plan ahead for what wine or beverages you will serve when guests arrive and with dinner.
Have a designated bar area where guests can serve themselves while mingling. O ffer a variety of foods that make meals friendly to any guest should they have dietary restrictions or preferences (vegetarian, allergies, etc.).