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Before the Prime Rib, a Great Starter
By Sally Belk King
Dec 18, 2007
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The proprietors of Bennett Lane Winery in Calistoga entertain up to 22 family members on Christmas day. 

'This is the time of year to open up that special bottle,' says Randy Lynch, owner of Bennett Lane Winery.  Their choice for Christmas Day?  'Our Reserve Cabernet, and plenty of it!'  Randy's wife, Lisa, chimes in:  'We're not big meat eaters, so when we serve prime rib on December 25, it's a big deal.  Plus, it's a day to celebrate family and friends . . . and we usually have between 17 and 22 at our holiday table.'

Now that's a party!

Along with the prime rib ('…easier than stuffing a turkey,' says Lisa) this wine country host prepares a make-ahead first course, several salads, and plenty of sweets for the kids.

'I've been serving prime rib on Christmas for 24 years,' says Lisa. "It's so easy . . . and it marries beautifully with our Reserve Cab.'

Before the guests arrive, Randy arranges the flowers, and Lisa sets the table with casual china, explaining "we're not into the formal look much anymore.'

Guests arrive to the strains of  Celine Dion, Josh Gobran and Andy Williams,  who "takes me right back to my childhood; I just have to include Andy Williams,' says Lisa. When the guests have settled in, Randy disappears, and Santa miraculously arrives!   Santa and a bottle (or two or ten) of great wine always makes the Lynch's holiday memorable.


Shrimp with Basil Ponzu Dipping Sauce
2005 Bennett Lane Los Carneros Reserve Chardonnay or 2006 Bennett Lane White Maximus

Prime Rib with Pan-Roasted Carrots au Jus
Baked Potatoes with Butter, Sour Cream, Chopped Chives
Caesar Salad
Bennett Lane Primus Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
or Bennett Lane Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Vanilla Ice Cream with Bennett Lane Chocolate Sauce
Christmas Cookies
Bennett Lane Maximus Truffles
Bennett Lane  Maximus (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah)


Ponzu  is a  traditional Japanese dipping sauce often served with sashimi and tempura.  There's no definitive recipe for ponzu; depending on the cook, the sauce might contain ingredients such as lemon juice, sake, rice wine vinegar and bonito flakes.  Lisa makes an East-meets-West version, with plenty of fresh basil and the zing of orange juice and lime juice.  The dish pairs up beautifully with the juicy Bennett Lane Reserve Chardonnay, which can stand up to the soy sauce, citrus, and chile sauce.

Serves 4 to 6 as a first course

1 pound fresh large or jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined with tails intact
2 tablespoons good quality soy sauce (I use tamari, but Lisa uses low-sodium soy sauce; either is fine)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice, or more to taste
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice, or more to taste
2 tablespoons firmly packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons canola oil or safflower oil
½ teaspoon Asian chile sauce, or more to taste
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh gingerroot
1 large clove garlic, finely minced
¼ cup fresh basil leaves
Fresh basil, for garnish, optional

  • For the Shrimp:  Bring 4 quarts water to a boil.  Meanwhile, have ready a large bowl of ice water in or near the sink.
  • Add the shrimp to the boiling water and cook 1 to 2 minutes (exact timing will depend on the size of the shrimp.) Do not overcook or the shrimp will be tough and chewy.  To test for doneness,  cut one shrimp in half; it should be opaque in the center.  Drain in a colander then transfer the cooked shrimp  immediately to the  bowl of ice water.
  • When shrimp are cold,  drain again in a colander, then transfer shrimp to a large, non-aluminum bowl.
  • For the Basil-Ponzu Sauce:  In a medium-sized non-aluminum bowl, combine the  soy sauce, lime juice, orange juice, brown sugar, canola oil, chile sauce, ginger root, and garlic.  Stir  until the sugar dissolves.  Add the basil and taste for seasoning, adding more soy sauce, lime juice or chile sauce to taste. Note:  the basil will darken slightly as the sauce stands, so if you prefer, add the basil just before serving.
  • Add the ponzu sauce to the shrimp and toss gently to mix.  Let stand at least 2 hours -- and up to 8 hours -- for flavors to blend.
  • To serve family style, arrange the shrimp decoratively on a large serving platter and garnish with fresh basil.  Or, divide the shrimp equally and arrange on individual plates.  Garnish with basil, and serve immediately.

Bennett Lane wines, Chocolate Sauce, and Truffles are available online at BennettLane.com and at your local wine retail shop.

To try Bennett Lane wines on site, visit the winery and tasting room and enjoy lunch in the California sunshine in the (free) picnic area.  Wannabe winemakers can sign up for 'Put a Cork in It," a custom blending experience for groups of six or more.  The $175 per person fee includes limousine service to and from the winery from either Calistoga or St. Helena, the blending session, a bottle of your own blend to take home, plus a wine and cheese pairing.  For reservations, call 707-942-6684 or toll free at 877-MAX-NAPA.

Except for photo of Lisa and Randy Lynch, all photos by Sarah Belk King.

Visit Sarah on the web at SarahBelkKing.com.