There’s no better time to show off one’s beverage expertise than around the festive holidays, and CMS Advanced Sommelier and Ascend Prime Steak & Sushi Wine Director Brandon Rastok is happy to offer tips. When it comes to picking pairings for special celebratory moments, he advises opening “a baller bottle of something from the cellar — red, white…or bubbles.” Fireworks might call for champagne, while a low-key evening spent cozied up by a fireplace is best accompanied by bourbon, scotch or brandy.

“The most important ‘pairing’ is to drink what you like and eat what you like; let the rest take care of itself,” Rastok says.

Rastok first became serious about wine in 2006 when working at Jason Wilson’s now-defunct Crush restaurant in Capitol Hill. “I was very fortunate to work with a great group of people that pushed hard on studies and tasting,” he explains. “At the time, The Court of Master Sommeliers was a very popular accreditation with a rigorous curriculum, and our group pushed hard for the certifications. I originally started studying wine and spirits as a resume builder, but quicky realized how much I love the industry, and my passion for wine and service took off from there.” He joined the Ascend Prime Steak & Sushi team in February 2018 and the venue opened in July of that year.

Rastok’s favorite wine region is Champagne, and he tends to buy and consume bubbly often. “I pair my bubbles with more bubbles,” he jokes. “The holiday season usually begins with large feasts with lots of rich, flavorful foods, so I lean to wines with brighter fruit and lively acidity.”

In general, Rastok offers the following basic tenets for food-wine pairings: body with body, acid with acid, and sweet with sweet. “The body of a wine (fruit richness, tannin in reds or oakiness for white wines, and alcohol level) must match the weight and richness of the dish,” he says. “The acid of a wine must match the acid component (usually in dressings and sauces), and if the dish is sweet (desserts, for example) the wine needs some serious fruitiness or some level of sweetness (like ports, dessert wines or sweet rieslings).

He says that red burgundy, chianti and Brunello di Montalcino are great examples of flavorful, versatile wines. “They tend toward bright red and black fruits, super herbaceous, pretty flowers, all while having the tannin structure, acid, oak spices and richness to handle a wide range of dishes,” he says. “But, again, if you are a cabernet lover, drink cabernet.”

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​With traditional holiday items like turkey, stuffing, potatoes and gravy, Rastok thinks that German, French or domestic rieslings, either dry or sweet, pair exceptionally well — especially if a honey-glazed ham is involved. “If you don’t want white wine, Loire Valley cabernet franc (from Chinon or Bourgueil) and pinot noir are a nice choice because they are not too heavy and match well with stuffing, cranberry sauce and the tasty dark meat,” he adds.

“In our household, December holidays usually include a roast beast of some sort, so this is where I would include richer wines like syrah, merlot and cabernet sauvignon. We always have mac ‘n’ cheese and richer stuffing and potato dishes, so the bigger wines are needed.”

Supporting local Washington wines is always a wonderful idea, too. In no particular order, Rastok’s go-to options include a’Maurice Cellars, WT Vintners, Buty Winery, Cote Bonneville and Cadence. “Firstly, the wines are delicious,” he says. “Second, all are very reasonably priced and accessible. There is a marked effort with these wineries to be engaged in the wine community and to be holistic in their winemaking approach.”

Perhaps the best advice for folks without much expertise? “The most important thing is to pick wines you and your family or friends enjoy,” Rastok says. “Just because some ‘expert’ says drink riesling with turkey or drink champagne with everything, doesn’t mean you have to.”

One final tip: Rastok always has a bottle of vintage port at the ready for holiday feasts. “Desserts are a major item in holiday dining, and it is a rare time to have a large family gathering.”

Take your drink pairings to new heights at Ascend Prime Steak & Sushi’s Bubbles & Bow Ties New Year’s Eve Soiree on Friday, December 31. Full details and tickets at ascendprime.com.