Happy Christmas Card from Wine Alchemy
Here’s my Happy Christmas card to you. I like to get them done early!
What does a vision of Christmas mean to you? Is it the smell of the tree, the glitter of the lights and the rustle of wrapping paper? A time for friends, family, old and young – new toys to play with, old stories retold again and again. Maybe it’s the aroma of the turkey in the oven, or bling and parties. It’s a time for good wine, good spirits and hearty cheer.
As we know, the festive season can be fraught too. Maybe Christmas is a time you’d prefer to avoid! What to buy? The sense of obligation. The in-laws. Whose turn is it to have Aunt Mabel? What about the excess and the expense? Is the turkey burnt and have the sprouts gone to mush? And there’s still nothing on the telly. What to do about leftovers and hangovers? Can we go home yet?
I can’t advise you about how to cope with festive stress. However, I can suggest some ideas for wines to enjoy over the festive period without wear and tear on the nerves or your bank account. And a bottle of wine should make a much-appreciated gift (hint-hint).
Here’re some general ideas, with links to more detailed articles if you want to explore. Meanwhile, here are my specific Christmas 2016 wine recommendations.
Sherry should be on your shopping list. Let’s get this straight; Sherry isn’t just for old codgers, so go to the back of your cupboard and throw away that half-empty bottle of Aunt Mabel’s cream sherry from last year. Sherry is a bargain and comes in a wide range of styles, so try dry sherries with a bowl of olives or with nibbles and cheese, or enjoy sweet ones with desserts. Half-bottles are convenient and once opened Sherry will keep for a week in the fridge.
For celebrations, you need fizz. If you want high quality, choose either Champagne, Franciacorta or English. You could spend a small fortune on vintage or luxury prestige cuvées, leave those for another time. Instead, look for a top-notch non-vintage (NV). Those off to parties should need to look no further than Prosecco.
Christmas dinner meanwhile is usually the largest and most elaborate meal of the year. Regardless of the centrepiece, (duck, goose, chicken, beef, pork, lamb or game are all common alternatives to turkey), this is a meal that’s a minefield for wine matching as well as relationships!
When wine pairing, look at the various extras rather than the centrepiece; cranberry sauce, chestnut stuffing, horseradish, mustard, bread sauce, sausage meat, bacon, chipolatas and various vegetables including parsnips and those essential Brussels sprouts. These myriad intense flavours challenge any wine. To cope, you need wines with power and rich character that are crowd-pleasers too. It isn’t the best time to show off a prized pedigree bottle, unless you cut those extras out, and who wants to do that?
White wines need to be full-bodied. For me, that role is played to perfection by Chardonnay, as no other white grape has such an affinity for oak. With Christmas flavours, oak is your friend. The best producers manage to integrate oak and wine perfectly, giving the wine additional backbone and complexity while preserving balance and elegance – no mean feat. If you’re a paid-up member of the ABC (anything but Chardonnay) society, then I’d suggest Chenin Blanc is an excellent alternative. Save some back for the cheese.
Furthermore, for a red wine, look for power, bold fruit and smooth, soft tannins to cope with that riot of food flavours. For me, a big red Californian Zinfandel hits the spot every time, closely followed by the indigenous reds from Italy; Amarone, Primitivo (which is Zinfandel), and Negroamaro.
Inevitably, there are the leftovers. A glass of wine that’s great with Christmas dinner is often not so great with those Boxing Day cold cuts. Look for fruit and acidity and avoid tannins. Lighter, fruity reds such as Beaujolais, Valpolicella and Dolcetto work well, while for a goose, nothing beats an off-dry German Riesling. Sauvignon Blanc is my weapon of choice for bubble and squeak!
Finally, don’t forget about Port. Tawny Port comes into its own and makes a refreshing change because it is a versatile drink that’s gender-inclusive, sold in chic bottles and brilliant with a whole range of festive fare. Think nuts, cheeses, Christmas puddings and cakes, mince pies, chocolate, dates and coffee. Or just sip it on its own if you’re full-up.
This Christmas, I hope you’ll drink some great wines and add a little pizzazz to your seasonal enjoyment.
As for me, relaxing in well-fed contentment in front of a blazing fire in the company of my cats is the joyful experience I desire the most. With a glass in hand, natch.
Whatever you’re doing, I do hope you have a Cool Yule.
Happy Christmas Happy Christmas, Happy Christmas, Happy Christmas,