Very berry or festively fruity? Crisp and clean or buttery and robust? What wines will I choose for everyone this Christmas?
I always hear this question flying around at Christmas time. Christmas (unless of course, you let us at Christmas Made Easy help you) can be stressful enough without having to worry about which wines will go with what dish.
So I won’t recommend one particular wine - tastes are too diverse and what Auntie Aine loves, Uncle Donal may spit out with discreet distaste. Using a couple of grape varieties is the key to satisfying everyone: remember, when some of the finest sommeliers do blind wine-tastings with top-end wines against your local supermarket plonk, the lesser expensive wines often compare very favourably indeed. Keep an open mind. If you do a bit of research first you could be enjoying a fine, festive full-bodied wine at just a fraction of the price!
No celebration is complete without some bubbly. It needn’t be expensive - there are plenty of delicious alternatives to the pricier labels. For a refreshing aperitif or to pep up a smoked salmon appetiser, I love sipping an inexpensive and elegant Italian Prosecco from the Veneto region of Italy, which offers a light, sparkling wine with delicately mixed fruit aromas and flavours.
Everyone will be happy if you offer them a crisp, clean Cava from Spain - the Penedes region has one which is suitably lively and lemony. If you want posh French bubbles (and I’m partial to a good French champagne!), a non-vintage Champagne can be got at a reasonable price. Versatile with food, it offers a citrus edge which develops with age.
The crème de la crème, for Christmas Day, is the vintage Champagne. It’s richer and more developed in flavor - to be popped open for that really special occasion (and really, do you need a reason to celebrate?)
I would go for something dry, such as a Riesling and a Sauvignon Blanc. Dry Rieslings from Germany, Alsace and Austria are aromatic and just bursting with citrus flavours, which make them ideal food wines. I have another little secret for you: the New World also has some fine examples of Riesling, but with slightly higher alcohol content (hiccup!).
The Sauvignon Blanc grape, characterized by high acidity and grassy aromas, offers a different alternative to the Riesling. Good examples, always to be found in my wine cooler for dinner-party emergencies, are Sancerre and Pouilly fume, from the Loire valley in France. Other good examples come from New Zealand, South Africa and Chile. I’ve found time and time again that the Sauvignon Blanc grape is a true crowd-pleaser - perfect for Christmas fun.
There’s nothing like a glass of Pinot Noir on a winter’s night in front of a roaring fire. Of course, it’s perfect with food too, and its silky, velvet texture with its fine flavours of spice, cherries and strawberries, are perfect with a good roast poultry meal.
After many Christmases sipping away whilst serving delicious food up to my loved ones, I’d recommend the elegant reds from Burgundy in France and the Carneros area in California. Syra-Shiraz is a more robust style than Pinot Noir, able to stand up to a more alternative Christmas dinner - think tender roast beef or duck. There are some good examples of Syra-Shiraz from the Rhone region in France, while Australia and South Africa produce some excellent Shiraz too. Just put your feet up, light that fire, and relax!
Irish Food & Wine Sommelier of the Year 2007
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