That time of year is upon us. And as usual, always sooner than we wanted in our busy lives. While we are decking the halls for whatever you celebrate at this time of year, it is a good time to stock your wine rack. There are the friends dropping round, the parties, the festive dinners, the end of year group break-ups… the list seems endless sometimes. Of course, don’t forget New Year celebrations too.
One of the questions that I do get asked frequently at this time of year, is what my wine picks are to match with traditional Christmas
fare. As Australian’s, we have a rather unique perspective on Christmas with it being the season often associated with intense heat, bushfires and jellyfish. Yet we still love our English style Christmas dinner with turkey, ham and trimmings. Lucky for us, we get to do an Australian mash-up of the more traditional styles, often serving the ham cold and adding seafood to the mix.
Pre-dinner & Starters
If you are kicking off Christmas dinner with some prawns or smoked Tasmanian salmon then you might want to consider a bottle or two of sparkling rosé as this will mean that you can enjoy a glass of bubbles while everyone is arriving. Particularly, if you are the cook as you may well want a little reward for all your efforts and there is nothing really that picks up the mood and gathers people around like the pop of a cork. While a sparkling white is a good match with seafood, especially if it is a Champagne with more complexity and depth, the lush berry flavours of a rosé compliments the deeper flavours of pink fish and prawns.
The traditional trio
The traditional meats for Christmas in Australia are undoubtedly ham and turkey or chicken. Myself, I never saw a turkey on a supermarket shelf until I got to the ‘big smoke’ in my twenties, but we always had ham and roast chicken. This trio is well matched with an elegant white, one that has spent some time in oak – one with the added complexity without being oily. A lighter pinot noir is also a good match.
At the upper end of the budget, you will find some interesting barrel fermented whites made from not only chardonnay, but also semillon, sauvignon blanc (or a blend of the latter two) and I recently tasted a viognier with some barrel time that I would also recommend. Spending time in oak need not mean that the wine takes on overt vanilla and brown spice characters that overwhelm the fruit.
The best take on a silky texture while retaining refreshing acid, will have added fruit weight in the mouth and will have some added aromatic and flavour complexity which act as a foil for ripe fresh fruit. Just enough character to cope with the robust flavours of turkey, chicken and ham with or without the trimmings.
These white wines are not the only wines that will match these meats. A medium bodied pinot noir or a more flavourful dry rosé will also work well. Largely, it will depend on whether it is lunch or dinner and take into account the weather. A bolder, slightly heavier red like a older Cabernet sauvignon or Bordeaux blend will work with an all singing, all dancing turkey if it is laden with rich gravy on a distinctly chilly day.
Beef & game
If you are going for darker coloured meats and game, then choose a red wine. Unless all your guests are die hard big red lovers, I would take this opportunity to choose a more elegant red that will meet the challenge of having to match a greater variety of dishes and guest preferences. Good varietals to look for are pinot noir, sangiovese, tempranillo and juicy malbec. With these wines you will get the structure and more powerful flavours you will need to work with the more chewy meats.
(Hot Tip: Look for wines with more moderate alcohol (13 to 14.2%) so that you won’t be adding to the heat of the day with big hard hitting alcoholic wines.)
Then there is dessert!!! Here you have a few choices depending if you abide by tradition. A plum pudding and brandy sauce can really be only matched by a fortified dessert wine and the stickier the better. A luxurious Australian liqueur muscat, topaque or verdelho is just about perfect here. A golden coloured botrytis dessert wine will be overwhelmed by the puds texture and gooey sauce which need the extra cut through that the higher alcohol wines have.
When you have chosen a chocolate alternative, you can stay with the fortified wines or match it with a playful sparkling shiraz another Australian use for the shiraz grape that has caught on in other countries. If you are choosing a lighter style of dessert, such as a fruit topped custard tart, a lemon soufflé or whatever your festive take on crème brulee, this is where you would be best to choose a citrusy sweet dessert wine – either a botrytis or late picked wine or try a frothy moscato.
Any of these dozen or so wines below make for good company for dinner. They will also make a great gift for the holiday or a thoughtful gift for your host/hostess on the day.
Sparkling wines for Christmas:
Chrismont La Zona Marzemino Frizzante NV ($20) – Seriously irresistible – go seek! A lightly frizzante red with sweet cherry, rich berries, some supporting toast and vanilla spice characters – a lot jam packed into a gloriously rich ruby coloured wine. The fizz is just there to give it a lift.
Bay of Fires Sparkling Pinot Noir Chardonnay NV ($26)
The pink is just turning a salmon colour in the glass. With typical strawberries and cream there is some light brioche just to remind you that this fizz has had four years on lees. Incredibly fresh with a very creamy texture, the ripe strawberry flavour lasts longer than the echoes of a diva’s quivering finale.
Hungerford Hill Dalliance 2010 ($35)
The Dalliance 2010 is a richer wine compared to the 2008 and it has evolved into a rich honey citrus and cinnamon apple wine layered with brioche and almond nougat. Not only does it work as an aperitif, with that intensity and texture, try it with seafood, light canapés and starters too. Just don’t serve it too cold and really enjoy the complexity that the 2010 has to offer.
White wines for Christmas:
Briar Ridge Dairy Hill Semillon 2014 ($35)
An ideal wine for freshly shucked oysters and lightly seared scallops and one of the picks of the semillon crop from the Hunter this year. The tangy lemon and lime is fresh and feisty. That flush of acid is particularly refreshing on a warm day and gives line and length to that intense citrus.
Note: The 2007 Hunter Valley Semillons are looking great this year and the 2008s are coming on line too.
Turkey and white meats
Pepperilly Chardonnay 2012 ($28)
A deeper hued stylish looking Chardonnay with an abundance of fruit and spice. The tropical pineapple and melon fruit takes on a light grilled appeal with some added vanilla cream. It is fleshy, creamy, spicy and silky – a good wine to just sit and ponder life over.
Tahbilk Roussanne Marsanne Viognier 2013 ($28)
A wine that has been known to convert die-hard Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc drinkers. It must be something to do with the pretty floral, stone fruit and citrus notes that are wrapped in cream and spicy pastry on the nose – a very beguiling package. Dry, silky and fuller bodied with intensity of flavour that lasts along the long length. The soft texture is kept fresh with some soft acid. A good accompaniment for a lighter styled chicken dinner or spice crusted seafood dish.
Hardys Eileen Hardy Chardonnay 2013 ($65)
The journey into the 2013 Eileen Hardy starts with fresh buttery pastry crust with a peachy, lemon citrus and cream filling. With more warm spice on the palate this wine leaves a lasting riper impression of pineapple and spiced cream completing the journey. The generosity of this Chardonnay needs to accompany food, although, it also provides a natural progression on to the after dinner conversation after without needing anything else.
Red wines for Christmas:
Eddystone Point Pinot Noir 2011 ($25+)
Spicy cloves, mushrooms and garden herbs sinuously coil around perfumed cherry and raspberry fruit. The Eddystone Point pinot has ripeness and savouriness at its heart. With its smoky chicory and cherry finish, slightly grippy but soft and fine tannins, it is up to handling any occasion. An elegant wine that cannot deny its Tassie roots.
Shaw and Smith Pinot Noir 2013 ($45)
A spicy complex pinot noir with nutmeg and dried herbs bolstering the fresh raspberry and cherry fruit. In the mouth, the fruit glides from front to the back leaving a very long trail of fruit and spice. This medium bodied wine is expressive and detailed. In the glass, it keeps unfurling different nuances as it opens so give it some time and it will reward you well.
Nick O’Leary Ballaro Shiraz 2013 ($55)
If you want to choose a young wine for Christmas, this is one that is a crowd pleaser. I have seen the ‘aaaah!’ effect in action. The intensity of the blueberry, spicy cherry countered by a light savoury earthiness continues seamlessly from the nose to the palate. The mouth fills with silky fine fruit delivering concentration but not heaviness. An ideal wine to drink now but you should also hold on it some bottles for the future.
Casella 1919 Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($100)
One of Casella’s new line up that is very handy too if you want to purchase a wine that already has some age on it although, it has plenty of life left as yet. The key here is balance and shape. Soft and rich blackcurrant, cherry, dried herbs, anise and earth smooth their way along the palate. The fruit is vibrant, the acid is soft and the tannins are shapely. It all delivers generously without any element overwhelming. Looking lively for an eight year old.
Sweet wines for Christmas:
For a lighter dessert
Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling 2013 ($35)
A little sweetie with cut pineapple, lime fruit getting a fragrant lift from some floral perfume. Being Cordon Cut, it has plenty of purity of fruit to offer and a densely textured honeyed lime and zest palate kept short of cloyingness by balanced acid. This wine is short of nothing but a light fruity dessert to go with it. Limey sublime
For the puds
Pizzini Per Gli Angeli ($65 for 375ml)
A treat for Christmas and versatile enough to go with your Christmas pud or cake, or, any other sticky gooey sweet – particularly something with nuts and caramel. A unique style in Australia but one that is definitely worth the spend for a special occasion. Buy direct from www.pizzini.com.au.
Morris of Rutherglen Classic Liqueur Topaque NV ($17)
This decadent Topaque smells & tastes like almond treacle tart served with smashed toffee & caramel coated raisins. Even just a sip luxuriously sits longingly in your mouth. This is a perfect topping for vanilla ice-cream or to accompany any rich warming pudding – your choice!
This article has been modified since it was first published on www.blahblahmagazine.com.au in 2013.