words and photo by Lisa Johnston, The Wine Musing
Tis the season to be jolly
That time of year is upon us. And as usual, always sooner than we wanted. While 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 Australians, we have a rather unique perspective on Christmas with it being the season often associated with intense heat, bushfires, swimming at the beach and jellyfish. Yet we still love our English style Christmas dinner with turkey, ham and trimmings. Lucky for us, we can 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 oysters, 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, however, the lush berry flavours of a rosé complements the deeper flavours of pink fish and prawns.
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.
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 best matched with an elegant white, one that has spent some time in oak – one with the added complexity without being oily.
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 lighter styled pinot noir or even dry rose will also work well.
Mistletoe Reserve Chardonnay 2011 ($40)
The fresh, spicy citrus and stonefruit has a floral lift. Whole bunch pressed, 100% barrel fermented and matured in new and old oak gives a creamy nuttiness gives the wine depth, richness and texture. Firm but generous length that finishes on a dollop of cream.
Mt Horrocks Watervale Semillon 2011 ($30)
It is certainly big hitting but is well judged giving creamy and savoury spice support to the lemon zest and ripe apple characters. A great food wine and very more-ish, even on its own. Sometimes hard to find, but well worth seeking and getting a few down into the cellar.
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.
Are You Game Pinot Noir 2012 ($21)
An interesting blend with 5% zinfandel (primitivo) to add some spice. On the nose it is rich cherry, cinnamon and that pinot mushroom comes to the fore. It is stylishly made with bright fruit on the finish.
De iuliis LDR Shiraz 2011 ($40)
This shiraz is tight on opening at the moment, so let it get some space and air to flesh out. Then the black cherry, cloves and earth aromas loosen up to take on a more floral violet and pepper nuance. This is not a wine that requires food but is certainly up to the task. Perhaps a good wine to continue to sip while the main course is settling.
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 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.
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.
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.