Christmas wine guide: what to drink with your festive feast

Sat, Dec 15, 2012, 00:00

Are you a Christmas conservative or iconoclast? Do you stick with turkey, or experiment each year? I am something of a traditionalist, although after a month of tacky songs and gaudy decorations it can all wear a little thin.

I have defended the turkey (it is great, if cooked properly) and the sprouts on these pages before. We have few enough culinary traditions in this country, so at Christmas I will eat turkey or goose. There are 364 other days in a year when we are free to eat whatever takes our fancy. So today, I will offer suggestions for Domini’s venison, but also make room for turkey, too. In fact, they both call for similar wines, with one exception.

Some of you open your very best bottles on Christmas Day. If there is a large crowd sitting down to dinner, I tend to veer towards less expensive wines. I am not a wine scrooge, but it is hard for anyone to appreciate the finer points of a fine wine when all hell is breaking loose.

These days, with more mature children around me, I like to open up something decent. Even in these hardened times, it is nice to create a feeling of a little luxury on the day. Put out your finest glasses, serve the wine in a decanter and bring out any other accessories that will add to the sense of opulence.

As soon as the festivities begin, have a glass of something ready for your guests. The final food preparations can take a lot of time, and you certainly don’t want anyone going thirsty. Besides, the chef will appreciate something to quench their thirst.

I like to kickstart the day with a glass of Champagne. Current favourites include Bollinger, Roederer, Bruno Paillard, Deutz and Larmandier-Bernier. However, if the weather is very cold and you have all been out for a walk (or a swim) a glass of mulled wine is less expensive, but equally welcome.

Domini Kemp’s suggested apple, celeriac and smoked trout starter is not the easiest dish to match to wine, but both the apple with its sweetness and the smoky trout would suggest Riesling. A Kabinett from the Mosel would do nicely. Alternatively, a lightly oaked Chardonnay would match both the apples and the smoky flavours of the trout. I would normally reach for a bottle of Mâcon, but I did try some very decent Chardonnays from Chile at a tasting a few weeks back, including the Santa Rita Medalla Real Chardonnay (€17.99, widely available).

This would also go well with a starter of smoked salmon, and double up with the turkey main course for white wine drinkers.

Venison is one of the most richly flavoured meats, so a bottle of something reasonably full-bodied is called for. The cherry and red wine sauce would suggest something with real ripeness. Barolo is great with venison, but might be a bit too dry with the fruit sauce. Instead, I would head to the southern Rhône, Australia or maybe Argentina.

Venison is a very wine-friendly food, so you could roll out your very best big reds here. Châteauneuf-du-Pape would be great, or its near neighbours, Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Cairanne.

Taking a different tack, you could try matching the sauce with the fragrant dark cherry fruits of a Pinot Noir. New World might be best, and probably cheaper too, although if you have a nice bottle of Burgundy around, I would be tempted to pop the cork.

In the New World, New Zealand makes great Pinot Noir, but it is relatively expensive. Chile is cheaper, and a better option if you are catering for large numbers.

Turkey is a fairly accommodating bird, but tends to clash with dry, tannic red wines. Sauces and stuffings magnify this effect, so I go for something rounded and supple. Once again, a Pinot Noir, Australian Shiraz, or a rich Grenache from the Southern Rhône would fit the bill perfectly.

I will cover fortified and dessert wines next week, but in the meantime my suggestion to accompany Domini’s raisin and sherry ice-cream, with or without plum pudding, would be a few mouthfuls of sweet sherry. The Lustau Pedro Ximenez (Mitchell Son) is raisined and decadently sweet, but my desert island choice would be Gonzalez Byass Matusalem Oloroso Dulce (€20 per ½ bottle, O’Briens). Serve either lightly chilled, in small amounts, but in a large glass to allow the full glories to emerge.

What to drink with dinner

Fleurie 2010, Collin-Bourisset, 13%, €10For large-scale catering, Supervalu has a great St Chinian at €10; Superquinn has Cristia Grenache at €8, and Dunnes has this charming, easy-drinking red. Inexpensive Beaujolais can be watery at times, but this example is a good light, fruity wine with no rough edges. Stockist: Dunnes

Secano Pinot Noir 2011, Leyda Valley, Chile, 14%, €13.29This is a great value Pinot, with fragrant aromas, smooth dark cherry fruits with a hint of spice, and a decent finish. An elegant wine that would go perfectly with turkey or goose. I also think it would work very nicely with the venison and accompanying cherry sauce. Stockist: Marks Spencer

Taltarni Heathcote Shiraz 2008, Victoria, Australia, 14.5%, €17.99One of my wines of the year, this is a very nicely crafted wine with a good structure, big ripe mulberry fruits and dark chocolate. It lingers very nicely on the palate too. Serve in a nice decanter and wow your guests. Stockist: O’Briens

Baron de Boutisse 2008, St Emilion Grand Cru, 13.5%,€19.99Turkey and Bordeaux do not always make a great match, but I reckon this wine would go very nicely with venison. Medium-bodied with maturing, slightly leafy red fruits, and a dry finish. A very satisfying wine. Stockists: The Vintry, Dublin; O’Donovans, Cork; Londis, Malahide; Baggot Street Wines; Hole in the Wall, D7: Deveney’s, Dundrum.

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