At the local feeding trough last night, the subject turned to Christmas, which considering the time of year is hardly surprising. In Thailand we can escape much of the tiresome Yuletide grind, if you can manage to ignore the squawking renditions of “Jinger Ben” in the supermarkets. Even so, it’s possible you’ll have Christmas Dinner somewhere on the agenda, especially if you are a creature of tradition. Whether it’s at a restaurant or a do-it-yourself job at home, at some point you’ll have to choose the wine. So this week, with the help of some other wine writers I’m going to suggest some wines that you might like to try for the Christmas bash.
Partnering food and wine is not as subjective as some people would have you believe. It generally boils down to this: either try to match the character of the food with that of the wine, or go for contrast (but not too much), which in my experience is probably easier. This is probably a bit simplistic for a sommelier or a professional chef, but good enough to get us by. The other factor of course is personal choice, because there’s no point in drinking Sauvignon Blanc with turkey if you hate, loathe and detest Sauvignon Blanc.
The Cathedral, Jerez de la Frontera. (Photo: Prince Grobhelm)
Let’s start at the very beginning – as the song goes – the pre-dinner drinks. I’ve always associated Sherry with Christmas. Its name incidentally, is derived from Jerez de la Frontera its home-town in Spain. Although my mother relished the occasional glass of Sherry, as a child I was never allowed to taste it. So I did what any self-respecting ten-year-old would do and stole some. One evening, when my parents and their guests were digging into Christmas Dinner, I crept into the empty lounge, helped myself to some sherry and a mince pie and retired to my bedroom. After a short time, the room began to rotate and I started to feel a bit groggy. But being an intelligent child I quickly learned my lesson, and from that day to this, I haven’t touched a mince pie.
Sadly, in Britain these days Sherry is too often regarded as the preserve of dotty old country vicars and maiden aunts. Ironically, in Southern Spain, it has been the preferred beverage of toreadors for generations. For an old-fashioned Christmas Dinner, a cold, dry and crisp Fino would be my first choice. Yes, cold. Sherry always tastes brighter and fresher when it’s chilled and the best one you’re likely to find around here is Tío Pepe from the distinguished firm of González Byass.
- Tío Pepe Fino Sherry (Spain): Top brand, full, very dry. Bt. 1,130 @ Friendship.
- Sandeman Dry Seco Sherry (Spain): Light, fruity, delicate. Bt. 645 @ Foodland.
- Custer’s Fino Dry Sherry (Spain): Light, dry, elegant. Bt. 440 @ Friendship.
- Bookmark Dry Fortified Wine (Australia): Cheap sherry alternative, full, dry, soft. Bt. 362 @ Villa.
An obvious alternative to sherry is a white sparkler. If money is no object, get some Champagne if your guests will appreciate it. If they won’t, there are plenty of decent cheapo sparkling wines around which to the uninitiated, taste similar to the real thing. You can conceal the label by wrapping a white cloth around the bottle, revealing only the champagne-like foil at the top. Sparklers labelled “Brut” or “Extra Brut” are usually crisp and very dry, while those labelled “Extra Dry” are marginally sweeter.
- Champagne Bauget-Jouette Brut (France): Budget champers, elegant, creamy. Bt. 1,999 @ Wine Connection.
- Casillero del Diablo Sparkling Brut Chardonnay (Chile): Off-dry, fruity, rich acidity. Bt. 799 @ Big C, Tesco-Lotus etc.
- Sassello Prosecco Extra Dry (Italy): Classy sparkler, fruity aroma, crisp acidity. Bt. 599 @ Tesco-Lotus, Villa etc.
- Mont Clair Sparkling Brut (South Africa): Pleasant dry cheapo, elegant, light-bodied. Bt. 379 @ many outlets.
Smoked salmon is one of the most popular starters, but strangely enough it’s tricky to find wine that goes well with it. If you want contrast, try a dry white with a good dollop of acidity to off-set the oiliness. Bone-dry Chablis (sha-BLEE) would be excellent though rather pricey, while Sauvignon Blanc (SOH-vihn-yohn BLAHN) is a cheaper option. If you want to match the oily texture, try a Gewürztraminer (guh-VURTS-trah-mee-ner) from Alsace. For ham-based starters a dry Riesling (REEZ-ling) will go well.
Turkey is the usual centerpiece for Christmas dinner, surrounded with herby stuffing, rich gravy, potatoes and vegetables, sausages and savory side-dishes. If you want to keep everyone happy, choose at least one white wine and a red one.
Let’s do the whites first. Chablis works well with turkey but some writers claim that a dry German Riesling with its refreshing acidity is better. One of my wine-loving friends thinks that a spicy Alsatian Gewürztraminer goes well with turkey and all the extras. My personal choice would probably be for a full, dry white Burgundy and there’s a very good selection of them at Villa. Cheaper options include Pinot Gris (PEE-noh GREE) or the Italian version, Pinot Grigio (PEE-noh GREE-joh) which can stand up to rich, high-fat dishes. Sauvignon Blanc is often sharp, grassy and minerally with citrus-like flavours, but it’s a bit acidic for some people.
- Louis Jadot Chablis 2008 (France): Rounded, chalky minerality. Bt. 1,999 @ Villa.
- Bouchard Aîne & Fils Chablis 2011(France): Vanilla, mineral, floral. Bt. 1,396 @ Villa.
- Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Gewürztraminer 2009 (France): Rose-petal aroma, mellow, off-dry, peppery finish. Bt. 1,299 @ Villa.
- Alsace Pinot Gris Klipfel 2011 (France): Fruity, rich, long finish. Bt. 950 @ Wine Connection.
- Louis Jadot Couvert des Jacobins (France): Bargain dry white Burgundy. Bt. 899 @ Villa.
- Wolf Blass “Yellow Label” Riesling (Australia): Dry, fresh, smooth. Bt. 799 @ Villa etc.
- Santa Helena Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (Chile): Dry, sharp, citrus finish. Bt. 613 @ Big C Extra.
- Joy Pinot Grigio 2010 (Italy): Rich, fruity, crisp. Bt. 499 @ Central & Tops.
- Kintu Chardonnay 2012 (Chile): Zesty, crisp, long finish. Bt. 399 @ Tesco-Lotus.
You can drink red wine with turkey but go for something light-bodied and low in tannin. Many Americans would choose Zinfandel which is little-known in Europe and rare in Thailand. Leave the Cabernet Sauvignon in the cupboard because sometimes it can be rather tannic. Instead, a Pinot Noir (PEE-noh NWAH) would be ideal which means any red Burgundy. The fruity, earthy qualities and mushroom-like overtones would make a pleasing contrast with turkey or any other rich-flavoured meat including goose or duck. Beaujolais (boh-zhuh-LAY), the light, fruity and fresh wine made from the Gamay grape would also work well.
- Brancott Estate Pinot Noir 2010 (NZ): Silky soft, intense cherry aromas. Bt. 2,199 @ Big C.
- Louis Jadot Couvert des Jacobins (France): Bargain red Burgundy. Bt. 899 @ Villa.
- Duboeuf Beaujolais Villages 2011 (France): Fruity, earthy, light, smooth. Bt. 850 @ Wine Connection.
- Taylor’s Pinot Noir 2010 (Australia): Strawberry and spice aroma, flavours of cherry. Bt. 830 @ Big C.
- Les Fumées Blanches Pinot Noir 2011(France): Smooth, elegant, firm, spicy. Bt. 690 @ Wine Connection.
Right, you’ve had the main course. Now what – cheese or dessert? The French usually serve the cheese first but the Brits do it the other way around, although in our cholesterol-conscious times it might be considered a bit excessive to have both. Many people don’t bother with dessert wines these days, but it comes as a pleasant surprise when they do. Sweet German wines are rare here, but the classic French dessert wine, Sauternes (soh-TERN) is available. The Ginestet Sauternes (Bt. 1,399 @ Villa) is sweet and concentrated, with a lovely aromatic aroma. It would go wonderfully with pies, fruit desserts or even blue cheeses. Tawny Port makes a splendid partner for Christmas pudding and mince pies.
Contrary to popular belief, few red wines work well with cheese, partly because the tannins clash not only with cheese but also with salty cheese biscuits. It’s impossible to find a single wine – red or white – that will go with everything on the cheeseboard. But by this late stage, palates will be jaded and your guests might be feeling as stuffed as the turkey. You could probably get away with dishing up any wines left over from the main course. So I shall leave the choice entirely up to you. In any case, I can’t be expected to do everything, you know.