Wine World: Seasonal Pleasures

Vineyards in Burgundy

If you are a creature of tradition, it’s possible that in the foreseeable future you might have some kind of Christmas Dinner on the agenda. Whether it’s at a restaurant or a cook-it-yourself job at home, you may need to select some suitable wine. If you’re eating out, it’s a good idea to check the restaurant’s wine list online so that you can decide in advance. This is much better than keeping your fellow diners waiting impatiently while you poke about tentatively among the items on the wine list. Of course, it helps if you know your friends’ preferences in advance. In these lean times, few people can afford to have four or five different wines on the dinner table, but if you are eating with friends, at least a bottle each of a well-chosen white and red would be a good start.

Partnering food and wine is relatively easy with a traditional Christmas Dinner because the menu is pretty well standard. In any case, it generally boils down to either matching the character of the food with that of the wine, or going for contrast. Now I admit that this is a bit simplistic, but it’s a good enough rule-of-thumb for most of us. Wine is absurdly expensive in Thailand and if you are eating out, the restaurant will (with good reason) mark up the price even higher. If you can afford the top-end stuff, then go for it. You probably won’t need my suggestions anyway, which in general are limited to fairly inexpensive wines that are readily available in quality restaurants or the better supermarkets. If you are planning a do-it-yourself Christmas bash, there are excellent wine choices available at Wine Connection, Villa Supermarket or on Thepprasit Road, Vines to Vino and the curiously-named Wine in Love which, for those who can afford them, also has some classic bottles available.

Let’s start at the very beginning – as Maria sings in The Sound of Music. For a pre-dinner drink my personal choice would be a crisp, cold and dry Fino Sherry to stir memories of times long gone. But I am being a bit old-fashioned and, in any case you’d be hard-pressed to find Fino in these parts. These days, a more popular apéritif is a white sparkler. Champagne is the classic choice if you and your friends appreciate it. There are plenty of cheaper options which to the uninitiated taste much the same as The Real Thing. A popular alternative to Champagne is Italian Prosecco, usually available in wine shops for around Bt 700 upwards. Incidentally, sparklers labeled “Brut” or “Extra Brut” are crisp and notably dry, while somewhat confusingly, those labeled “Extra Dry” are slightly sweeter.

 For the food, the French wine regions of Burgundy or Alsace would be my first choices. Most dishes that make up a traditional Christmas dinner (or almost any dinner, for that matter) can be enhanced with wines from these two regions alone. One of the most popular starters is smoked salmon, and a dry white with a good dollop of acidity to off-set the oiliness is a good choice. 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 Alsatian or German 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 a white and a red. But remember that turkey is a white meat with low fat content and best suited to a full-bodied white or a medium-bodied red with low or medium tannin. Chablis works well with turkey but it’s expensive and some people find it acidic. Alsatian Gewürztraminer is a good option but a full-bodied oaky Chardonnay would be a really safe choice. My personal preference would be a full, dry white Chardonnay from Burgundy like a Mâcon. Cheaper options include Pinot Gris (PEE-noh GREE) or the Italian version, Pinot Grigio (PEE-noh GREE-joh) but sometimes they feel a bit thin on the palate.

As to the red options, I would avoid Cabernet Sauvignon entirely and instead look for a light Pinot Noir (PEE-noh NWAH) from Burgundy or New Zealand. The fruity, earthy qualities and low tannin would go well with turkey. If you can afford it, go for one of the better commercial brands such as Jadot, Duboeuf and Bouchard. Beaujolais (boh-zhuh-LAY), the light, fruity and fresh red wine made from the Gamay grape would also work well with turkey and should be served slightly chilled. The wine I mean, not the turkey.

Right, we’ve done 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 excessive to have both. Dessert wines make a pleasing end to a meal. The classic French dessert wine, Sauternes (soh-TERN) is sometimes available here and the cheapest retails at around Bt 1,300. At a lower price tag, there are some good Moscato wines on the market especially from Australia. A decent Moscato (moss-KAH-toh) retails from about Bt 650 upwards and it makes a good partner for fruit pies, fruit desserts or even blue cheeses. Tawny Port also makes a splendid but more expensive 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 the inevitable salty cheese biscuits. It’s impossible to find a single wine – red or white – that will go with everything on the cheeseboard. Most people will be content to finish up any wine left over from the main course because by this stage of the meal, palates will be jaded and your guests might be feeling as stuffed as the turkey.