Festive Delights

(Photo by Jill Wellington.)

If you are a creature of tradition, it’s possible that in the foreseeable future you might have Christmas Dinner somewhere on the agenda, if only to bring a bit of joy to our challenging times. Whether it’s at a restaurant or a do-it-yourself job at home, at some point you’ll have to choose the wine, assuming of course that you are a wine-drinker.

So this week, I’m going to suggest some wines that will almost certainly enhance the Christmas bash. If you are eating out, it’s a good idea to check the wine list on the restaurant’s website so that you can make your decisions well in advance. Besides, it will look much more impressive if you order the wine without hesitation rather than spend ages poking about uncertainly in the drinks menu.

Partnering food and wine is sometimes a bit tricky but it generally boils down to this: either try to match the character of the food with that of the wine, or go for contrast. Now I admit that this is a bit simplistic, but good enough to get most of us by. Personal choice matters because there’s no point in ordering a bottle of Chianti if you hate, loathe and detest Chianti. Then of course there’s the money. I am restricting my choice to wines at the lower end of the price range. If you can afford the top-end stuff, then go for it. You probably won’t need my suggestions.

As you probably know by now, the Thai government has announced that online alcohol sales are now prohibited. Whether the wine trade eventually manages to agree to some kind of compromise remains to be seen, but for the moment that option is closed. Incidentally, The Wine Connection has produced a catalogue of festive wine and contains many of the wine types recommended here. Villa Market also has a good selection.

Let’s start at the very beginning – as the song goes – the pre-dinner drinks, assuming you are eating at home. I’ve always associated Sherry with Christmas. Even the unmistakable aroma brings me memories of times long gone: Christmas trees, fruit puddings and my father’s cigars. The name incidentally, is derived from Jerez de la Frontera, its home-town in Spain.

For an old-fashioned Christmas Dinner, a cold, dry and crisp Fino Sherry as an apéritif would be my first choice. Yes, cold. Sherry always tastes brighter and fresher when it’s chilled. The best one you’re likely to find around here is Tío Pepe from the distinguished firm of González Byass. There are several less expensive examples, notably Sandeman Dry Sherry or Custer’s Fino Dry Sherry both of which are light and dry.

An alternative to sherry is a white sparkler. Champagne is the obvious choice if your guests will appreciate it. If they never drink Champagne, don’t waste your money. There are plenty of decent cheapo sparklers around which to the uninitiated taste similar to The Real Thing. You can conceal the label by wrapping a spotless white cloth around the bottle, revealing only the champagne-like foil at the top. Sparklers labeled “Brut” or “Extra Brut” are crisp and notably dry, while somewhat confusingly, those labeled “Extra Dry” are slightly sweeter.

A popular Champagne alternative is Prosecco and I have found that Cornaro Prosecco Extra Dry or Maschio Prosecco Extra Dry are both excellent wines and available for just under Bt 700. If you are really on a tight budget, go for Mont Clair Sparkling Brut which is dry and surprisingly elegant for the price.

Smoked salmon is one of the most popular starters, but 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 a white and a red.

Let’s do the whites first. Chablis works well with turkey but it’s expensive and some people claim that dry German Riesling with its refreshing acidity is better. Alsatian Gewürztraminer also goes well with turkey and all the extras. My personal preference for a white would be a full, dry white Burgundy like a Mâcon. 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 can be a sharply acidic – especially some examples from New Zealand.

Red wine also works with turkey but go for something light-bodied and low in tannin. I’d avoid Cabernet Sauvignon (which means all red Bordeaux) because they are more suited to beef. Instead, a light Pinot Noir (PEE-noh NWAH) would be ideal such as a Burgundy or one from New Zealand. The fruity, earthy qualities would make a pleasing contrast with turkey.

Burgundy in the lower price range can sometimes taste a bit harsh, so look out for leading makers such as Louis Jadot, Georges Duboeuf and Bouchard Père et Fils. Beaujolais (boh-zhuh-LAY), the light, fruity and fresh red wine made from the Gamay grape would also work well with turkey but serve it slightly chilled. The wine I mean, not the turkey.

Maybe you have in mind something lighter than the usual gut-busting Christmas fayre and thinking about salads or vegetarian options. Rosé is often a perfect match for salads and light dishes and those from Provence or anywhere in the South of France are good choices.

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 excessive to have both. Desert wines make a really pleasing end to a meal. Sweet German wines are rare here, but the classic French dessert wine, Sauternes (soh-TERN) is available and the cheapest will cost you around Bt 1,300.

At a lower price tag, there are some good Moscato wines on the market. You can’t go wrong with Banrock Station Moscato or Deakin Estate Moscato both of which are dessert wines from Australia at around Bt 650. They go well 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 the inevitable 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.