We usually think of Christmas and New Year as winter feasts most suited to hearty reds. But are we right to do so?by Barry Smith / December 11, 2014 / Leave a comment
Feasts need wine, and seasonal feasts need seasonal wines. We usually think of Christmas and New Year as winter feasts most suited to hearty reds. But are we right to do so?
The mistake that some people make is serving a cherished, trophy red at Christmas. After all, it is a special occasion. But the range of flavours in a festive meal may overpower, or at least subdue, some of the subtle flavours of an aged Bordeaux or Barolo. As a rule of thumb, the more complex the wine, the simpler the food should be, and vice versa. Paul Pontallier, the chief wine maker at Chateau Margaux, once expressed surprise at a dinner organised by Michelin-starred restaurant The Fat Duck, when vintages of Chateau Margaux were served in reverse order, oldest to youngest. But he readily agreed that this was the right decision, for as the dishes got progressively heartier, they would have overpowered the delicate flavours of the beautifully aged wines, while the younger, more vigorous vintages were fine.
Similarly, it may be time to re-think the choice of a bottle of sturdy red with a rich festive meal. What you need most of all is refreshment—and, if you are pacing yourself, a wine lower in alcohol. So consider a varietal like Riesling, which make clean, refreshing wines with a razor-sharp acidity. Not only are Rieslings made in colder northern climates, they also come in a variety of styles that can be drunk with each course of the meal. On the banks of the Rhine, they make sparking Riesling, or Sekt, which would serve for the aperitif. This can be followed by a young, still Kabinett or, for something special, one could choose a decently-aged Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese from Joh Jos Prüm, who make wines that with age take on high, almost menthol notes, lending them lightness.
Now comes the main course. Here it is hard to prise people away from reds, and yet this may be the moment to try the unusual Riesling Spätlese made by Anselmann. These are wines made from sweet, late-picked grapes but which are vinified to produce a dry wine, giving the liquid a rich, golden colour and a satisfying weight in the mouth. These are not just wines of considerable interest, they are also good matches…