For many people the holiday season is an invitation to indulge. There are friends to see, parties to attend and some will face the marathon of a Christmas lunch. Hard, then, to imagine drinking in moderation. But all is not lost. Slow drinking, like slow cooking, will serve you well, and the secret to drinking slower is to drink better. To sip a wine that captures your attention will give you more pleasure than drinking several glasses of an indifferent wine that has nothing to say.
If you are hosting a party, consider giving your guests something unusual like a Jurançon, or a Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Sec. Expectations are so low on such occasions that the blend of Gros Manseng and Petit Manseng, with its richness and freshness and flavour of unsweet pineapple, will set your grateful guests talking.
Of course the usual offering at festive times is Champagne, and if you are keen to taste the wine beneath the fizz choose a vintage like 2004, which shows depth of character and a rich palate. If it’s mostly the bubbles you are after, why not try a good Prosecco? For an apéritif, it is fast becoming the sparkling wine of choice. The price point is right and so far the quality is good. Will it remain so? As demand has risen authorities in the Veneto approved an expansion of the DOC region where Prosecco may be grown. Perhaps quality will be maintained but for now it is best to stick to wines from the heartland of Conegliano and Valdobbiodene.
To accompany the drinks, serve smoked salmon on rye bread. This works very well with Champagne, as the tart acidity cuts through the fat of the fish—though beware the squeeze of lemon. Alternatively, slivers of parmesan will flatter a lesser Champagne.
The choice of wine becomes more challenging when you are serving it with a meal. There is the need to match flavours of salt and sweet, savoury and sour, and to ensure the wines go well together.
The traditional Christmas fare constrains your options. If you plan to serve a white wine with smoked fish, avoid wines that have seen any oak: from Alsace, Riesling or Pinot Blanc. With a dry meat like turkey, and the bold flavours of cranberry sauce, you need a rich, robust wine, like an Amarone from Valpolicella. Once considered the headiest of wines with 14 per cent alcohol by volume, it has now been overtaken by Zinfandels, whose alcohol levels climb to 16 per cent. The pressing of ripe grapes that have been dried to concentrate their sugars gives Amarone its rich, unctuous port-like character, and sets off the roasted bird beautifully.
Then, if you plump for a traditional Christmas pudding soaked in alcohol, you must meet it half way. The best option here is a white port. Not cloying or overly sweet, but showing assertive pear and plum flavours to accompany the fruit of the pudding.
If you make it to the cheese course, return to white wines. Unlike reds, but like cheeses, they are high in acidity, so offer better pairing options. Here, the wines of Juraçon could make a welcome return, sweet or dry.
And then there are the hours before midnight on New Year’s Eve, when it is common to drink indifferently as you wait for the popping corks and Auld Lang Syne. But try something slower and more satisfying by serving an ice cold Manzanilla sherry with roasted almonds. The saline note in the Manzanilla sits perfectly with the nuts until you no longer know which provides the salt and which provides the nutty flavour. A perfect combination that will intrigue and satisfy you sooner. End the year well. Resolutions come later.