It’s a time of year when people will spend more on wine than any other.
There’s the Champagne for celebration of course – it’s an occasion where people who rarely buy Champagne will forgo the new-world sparklings and shell out the big bucks. People bring out treasured cellared items, wine-eggs they have been sitting on for years, just waiting for the perfect time to crack them. It’s the only time the majority of the population will also consider spending money on sweet wines, and Port, Passito and Sauternes find their way into wine baskets.
The other obscurity that hits the big time for an Australian is Sparkling Burgundy. Of course, it’s not really called that any more. It’s not Burgundy of course, doesn’t come from anywhere even close to that region, and it doesn’t even usually contain the Burgundy grape, Pinot Noir. It’s usually a Shiraz (Syrah), fermented almost dry, then filled with bubbles in a traditional method, and topped up with a generous slug of sweet fortified liqueur. It’s a perfect match for turkey and cranberry sauce, for plum pudding and mince pies, for roast pork with cumberland sauce, for beef en croute, and pretty much everything traditional you might serve for Christmas day. It ranges from rich and complex to sweet and sickly, and gives you one hell of a hangover.
So we don’t want you to fill up on that (although you really should grab some if you find it) – here’s some other options. Sarah Walton’s Hedonistic plan for festive drinking. Take this with you to the wine store, and use it as a guide. If you have a salesperson with wine knowledge, you might want to ask them to steer you towards better brands and vintages, as this is a guide that will give you regions and basic styles only.
Your guests arrive hotchpotch and gagging for booze. There’s been 17 straight days of partying and they’ve built up a tolerance to alcohol. They’ve also been pulling all-nighters at work for the pre-Christmas deadlines, so let’s start them strong.
You can’t beat a classic champagne cocktail. Firstly, you can cheat and use a sparkling wine, because with all the bits it there, nobody’s going to taste the delicate nuances of a fine Frenchy. Stick with a traditional method though (not charmat or Italian method like Prosecco) as they tend to have a little more yeast character. Definitely brut, maybe even dryer if you can – the cocktail has enough sweetness as it is. I have a newfound love of cava, but some other inexpensive options include Lindauer, Orlando Trilogy, Croser NV, and Graham Beck NV. Use a decent brandy too – you don’t want to taint that quaint little fizz with rocket fuel. A VSOP cognac is about as high as you need to go however.
Americanos – my new favourite drink. Quite bitter, so not for all, but a great palate cleanser, and works like a digestif, clearing the belly for copious consumption. If you want a similar taste but without the bitterness, change out the Campari for a nice rye whiskey (or bourbon) and you have a version on the Manhattan.
Gluhwein: As much as I love egg nog, it’s not something you can serve before lunch – it’s just too filling. Instead try a short nip of strong mulled wine. Only serve this in cold areas – nobody wants to be drinking hot spicy red wine at a summer barbecue.
Champagne (yes, the real stuff). Stick with a middle flavour profile crowd pleaser like Veuve Cliquot, Laurent Perrier or Pol Roger, or go all out and splash them with a little Billecart Salmon Rose.
Wine and Food matching
- fruity/mineral champagne (e.g Moët et Chandon, Perrier jouet, Billecart Salmon)
- lean whites, lightly aromatic: Dry Riesling from Claire valley Australia, Sancerre, Picpoul, Chablis, Gavi.
- icy cold fino sherry
Prawns, crab, lobster
(served cold with seafood sauce)
- Rose: Rose Cava, dry fruity roses
- Aromatic whites: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Fruili Pinot Grigio, Condrieu
- crisp lager
(Served warm with butter or cream sauce)
- Medium bodied, high acid dry whites: Cool climate Aussie Chardonnay (e.g yarra valley, Adelaide hills), Albarino, Southern New Zealand Pinot Grigio, South African Chenin, some northern Burgundy whites (e.g. Chassagne Montrachet, Pernand Vergelesses), Lugana, Greco Di Tufo
- Belgian wheat beer
- Big rounded whites: buttery Chardonnay. Mersault, Lugana, new world Viognier
- Fruity light reds: Dolcetto d’Alba, Beaujolais, Yarra valley Pinot Noir, cheap Cotes du Rhone (lighter styles)
- Dusky tawny reds: dirty old Rioja, cheap chianti.
- Spicy brown ale.
- Rounded aromatic whites: Most Rhone Whites, aged Bordeaux Blanc, Gavi, Fruili Pinot Grigio
- Dry roses: Tavel rose,
- Fragrant, dry, light-medium reds: Loire Cabernet Franc, Oregon Pinot, valpolicella.
- Malty lager.
Beef en croute
- Punchy whites: Wooded Sauvignon blanc, very developed Champagne
- Complex, spicy dry reds: Côte d’Or Burgundy, Northern Rhone reds, Aged Barossa Shiraz, st Emilion, Brunello Di Montalcino and super-Tuscans.
- Dark ale
- LBV port, Australian Muscat, Passito Di Pantelleria,
- Intense sparklings: Australian Sparkling Burgundy (sweeter styles), Aged champagne rose, some demi-secs.
- Fruity young reds: unwooded Argentine Malbec, Beaujolais Nouveau
- Egg nog.
Chocolate Yule log.
(and other sweeter desserts)
- Lighter sweet wines: Australian tokay, rich Sauternes styles
- Fragrant pure spirits: excellent quality grappa, calvados, distilled cacao
Feel free to interject at any time when belts are being loosened. These will assist in digestion and work remarkably quickly. Warning – they are nearly all very bitter, but many people like this.
- Bitter herb drinks: Underberg, Jaegermeister, Amaro (not amaretto!), Campari (or another Americano)
- Very dry and lean champagne (e.g Joseph Perrier ultra brut, Ayala zero dosage),
- Strong, dry, clean-flavoured spirits and liqueurs: Ouzo, Grappa, Pastis
- Palate cleansing pilsner – anything super-dry and crisp.
Well that should keep you going for the meantime. If you have any specific matching requests, please comment and I’ll be happy to throw in some more suggestions!