Seasonal cheer with Leslie Williams

From the starter to the main course to dessert, wine columnist Leslie Williams serves up some must-have holiday drinks.

Seasonal cheer with Leslie Williams

MY first advice about Christmas wines is to relax. Matching wine with food is an inexact ‘science’, so my best advice is to drink your favourite wine this Christmas.

You don’t want to open a wildly expensive or long-treasured bottle and not like it, but feel ‘guilted’ into drinking it.

Still, there are a few classic matches that may enhance the flavours of Christmas. Smoked salmon works well with Champagne, but also with Rieslings. Tim Adams Clare Valley Riesling, from Tesco, is eminently reliable, but why not head to Joe Karwig, in Carrigaline, www.karwigwines.ie, and seek out a decent German Riesling, from the Mosel or the Rheingau.

Choosing wine for the main meal is always a compromise, but the turkey is the easy part, as the relatively bland flavour will pair well with everything from Albariño to Pinot Noir to Zinfandel (the Thanksgiving choice in the US).

Add some salty ham into the mix (or a goose), however, and you may prefer more fruit, such as a Fleurie or Brouilly, or, perhaps, an aromatic Pinot Gris from Alsace (eg, Trimbach). Brussels sprouts wont match any of these wines particularly well (New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc copes best) and home-made cranberry sauce won’t help much either, so choose a wine style you like.

Personally, I think red is a better overall match than white, but if you are a family of white-wine drinkers, then choose something that has lots of flavour. For red, I suggest rich, Southern Rhone wines, Rioja and good-quality Zinfandel. For Christmas pudding, I believe fortified, sweet wine, such as Port, Madeira or proper Dulce Sherry will work best, as lighter dessert wines, such as Sauternes, will not be able to cope.

In addition, a glass of fortified wine will last for a few weeks and works just as well with Quality Street and with the Breaking Bad box set.

Some of the recommendations below cost a little more, so, if you are on a budget, keep an eye on my column in the coming weeks, because it will have some good-value choices.

Apéritif/Starters:

Tesco Finest Cava Rosé Brut — €10.

Stockist: Tesco.

You have to have a sparkling wine at some point on Christmas Day and this full-fizz Cava is great value, for a tenner, with fresh raspberry aromas and good body and acidity.

Chateau du Tariquet Classic Cotes de Gascogne — €10.99

Stockists: JJ O’Driscoll’s Ballinlough; Next Door, Youghal; Stack’s, Listowel; The Vanilla Grape, Kenmare; Wicklow Arms, Redmond’s, Ranelagh; Deveneys, Dundrum; Corkscrew, D2.

I challenge you to find a more enjoyable crisp, fragrant white wine for this money.

Tariquet is the world’s favourite Cotes de Gascogne, but only recently arrived in Ireland. Pears, lemon drops and a crisp citrus finish.

Main course:

Beronia Crianza 2010, Rioja, Spain — €15.49.

Stockist: Dunnes Stores.

Beronia’s Crianza has good spice and dried-fruit aromas and it is made in a solid, fruity style that should be able to cope well with the flavours of Christmas dinner, whether you are serving pheasant, turkey or goose.

Terras Gauda O Rosal, Rias Baixas, Spain — €23.99.

Stockists: Ardkeen Stores, Mannings’ Ballylicky, Stack’s Listowel, Redmond’s Ranelagh, The Corkscrew, Sweeneys.

This is one of the best white wines I have tasted all year. A fragrant and complex wine, blended from Albariño, Loureira and Caiño Blanco, with enough richness and mineral edginess to match ham, turkey and stuffing.

Pudding:

Matusalem Oloroso Dulce Sherry, 375ml — €20.49-22.99.

Stockists: Bradley’s, Cork; O’Brien’s, nationwide.

A luxurious, rich, sweet sherry that seems to have been designed for Christmas pudding. Aged for 30 years and sweetened using Pedro Ximinez grapes — aromas and flavours of raisins, dried figs, coffee and chocolate with good acidity.

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