I was pondering what to write about in this article, when I was approached by a co-worker of mine who is heading out to family in Nova Scotia for Christmas.
He was thinking about his family Christmas dinner and he wanted to pick my brain (what little there is of it) for some suggestions on wines to serve.
I was going to write this article closer to Christmas, but lead times and time to travel Outside being what they are in the Yukon, I thought maybe the time was right.
When I conjure up thoughts of the Christmas dinner, my mind travels back across the years to my own childhood. Perhaps, most of all, Christmas is the province of children and what we bring to our adult experience is rooted in our (hopefully happy) memories of that time.
For me it is about a lit and sparkling Christmas tree in an otherwise dark room, short days and long nights, but lit with fires in the fireplace and the gathering of family.
And, most of all, the smells and tastes of spices, peppermint, roasting turkey, huge oranges, grapefruit and apples. They say that smell is the most evocative of the senses and so it does not surprise me that smell is also the sense we use most in tasting wines.
Studies show that 80 per cent of the experience of tasting wine comes not from the tongue, but rather from the nose, so take the time to swirl the wine around the sides of the glass and bury your nose in the bowl of the glass as you partake of your first sip of a wine.
So, Christmas dinner … many of us will sit down to roast turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce and the accompanying side dishes. If this is the meal you anticipate, let me suggest the following:
The classic accompaniment with chicken or turkey would be a slightly chilled white wine. I am a fan of less oaky whites from France or Italy and have found a very acceptable Italian white wine from the Abruzzo area called Trebbiano D’Abruzzo, from Citra Vini. It’s a steal, given that it comes in one-litre screw-top bottles for $11.80.
Alternatively, if you’d like to try something from a little closer to home, the NK ‘ MIP Chardonnay ($17.40) from an aboriginal–owned vineyard in British Columbia that I served at our fondue dinner would go very well.
A second alternative, and perhaps my favourite for this festive season, is to drink Champagne–style sparking wines with the dinner. While we may be more accustomed to drinking champagne by itself, or perhaps with a dessert, the tradition of drinking it with the main course of a meal dates back hundreds of years.
I think this adds a special element of both history and celebration to this great holiday feast.
While I am sure that drinking a fine Champagne such as Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut ($67.10, and my favourite Champagne) would be an astonishing experience, my budget won’t support it and I suspect the subtleties of it would be lost in the gravy and roast turkey flavours.
Rather, consider some alternate Champagne–style sparking wines from outside the Champagne region or beyond France’s borders.
While I’m a huge fan of sparkling wines from the Loire Valley of France and served three different ones in Montreal for Christmas dinner two years ago, our selection up here is a little more limited.
Two very tasty bubblies that ARE offered at the Yukon Liquor Corporation store that fits my budget and matches roast turkey would be Henkell Trocken sparkling from Germany ($16.20 for a regular size bottle).
If you are sitting down to dinner with four or more people who enjoy wine, consider the magnum or double-size bottle, which I love to serve. Their large size adds an additional layer of festivity to the evening and, at $31.05 for what is equal to two bottles, it’s the economy size.
Another great choice would be Spain’s Freixenet Cordon Negro ($16.75) in the dramatic black bottles.
Both of these wines are made in the champagne style but, being from outside the Champagne region, may not call themselves Champagne. Nevertheless, their toasty, bubbly and chilled taste is a magnificent complement to the rich savoury taste and texture of gravy covered turkey and the tart/sweetness of cranberry sauce.
You can keep drinking these sparkers straight into the dessert course, whether it be mince pie, some traditional family sweet favourite or my favourite: plum pudding with hard sauce.
One final dark–horse candidate to explore, if you want to go off the beaten path, might be Pinot Noir. This fruity red wine surprise has the odd knack for surprising me in unlikely food accompaniments where a white wine is the expected favourite.
I have mentioned serving it with my cheese fondue dinner several weeks ago and have had excellent results serving it with grilled salmon in the summertime.
If you plan to serve several different wines with Christmas dinner (always fun to have choices) you might consider throwing a Pinot into the mix. The previously mentioned NK ‘ MIP Cellars offers a Pinot Noir ($16.30) as does Gray Monk ($17.75).
Further up the price range you’ll find the French Blasons de Bourgogne ($22.95) and a very tasty New Zealand Delta Vineyard Pinot Noir for $26.45.
What I fantasize about is Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, in the US, but I don’t know if you might find them across the border in Alaska. If you find one, it’s a special treat.
Whoever you sit with this Christmas or holiday meal, and whatever you are fortunate enough to eat, I send you these wishes: I wish you the blessings of health and love in your life. I wish you to be a recipient and giver of kindness in this world. I wish you the ability to recognize and appreciate the blessings with which you have been bestowed. And I wish for you to carry those blessings with you through 2009, wherever you go, and in whatever circumstances you find yourself.