A good wine does not have to be old, flamboyant or expensive. So, with all the varieties, blends and grapes out there, how do we know what makes for a good bottle of vino? The general rules of swirl, sniff and sip are a start, but there’s more to learn when determining if a wine is worthy of your taste buds, and your cash. Top sommelier Fergus O’Halloran offers his advice for finding the perfect bottle just in time for the festive season.
There’s nothing better than opening a gorgeous bottle of wine at Christmas and sharing it with special friends or family – a bottle you might just have been saving for months to accompany your turkey and ham on Christmas Day. Here are some tips on pairing wine with your festive feast and some of my favourite wines this Christmas.
For a traditional smoked salmon starter, definitely begin with a nice Champagne to bring out the taste of the salmon – it is Christmas after all! I look forward to our latest Twelve discovery this year which is a terrific methóde champenoise from the South of England, Nyetimber. If it’s prawn cocktail that’s on your menu, then go with a good Albarino from Rias Biaxas. All decent wine stores will carry both these wines and have a good selection of price points. (In Galway, I recommend Woodberrys and O’Briens.)
For turkey with stuffing and all the trimmings, a medium bodied Cabernet Sauvignon is a superb accompaniment! If your taste is for white wine and you’re someone who likes the finer things in life, then splurge on a white Chateauneuf du Pape from Beaucastel, it’s delicious and will pair beautifully with the bird.
For the non-traditionalists out there, try a Brunello di Montalcino or a Barolo with some age if your festive feast is a tender beef Wellington. Alternatively, if you are a little more adventurous and interested in developing your palette of wine knowledge, go for a Ribera del Duero. These are generally dry, big and meaty wines of exceptional quality from Spain and pair really well with roasted meats.
A Crozes-Hermitage from a great producer like Jaboulet goes really well with roast goose – one of my all-time favourites. And to accompany the traditional glazed ham joint, look for a Chinon/ Cabernet Franc grape.
You have to treat yourself to a dessert wine on Christmas Day! So, whether you’re having mince pies, Christmas pudding or Christmas cake, try Elysium Black Muscat – a cracking dessert wine from California and so inexpensive. For those who like a little more decadence and are having a yule log for your something sweet, I recommend a Pineau des Charentes Rouge 5 year old Cognac.
No Christmas dinner is complete without cheese and biscuits. I recommend going for a tawny port to bring out the flavours.
And finally, for the days after Christmas, you can’t beat a mouthwatering sandwich made with turkey and ham leftovers, teamed with a hoppy beer! Stay local with Galway Hooker, Independent Pale Ale or Spiddal River Brewing Company. All that’s left to do is indulge, and enjoy!
TIP As a general rule, any wine over 13.5% alcohol in considered to be full-bodied so you can easily pick one out by just looking at the label.
DID YOU KNOW? The reason you taste a wine in a restaurant before the bottle is served to you isn’t to see if you like the taste, but to test if the wine is corked.