Posts Tagged Christmas

Go off the beaten track for your wines this Christmas

First published in The Irish Times, December 16th, 2017

We are creatures of habit. I know people who drink the same wine with the same Christmas dinner every year. It is part of a comforting ritual. Mine is to start the meal with a magnum of Champagne. This year, the magnum cupboard is looking distinctly bare, so I will have to change my ways.

Standing in a wine shop last year for an hour or two, signing copies of my book, I watched a steady stream of customers heading straight to large displays of Chablis Premier Cru and Mâcon, and then on to three huge piles of Rioja Reserva, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Saint–Émilion Grand Cru. There is nothing wrong with these choices, in fact there is a lot to recommend them. Both Mâcon and Chablis are 100 per cent Chardonnay, a variety that pairs very nicely with fish (including smoked salmon) or shellfish as a starter, and with turkey too. Softer-fruited reds such as Rioja Reserva, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and a Merlot-based Bordeaux make a fine foil for turkey.

But this year, instead of staying with the usual favourites, why not be a bit more adventurous and go for an alternative Christmas, with wines a little (or a lot) off the beaten track? Christmas is not really the time to have a theme, but I think I might go Spanish, simply because I have been enjoyed so many of their wines over the last 12 months. This would allow me to include a reviving glass of chilled crisp fino sherry to sip while finishing off the preparations, followed by a glass of Cava, the Spanish sparkling wine, and a few nibbles as an aperitif. With the meal, I could start off with a Godello from Valdeorras or Monterrei in Galicia, and then try a soft ripe Garnacha, a more powerful Ribera del Duero, or an elegant Mencía from Ribera Sacra or Bierzo with the turkey. You will find examples of all the above in most independent wine shops and O’Briens.

Alternatively, you could pick and choose from other countries. The Bellavista Grand Cuvée Brut (€47.99, independents) is a superb Italian sparkling wine, or there is the very tasty dry sparkling Sangiovese Spumante Rosé from Bollamatta (€30, independents). Or furthest off the beaten track, Marks & Spencer have the (delicious) sparkling red Lambrusco Reggiano Secco for €13.30.

From South Africa, I would be sorely tempted to indulge in the superb Lismore Reserve Chardonnay (€39.90, independents) one of the very best white wines I tasted in 2017. For a red, an Australian Grenache [I featured the excellent Willunga 100 (€17.99, independents) a few weeks ago], or the full rich d’Arenberg Footbolt Shiraz (€20, independents, O’Briens and Supervalu) would both do very nicely.

Llopart Brut Reserva NV, Cava, Organic

11.5%, €29.95
Seductive and stimulating with distinctive soft ripe white fruits, hints of brioche and a lovely lingering dry finish. The perfect way to get festivities going.
Stockists: Corkscrew; Mitchell & Sons; Redmond’s.

Via Arxentea 2016, Monterrei

13%, €18.50
A Godello blend with plump melon and green apple fruits that fill the mouth, perfectly balanced by a refreshing crisp acidity. By itself, with your starter, or even the turkey.
Stockists: Kelly’s, Clontarf; Sweeney’s; The Coach House; 64 Wines; Liston’s; Baggot Street Wines.

 Tolo do Xisto 2015, Ribera Sacra
13.5%, €23.95

Ribeira Sacra

13.5%, €22
An enchanting mix of ripe red cherry fruits and savoury liquorice in a very stylish elegant wine. A perfect partner for turkey, goose or duck.
Stockists: O’Briens

 Pago de los Capellanes Joven 2016, Ribero del Duero

13.5%, €22
An utterly charming rich smooth wine with supple pure dark fruits and a rounded finish. This would go nicely with turkey, ham or any red meat.
Stockists: Mitchell & Sons, chq, Glasthule, Avoca Kilmacanogue & Dunboyne; Myles Doyles, Gorey.

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Hot to trot: Warm cocktails to cheer up the jaded Christmas palate

First Published in The Irish Times, Saturday 3rd December, 2016

If you are tiring of the traditional mulled wine at Christmas, why not spice things up with a few different warming seasonal drinks? Some are so simple I would hesitate to call them cocktails, but all are certain to add some cheer on a cold winter’s evening.

Hot chocolate and Irish cream liqueur

I am not a fan of cream liqueurs, but I once used up an unwanted gift by adding a splash to my mug of hot cocoa. It was delicious. You have to use unsweetened cocoa powder or dark chocolate; drinking chocolate is too sweet. Drink with your loved one in front of the fire on a cold night.

Egg Nog

Traditional on both sides of the Atlantic. It can be made with cognac, bourbon, sherry or rum, depending on where you live and what you like. In this country, whiskey seems the natural choice. Don’t use your finest bottle here; a good blended Irish whiskey will do very nicely. You can add more or less spirit, or even serve it without alcohol. Egg nog is a little fiddly to make, although you prepare it in advance. There are those who recommend ageing it in the fridge for up to a week, but this might raise safety issues. A luxurious creamy cocktail that can pack a punch.

One litre of full fat milk, 225 grams sugar, 12 large egg yolks, 225 ml Irish whiskey (or more to taste) 250 ml cream. Whisk milk and sugar over medium heat until sugar has dissolved. Whisk egg yolks in a large bowl, then add the hot mixture in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over a low heat, stirring frequently for around 20 minutes until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Do not allow to boil. Strain into a bowl and add whiskey and cold cream. Cool and then refrigerate. Serve cold, garnished with grated nutmeg and, if desired, the whipped leftover egg whites.

Whiskey Mac

One of the oldest cocktails, but one of the most satisfying, providing you use good quality whiskey and a decent ginger wine. If you want to take it a step further, use a ginger liqueur (the Celtic Whiskey Shop offer several). Otherwise mix equal quantities of whiskey and ginger wine, adding ice if you wish. It can also be served hot like a toddy, by boiling hot water.

Hot Buttered Rum

A delicious and warming drink, perfect on cold winter’s evenings. 125 grams softened butter, 125 grams brown sugar (or 2 tablespoons maple syrup) 2 teaspoons grated orange zest, ½ teaspoon nutmeg, 125ml dark or golden rum, a litre of boiling water. Beat the butter with orange zest, brown sugar (or maple syrup) and nutmeg. Combine 2 tablespoons of the butter mix with 3 tablespoons of rum in a glass. Pour over boiling water. Serve with a cinnamon stick.

A Mulled Apple Toddy

This is a mix of mulled cider and an apple brandy toddy that I came up with one evening, although I am sure I am not the first to think of it. Gently heat a litre of good, fairly dry Irish cider with a strip of orange zest, or a slice of orange, a few cloves and a good spoonful of honey. The sweeter your cider, the less honey you will need. Once it comes to the boil, remove from the heat and add a generous measure of Irish apple brandy (both Longueville and Highbank produce very good examples) to taste. Garnish with a stick of cinnamon.

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Magnum Force – Thinking big this Christmas

Magnum Force – Thinking big this Christmas

First Published in The Irish Times Saturday 26th November 2016

Big bottles make a statement. They are inherently festive, immediately adding to that sense of occasion we want to create at any celebration. Many years ago, I arrived at a friend’s dinner party with a jeroboam of wine, the equivalent of six standard bottles. The fact that it was Beaujolais Nouveau made no difference. It was fun, and it looked great. I think the empty bottle adorned his windowsill for the next 10 years. Yet we remain reluctant to invest in large format bottles. Several retailers I spoke to lamented the fact that customers were much more likely to buy two or three standard bottles than a magnum. It may be an aversion to opening the equivalent of two bottles, even if you know full well that you are going to consume at least that, or it may be seen as a bit bling in these austere times.
Mature vintages

Jeroboams are not easy to come across and are not easy to handle. Magnums, the equivalent of two bottles, are more practical and far easier to source. Most of the specialist wine retailers I contacted had an excellent selection and were expecting more in for Christmas. In fact, as there is often a slower turnover, you are more likely to come across older, more mature vintages of a wine in magnum. As wine apparently ages more slowly in magnums (it is all about the ratio of air to wine), this is a positive thing. This includes sparkling wine; many argue a magnum is the perfect size to mature Champagne. I have opened up a magnum of some kind every Christmas morning for many years, and will do so again this year. White wine can be a little more difficult to find, but I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to come across good quality wines. As for red wines, there is something available in every price bracket.

So this Christmas, why not go magnum force, serving sparkling, white and red from magnum? You could go the whole hog and invest in a late-bottled vintage port from magnum too. Marks & Spencer have their own-label LBV 2010, supplied by Taylor’s, no less. I would be very seriously tempted by the magnums of excellent Larmandier-Bernier Longitude Champagne for €119 in Terroirs in Donnybrook (and mail order), cheaper than many of the better-known but inferior brands. Red Bordeaux is not the best match with turkey, but if you are serving a roast of beef in the days following Christmas, a magnum will certainly impress, and there is a good selection in most shops. Otherwise, a magnum of Rioja, southern Rhône or Pinot Noir will accompany your turkey or goose perfectly.

Image 3Oudinot Cuvée Brut Tradition NV Magnum
€75 per magnum

Fresh crisp and fruity with a nice touch of brioche on the finish.

Stockists: Marks & Spencer

ImageSoave Calvarino 2014, Pieropan
€59.99 per magnum

A very refined dry white with floral aromas and lightly textured green apple and pear fruits.

Stockists: 64 Wine, Jus de Vine, La Touche and Corkscrew

DSCF7088Martínez Lacuesta Rioja Cosecha 2013

Aged six months in oak, giving a subtle spiciness to the vibrant dark cherry fruits. Greta with turkey.

Stockists: 64 Wine; The Corkscrew, Chatham St.; Baggot St. Wines.

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