Paolo Tullio: Christmas wine
There can be few among us who weren't affected as children by Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol'. But more than giving us the quintessential Scrooge, it set the stage for Christmas Days to come -- in our minds it would forever be snowy, there would be good cheer and peace for all mankind -- exactly the way it was, ultimately, for Ebenezer Scrooge.
More than that, it's a day to share with friends and family, a day to overeat, to drink more than we should, to unwrap presents and watch children become hopelessly overexcited. We have as a society settled upon a form of Christmas dinner, we know what it should contain, we know what to expect. But even sticking strictly to the accepted rules, there's room for a little innovation and invention. Your dinner may be entirely traditional, but why not experiment a little with your Christmas drinks?
I'll be honest, I gave up cooking a turkey a few years ago, mainly because I don't like it very much. But the last time I cooked one, I paired it on the table with a sparkling dry red wine -- a light-bodied Lambrusco. The pairing surprised all the gathering, it worked very well. Lambrusco is usually quite sweet, which is not what we want for a main course pairing, but Superquinn do a sparkling red, a sparkling Gamay, which is the Beaujolais grape. It's light and fruity, a perfect accompaniment to turkey and cranberry sauce and costs €14.99.
Sparkling reds were very fashionable in the 1960s as an accompaniment to duck, so looking back to past fashions can be interesting. There was a time when no meal was complete without a good Madeira served either as an accompaniment for the soup course or as an after-dinner drink. Remember the old song 'Have Some Madeira, My Dear'? Out of fashion it may be, but it's a fine drink and it can still be bought in Mitchell, who offer three varieties, ranging from €15.50 to €35.50.
Personally, I'm a huge fan of dessert wines and for me, nothing finishes a meal better than a glass of a good one. A good dessert wine isn't just sweet, it's a harmonious balance of sweetness and acidity. A good one will linger on the palate for a very long time, such is the intensity of its flavours.
The best of them are made by letting the grapes shrivel on the vine after they're attacked by a fungus called botrytis. This fungus dehydrates the grapes, so what liquid remains is very high in sugars. That's how the sweetness is achieved, and it's also what makes wines made like this expensive, because the yield is so low. Like the other wines I've mentioned, dessert wines are still a minority passion.
Probably the very best dessert wines come from the Sauternes, a wine region of Bordeaux. This is reflected in their high prices. If you want to try one of the best, O'Briens sell Château Riussec 2004 for €59 a bottle. You can spend less and still drink a fine wine if you try O'Briens' Royal Tokaji 6 Puttonyos 2000 at €33.45. Tokaji is one of world's great dessert wines and comes from Hungary.
Any one of these wines added to a Christmas dinner will bring new flavours and combinations of tastes to the table. And apart from new combinations of tastes, you can also combine a traditional dinner with some innovative drinks.