Matching wines with your festive feast
When I was a youngster (cue violins), Christmas involved a menu inherited from the ''old country'', where the celebration takes place in winter: multiple courses of hot, hearty food of head-spinning richness.
A choice of three roasted meats, a glazed ham, boiled pudding with cream and ice-cream, custard and brandy butter sauce, rich alcoholic trifle, you name it.
These days, common sense prevails and we're more into cold dishes such as seafood with salads and vegetables, with fruit salad or berry dessert to follow. Naturally, the wine selection is just as different. Gone are the full-bodied reds with vintage port and brandy to follow. Champagne or sparkling wine to start, chilled, delicate, unwooded (or lightly wooded) whites next, and light-bodied reds - usually pinot noir or burgundy - to follow.
Even the sweet white served with dessert is lighter and less sweet than the hearty sauternes styles of yore. In hotter weather, most people feel less like drinking red wine, and if they do, it's best if it's light and chillable, such as beaujolais or lighter styles of pinot noir.
There's nothing so unappetising as red wine served tepid: apart from the flavour and structure going awry, its alcohol is exaggerated, meaning it smells and tastes fumy and spiritous. An ice bucket is a useful item of equipment, and not only for sparkling and white wines.
If you're sitting on the deck lunching, any wine quickly gets warm in the glass. Ice blocks are perfectly acceptable, but even better is to use small serves, topped up frequently from a cool bottle rested on ice. Rapid Ice sleeves are a useful substitute.
This is how my ideal Christmas feast would shape up:
With oysters: The Clover Hill 2008 vintage wines are a new high for this Tasmanian producer. The Blanc de Blancs Cuvee Exceptionelle 2008 ($55) is an outstanding seafood accompaniment, but the regular 2008 Vintage Brut Methode Traditionelle ($47) is just as good in a fuller, richer style. If it's important your bubbly be champagne, these well-established names are still serving up the goods: Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV ($80) and Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve NV ($95) are my picks in their price category.
With a seafood entree: For example, scallop ceviche, prawn cocktail, smoked salmon blinis with sour cream, salmon roe and chives.
Cherubino Pemberton Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($35) has good intensity and balance, is not too shrill or pungent, but delicate and soft with a hint of oak adding a little extra complexity and texture to the fruit.
The Mount Mary Triolet 2010 ($95), Angullong Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($17) and Gartelmann Benjamin Semillon 2009 ($35) are all candidates. Any semillon with five or six years of age by Tyrrell's, Brokenwood, Andrew Thomas or Mount Pleasant is also a sure bet. Young riesling is just as handy with these dishes, especially Kerri Thompson's outstanding 2012 KT rieslings from the Clare Valley. Her entry-level wine is KT 5452 Riesling ($22), in a clear-glass bottle and carrying a smidgen of sweetness that broadens its appeal. Her other bottlings, Melva ($30), Peglidis and Churinga (both $35) are similarly generous in flavour and character. The three 2012 vintage rieslings from Harewood Estate are also great wines: Mount Barker, Porongurup and Frankland River, all $22. The Frankland River is marginally my preference at this moment.
With ham, turkey, cold slices of rare roast beef: There are few gamays in Australia, but David and Wendy Lloyd's Eldridge Estate from the Mornington Peninsula is the best. De Bortoli's Yarra Valley gamay is also a good beaujolais substitute. Lighter-bodied pinot noir is a great choice, and the better 2011s from southern Victoria are low in alcohol and lovely little wines. Two Yarra wines I especially like are Soumah Warramate Hills ($29; 12.5 per cent) and Oakridge Local Vineyard Series Oakridge Vineyard Pinot Noir ($38; 13.5 per cent). And from New Zealand, Babich Winemaker's Reserve, Marlborough 2011 ($35). I'm also smitten with Eldridge Estate's two 2010 Mornington pinot noirs (both $50; 13.5 per cent): the regular estate bottling and the single-clone MV6 bottling. These are tremendously tight, fine, piercing wines with freshness and fascination that keep me interested to the last drop.
With fruit-salads and berry desserts: Fruit-based desserts deserve more of the more delicate, fragrant styles of sweet white. Cold-climate botrytis riesling is best, and these are restrained and steely, not too sweet and not high in alcohol. They're young, but the flavours are already remarkably complex and satisfying. Good examples are Greywacke Late Harvest Riesling, Marlborough 2011 ($35/375 millilitres; 12 per cent) and Josef Chromy Botrytis Riesling, Tasmania 2011, ($25/375 millilitres; 9.5 per cent).
At the risk of harping on a long-gone youth, we used to while away the afternoon and evening after our Christmas feasts with cigars and board games, and the occasional tot of Chambers ''Old'' or ''Special'' muscat or tokay. Just occasionally, the weather would come over all wintry and we would light the open fire and bring out a hearty red from the cellar. Great Western/Grampians and the Pyrenees were well represented. They did any decent hard cheese proud. Make sure you have something appropriate on hand. A good Barossa shiraz is hard to beat, especially one with a few years of age on it.
Having recently tasted the past 12 vintages of Gibson's Barossa Reserve Shiraz and been most impressed, it's on top of my wish-list right now.
The '04 or '06 would be ideal, but assuming those are now a bit scarce, the current-release 2010 ($42) would do nicely.
If you're sitting on the deck lunching, any wine quickly gets warm in the glass. Ice blocks are perfectly acceptable.