Top drops for Christmas

Looking for inspiration? Karen Martini's rosewater and raspberry ice with sparkling wine (recipe below).
Looking for inspiration? Karen Martini's rosewater and raspberry ice with sparkling wine (recipe below). Photo: Marina Oliphant

The heat rose off Empire Bay, north of Sydney, and wrapped my grandparents' house in humidity.

Hot and sweet. Those were my childhood memories of Christmas lunch.

The sweet came from the sweet sherry, the only wine my grandparents served during the entire year and I was allowed to have some.

The way to get Christmas Day started is with bubbles.
The way to get Christmas Day started is with bubbles. 

It was an Australian cheap sweet sherry, and what it lacked in complexity it more than compensated for with sweetness, but to my young mind it was revelatory. I loved the taste.

Still do, except now I bring out an Aussie muscat or topaque (aka tokay) with the pud.

Even to my pseudo-teetotaller grandparents, wine helped make the day special. They were, of course, so right.

Fresh crayfish appreciate non-wooded subtle white wines.
Fresh crayfish appreciate non-wooded subtle white wines. Photo: Marina Oliphant

A wine to start?

Unless you're stocking up on the Hendricks, cucumber and Fever-Tree tonic for a wicked G&T, the way to get Christmas Day started is with bubbles.

The Christmas retail battleground is strewn with slashed prices on champagne and sparklings, so keep an eye out for bargains.


New names on the Aussie bubbly scene worth searching out are Mitchell Harris Sabre and Yellowglen XV 2004 and 2002, vintage bubblies out in time for Christmas.

For solid all-round non-vintage champagnes, try Taittinger ($90-$95) and Pol Roger ($70-$75), two of the more consistent performers in recent years.

Dom Perignon 2003 vintage ($200-250) comes from a warm vintage, making it robust and full of flavour, so it's a wine well suited to being drunk solo.

Look to the ingredients of the Christmas pudding  for inspiration in selecting a wine.
Look to the ingredients of the Christmas pudding for inspiration in selecting a wine. Photo: Jennifer Soo

The Domaine Chandon Blanc de Blancs 2009 ($35) and Clover Hill 2008 vintage ($40-$47) sparklings both deliver a clean and linear expression of fruit, with citrus and apple to the fore. Ex-Domaine Chandon winemaker John Harris's new sparkling, the Mitchell Harris 2008 Sabre ($40), deserves a look for its emerging complexity and assured style. Yellowglen's XV 2002 bubbly ($50) is simply outstanding with impressive finesse.

For seafood?

Cross sauvignon blanc off the Chrissy list. Time for a change. Fresh crayfish, prawns and calamari etc, scantily dressed with the simplest of dressings, appreciate non-wooded, subtle white wines not too exuberant in their flavour.

Try Tahbilk 2010 marsanne ($20) with its gentle honeysuckle fruits, or the winner of the best wine in show at the recent Canberra Wine Show, Jim Barry 2012 Lodge Hill riesling ($21), a super riesling from a super year in the Clare Valley.

For complex seafood-based dishes involving sauces, especially cream-based, consider a wine of more substance, something with oak maturation, such as the Yarraloch 2011 chardonnay ($25) or the edgy minerality of Vasse Felix 2011 chardonnay ($29).

For turkey, pork, game?

Last Christmas brought the welcome return of a wine style last seen wandering the retail shelves in the 1980s - the light dry red (LDR). This festive season the fruity dry red is still big news, and it's well suited to the big occasion, especially if the day turns out hot.

Chill LDR down - it loves the cold. My vote goes to Eldridge Estate PTG 2012 ($25), a spiced-up red berry gamay/pinot noir totally simpatico with ham and pork, especially so if cranberry and redcurrant jelly are involved.

If the weather is roasting and so is the bird, why serve a 15 per cent alcohol shiraz - unless, of course, you deliberately want to be sent to snooze-land before the pud?

I'd like to think some of us remember the central role a chilled Aussie sparkling shiraz used to play on Christmas Day. Time for a reprise. Take a look at Rutherglen Estates' 2010 sparkling shiraz durif ($27) or Best's 2010 sparkling shiraz ($25), both elegant styles not too heavy or old-time sweet.

Duck and pinot noir is now the classic Aussie Christmas pairing, and the match is foolproof. Depending on the sauce or stuffing, you might go for something upfront and fruity - Tassie's Clarence Plains 2011 JV pinot ($23), or something light and elegant in style - Provenance 2010 Geelong pinot noir ($47), or maybe a little more substantial - Pencarrow 2011 pinot noir ($20) from Martinborough.

Chances are it's going to be a hot Christmas, so bring out reds 14 per cent alcohol and under: Blackjack's fleshy, red-fruited 2010 Block 6 shiraz from Bendigo ($35, 13.5 per cent); Barossa's juicy Red Head 2011 shiraz ($22, 14 per cent) and the elegant Singlefile Mount Barker 2010 syrah ($37, 13.6 per cent).

For the pud?

Look to the ingredients of the Christmas pudding for inspiration in selecting a wine: raisins, currants, spice, fruit peel. Many of those flavours and more can be found in fortified muscat or topaque (formerly tokay).

The basic entry-level Rutherglen fortified muscats or topaques, about $20, offer great value but just one step up to classic level means a big jump in quality.

Campbells Classic Rutherglen muscat ($44) and Morris Old Premium Liqueur Tokay ($62) provide a great match with the pud and offer some of the most complex flavours.

Fortunately, the wine formerly known as tawny port still has a life and a role to play at the Christmas table. Try Grant Burge 10-year-old tawny ($25) - nutty, toffee and mellow.

Fancy a talking point over dessert? Search out what is almost certainly the only late harvest garganega in Australia, Domain Day's 2008 Dolcezza (Italian for ''little sweetness''). The grape comes from Italy, the wine ($20) from the Adelaide Hills, and it's quite rustic in flavour with a broad honey and almond nuttiness, and is, as the name suggests, only marginally sweet.

Traditionalists might opt for a more classic Aussie sweetie. A consistent performer is Mount Horrocks cordon-cut riesling. Winemaker Stephanie Toole rates the 2012 vintage ($35) one of the best of the past 10 years. Its highly concentrated citrus and stone fruit complexity with spice team with anything featuring fruits.

And for the nap?

Saltram Mr Pickwick's Particular Tawny ($52.50) … definitely a sweet dreams kind of wine.

The recipe: Karen Martini's rosewater and raspberry ice with sparkling wine