Many of us will (no doubt) be sharing food and drink with friends and family over the holiday season. Kate Wardell is a dedicated ‘foodie’ with a passion for wine, especially from the Languedoc area. Kate’s latest blog explores traditional festive food and wine pairings.
Season’s Bleatings… 2016
Let’s start this blog with a caveat : “Drink What You Like” by that I mean if your family has, for all eternity, resolutely drunk a venerable Bordeaux with your Christmas lunch – fabulous, do carry on! I’m just here to offer up a few possible alternatives to the way you view your seasonal drinking habits.
My father was a bit of a collector of rather nice Bordeaux, and since he passed away in 2010, my mother, myself, and a discerning coterie of friends have successfully polished off most of the cellar he left behind; and very nice it was too. This year, however, we’re going to ring in the changes.
One of the most tremendous things about living in wine country, is that never again do you have to stand in front of a supermarket “Wall of Wine” and think, ‘OK, now what?’ With over 1000 wineries in Languedoc – go straight to the source. Go tasting. Often. Find out what floats your boat, and never again be faced with the dilemma of price versus pretty labels…
I’ve always held a lot of faith in a concept taught to me whilst I was doing my wine studies – match to the flavour on the plate that has the most impact. We do tend to try and pair to the biggest thing on the plate! So for instance, with a traditional Christmas dinner of turkey, stuffing, roast potatoes plus the normal paraphernalia of stuffing, bread sauce, cranberry sauce, and at least 4 vegetables, including the ubiquitous Christmas sprout, I’d be tempted to go with something that appears on pretty much every forkful. For me, that’s cranberry sauce. I know, I know, there will be a baying throng at my door telling me I can’t serve a fruity light red with my Christmas lunch. But you know what? I jolly well can! If gravy is your culinary soft spot, go for something a little heartier.
I’m also a fan of serving a rosé with smoked salmon – another festive food favourite. I came across one this year which had been barrel aged; what better way to match the smokiness of the salmon, than with a rosé that displays a nod to oak? I’m afraid that sometimes smoked salmon does err towards the sort of 1970s ‘classic’ that these days is rather scoffed at, but I still adore it. But do try and do something with it, other than draping it on a plate with an unhappy looking lemon quarter and a couple of lonely capers!
Foie gras, whether you love it or loathe it, is another food staple in this part of France over the holidays, and for me, it always pairs most successfully with one of the delightfully moreish muscats we are renowned for here in the Languedoc. There’s more than a touch of the notion that ‘nothing succeeds like excess’ when you’re teaming wine with foie gras – be it cooked hot and fast in a frying pan, or perhaps the more accessible ‘mi cuit’. It’s a Push The Boat Out comestible, so you might as well do the same with the wine!
Oysters often appear either for a Christmas Eve or New Years Eve (that’s when they’ll be on my table). The Languedoc farms oysters, and although some folks who perhaps have a taste for the sacred and profane, find them a little salty, to me they are truly one of the outstanding flavours of our region. Of course this offers up a tantalizing dilemma… Picpoul de Pinet is often the wine choice because of it’s outstanding light crisp finish which offsets oysters beautifully; but it’s Christmas, so I’m going with another Languedoc classic – blanquette, the sparkling wine first produced in Ste Hilaire, where the Mauzac grape takes centre stage. Come on, if we can’t mildly overindulge at this time of year, what’s the point!
And so, to cheese – in France, served before dessert, and for many the savoury ‘bridge too far’. Seriously though, de Gaulle probably had it right, although I’d say 246 is possibly a conservative estimate of how many varieties of cheese are actually available! If in doubt, go for a soft, unpasteurised cheese, a hard ‘mountain’ cheese, and a blue. As this is the season for generosity, I’d offer a dry white to go with the soft cheese, a well flavoured red to go with the hard cheese, and a sweet to go with the blue. But, that’s me!
As for dessert, I’m afraid I do not have much of a sweet tooth, and indeed, despite growing up in Switzerland, I don’t even really eat chocolate. And yet this region still comes to the viniferous rescue! For those of you indulging in yule logs, chocolate roulades, tarts and tortes, I’d plump for a Maury. It’s a sweet red, made from Grenache, and it is a stunning partner in crime for chocolate. If you’re going down the dried fruit route – you know, Christmas Pudding, mince pies and the like, try and find a rancio – they’re rare, but they’re there if you know who to ask.
So there you have it, Christmas wine options that might push you out of your comfort zone a tiny bit. You know what though? Wine is completely subjective, no one should really pour something in your glass and preempt it with “I know you’re going to love this”… So back to my opening gambit. Drink What You Like. And very good eating and drinking to you all.
Kate Wardell is a hospitality graduate and dedicated foodie who loves to combine this passion with her other great love, wine. Along with the rest of the Vin en Vacances team she shares a great respect for the wine makers of the Languedoc-Roussillon and the wines they produce. Laughter is the name of the game with Kate; and she will delight in sharing her food & wine pairing ideas with you too. Read more from Kate’s personal blog Flight of the Wines Poured