Monolithos Wine Dimensions: December 2017
The holiday season is upon us again. And you know what that means – it’s wine time! It’s the season filled with special occasions, fancy events and friendly get-togethers, all of which call for special attention, not only for the right combination of edible delicacies, but of course the selection of wines.
Since Christmas falls during the colder months – at least here in the northern hemisphere – it is a great time to explore and taste a plethora of beautiful, unique wines that you get to share with your friends and family. Nothing enhances a great Christmas dinner like serving the right wine. Just as you have many options when putting together your Christmas feast, so do you have an abundance of delectable wines from which to choose. There are many choices, like determining the type of wine, opting for red or white, selecting the year, and pairing the wine with your Christmas lunch or dinner.
Luckily, there are two basic rules that can help you select a bottle of wine to go with any food, namely: complement and contrast.
Complement considers matching wine with food. Light foods go well with light wines, and heavy foods with heavy wines. If this balance is not achieved, your heavy food will completely obscure the delicate flavours of a light wine, or the full body of a more robust wine will cover the delicate flavours of a light food. Here, balance is the key. Pair light reds with light meat or fish. Light red wines generally have an alcohol content below 12.5%. Chicken and pork tend to be mild, lean meats so you should look for a mild, lighter-bodied wine to pair with them. Always remember to match texture to texture: light wine to light food and heavy wine to heavy food.
If you’re serving a multi-course meal with plenty of light, subtle wines on your list, you should consider a contrast, rather than a complement. Contrasts are designed to pique your palate’s interest through intense stimulation, no matter how many wines you plan to serve. When doing a contrast tasting, work up the courage to try something bold, even if you’re worried it might not work. Where the food is dense, the wine should be light; where the food is sweet, the wine should be dry. Every aspect should contrast if you want to be successful at this kind of pairing.
The contrast principle seeks to find flavours that aren’t within a dish but should be. This works especially well when served with simple foods like lamb chops or chicken and vegetables, with a complex wine adding to the overall meal experience. An example of this could be to pair a smooth and creamy texture with a sharp, crisp wine. Another would be a full-bodied warm wine with a cold cheese platter.
A good meal could become fabulous if you pair it correctly. Below, we mention a few tips to keep in mind when serving and pairing wine and food during the festive season.
1. Good wine glasses are important, and are usually tulip-shaped. The best are made of fine cut glass, but they don’t have to be really expensive.
2. Don’t worry too much about matching a wine to the right type of glass, based on what we’ve been brought up with. White wine, sherry and port is often served in glasses that are too small.
3. Be sure to use clean glasses. It’s essential to rinse them well under plenty of (warm) water to get rid of any soap residue.
4. If your bottles have corks, you must check every wine before serving by pouring a little into a glass to give it a sniff, as if in a restaurant. If the wine smells of damp, musty, mouldy cardboard, it’s more than likely corked.
5. The best corkscrew is the small “waiter’s friend”. This type has a folding body and an arm which extends to brace against the lip of the bottle for leverage when removing the cork.
6. If you can, decant old red wines. It’s amazing how much the wine can look, smell and taste better after an hour or so in a decanter or carafe, once the wine has had an airing. It also means that any sediment is left in the bottle. To decant, simply pour the wine slowly into the decanter, in one steady motion, leaving a little bit in the bottle at the end. This is an approach which will work 98% of the time.
7. Do try to leave an older bottle upright for a while beforehand so that if there is any sediment, it can settle. Remove it carefully from a rack or opened case so as not to disturb any sediment, and don’t shake the bottle.
8. Most people prefer their whites chilled, which is fine, but don’t make the mistake of serving your reds too warm. Remember that when the experts said that red wine should be served at room temperature, they didn’t have central heating and they didn’t live in Cyprus! It should be refreshing, not flabby.
9. When serving, don’t fill your glasses too full. A good general rule, assuming you’re using tulip shaped ones, is to pour the wine to just below the widest point of the glass. That way anyone can swirl the wine to take in the hopefully delicious aromas.
10. If you have very little knowledge or experience with pairing food and wine, the most basic rule you should remember is that white meat pairs best with white wine, and red meat pairs best with red wine. Remember this and you will be unlikely to make a bad choice.
11. Wine and food should be partners, both helping each other, and neither should overwhelm the other. Rich foods need a rich wine that won’t fade in comparison to bold flavours, while light foods need a delicate wine so the flavours aren’t overwhelmed.
12. If you cook your dish with white wine, pair it with white wine. If you cook your dish with red wine, pair it with red.
13. If you are having a dish with a sauce, don’t forget to take the sauce into account. Fish is usually paired with a delicate white wine, but this rule may not apply when the fish has a thick creamy sauce, or is fried in batter. The fish might go better with a slightly heavier white, or even with a lighter red wine.
14. If you want to have a strong, tannic wine such as Cabernet, you need to have a food with a strong enough flavour to match it. High fat and protein foods, such as a hard cheese or rich meat, make a good accompaniment for a heavy red wine. The strong flavour of the food will soften the flavour of the wine, while the tannin in the wine helps to clear your palate of a greasy food.
15. Chardonnay is always a good choice if you are serving poultry. It is versatile, it's familiar and people like it.
16. If you’re going to add citrus to your food for taste (e.g. fish or chicken), go with a high acid, high citrus wine. There are so many to choose from that it’s hard to narrow down the list, but a local Xynisteri is always handy.
17. Go for medium reds when you’re eating meats and cheese, such as medium bodied-reds (Merlot, local Mavro) which feel a little more substantial in your mouth. They typically have an alcohol content between 12.5% and 13.5% and accompany bread, crackers, red meats, pork and smoked meats very well.
18. Pick full-bodied reds for meats and cheeses. Full-bodied reds feel full and thick in your mouth, and usually have an alcohol content above 13.5%. Reds that fall into this category include Cabernet Sauvignon, Maratheftico and Shiraz and match well with lamb, steak, hard cheeses and stews.
19. Complement rich foods with full-bodied whites, which generally have an alcohol content above 13%. The bold flavour of these wines and their high alcohol content goes well with rich foods, including salmon, lobster, chicken, pork, potatoes and roasted vegetables.
20. To combat a spicy food, try an off-dry wine. A slightly sweet wine is the perfect partner for a slightly spicy food. Even pepper, which would often seem too pungent for wine, can be a good food for pairing. The pepper makes your taste buds more sensitive to the flavours in the wine, which can therefore taste richer and more intense.
21. When it is time for the meal, pair your Christmas turkey or ham with a lighter red wine, so as not to “overwhelm the food”. However, while turkey is the centre of the Christmas meal in most places, it is far from the most important element. In general, you should be pairing wines to the most intense elements of a menu in terms of sweet, sour, salt, or bitterness. Rosés are also great with turkey, but whites can still add flavour to a Christmas meal. For charcuterie, cheeses and heavier cream-based dishes, try crisp whites.
22. In conclusion, dessert wines play a final role in the course of a meal, writing the epilogue, so to speak, and culminating in a perfect gustatory crescendo. The critical factor in the serving of Commandaria or Port is temperature. Commandaria brings out all its aroma and flavour when drunk well chilled at 6-9°C. Within this temperature range, ideal for most dessert wines, would be a natural wine to finish with. The basic rule is that the dessert should not be sweeter than the wine.
It is our hope that the above suggestions will give you some ideas for enjoying your holiday wines this year. Remember, the number one rule is to drink what you like. And number two is to share what you like with your friends and family.
Cheers and have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!