With Christmas rapidly approaching, we thought it was high time for a bit of seasonal food and wine matching at AWC Wine Academy. Who better to lead us through what to enjoy this year than the ever-engaging and multi-talented Susy Atkins? As many of you know, Susy writes for the Sunday Telegraph and is a regular presenter on the BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen. It was a real pleasure to have her back at the Wine Academy presenting to another packed audience.
For the purposes of this tasting, Susy chose eight holiday-themed wines. The wines were then served in pairs, with each wine selected specifically to go with a variety of classic Christmas dishes. ‘For each pair, I’ve selected one traditional match and one ‘adventurous’ match,’ she explained.
Great Champagne is de rigueur at this time of year, so we kicked off the tasting with a few glasses of Franck Bonville’s blindingly good 2006 Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs. This is so divine it has now become our ‘house’ champagne here at the Academy.
Paired alongside it was the more adventurous of the two wines – although both were meant to match up with the salted Marcona almonds and green olives - an equally impressive Manzanilla Sherry from Equipo Navazos. The wine is called ‘I Think’ Manzanilla ‘En Rama’ and it packs a serious punch of flavour. Completely unfiltered, it was fabulously nutty, tangy and absolutely bone dry. Take note, this delectable style of sherry is much more intense and concentrated than any of the commercially produced Manzanillas you generally come across. It is well worth seeking out.
Whilst the sherry was an excellent match with both the olives and the almonds, I felt the champagne performed better with the almonds than it did with the olives, as they somewhat overwhelmed it. As Susy explained, ‘salty foods can be a difficult to pair with wine – particularly big tannic reds, which tend to clash horribly.’ Susy also liked the sherry and olive match. ‘I think the somewhat yeasty character you often find in sherries works beautifully with the ‘brininess’ of the olives.’
This initial pair was followed by a sublime white Burgundy from Domaine JM Boillot, their 2008 Puligny-Montrachet, Les Combettes 1er Cru. For many tasters this was the star of the tasting. I certainly loved its ripe texture and pinpoint acidity, as well as its creamy pear and mineral-laden, golden fruit flavours.
Wine number two was another one of our favourites here at AWC Wine Academy - JJ Prum’s beautifully delineated, 2009 Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Riesling Kabinett from the Mosel. I never tire of this wine. It is delicately aromatic, with peach and elderflower notes and it has exquisite balance.
With its slightly off-dry sweetness, it wasn’t quite everyone’s cup of tea. However, people genuinely enjoyed it when it was matched with some deliciously smoky salmon blinis. ‘The wine’s acidity cut through the oiliness of the salmon and provides the perfect foil,’ explained Susy.
Nevertheless, the Puligny-Montrachet and salmon match was still the more popular of the two. Additionally, when it came to matching both of these wines against the creamy, diver scallop dish which immediately followed the salmon, the Burgundy won the competition hands down. This combination was food and wine heaven and it actually drew gasps of delight from everyone in the room, including Susy. ‘You can always tell when a dish works well because the end result is more than the sum of the parts,’ she commented.
Next it was on to the red wines. The first was the 2007 Châteauneuf-du-Pape ‘Bargeton’ from Rhône negociant Patrick Lesec. This was benchmark Châteauneuf from a stellar vintage – perhaps the best in the past decade. Big, ripe and round, it had spice-box, liquorice, tar and peppercorn notes. Paired alongside it was a sweet and fruity Californian Zinfandel from Seghesio, their 2008 ‘Old Vine’.
Both of these wines were served with a pair of savoury canapés; Roast turkey, followed by baked ham and cranberry sauce – truly classic Christmas fare.
Susy was quite forthright about the type of red wines she recommends for the set piece Christmas lunch. ‘When you are choosing red wines for the main event, you have to think beyond just matching with the meat,’ she advised. ‘You have to factor in all the other elements of the dish too – stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy etc. So it can be a bit of an obstacle course for reds.’
As a result, Susy suggested that light-bodied reds, particularly if they have any sort of green flavours or unripe tannins in them simply won’t cut the proverbial mustard. ‘To cope with all these different – and often contrasting - flavours on the plate, you really need big, gutsy red wines with soft, easy tannins.’
So, what did the tasters think of her Southern Rhône and Californian choices? Both the wines and the dishes went down extremely well, yet the most popular pairing (with both the turkey and the ham) was the Zinfandel, which also happened to be Susy’s preference.
Of course, a holiday food and wine matching wouldn’t be complete without some serious Christmas pudding or some mince pies with brandy butter. So naturally we had both!
The wines with which these desserts were paired proved to be something of a surprise to many of the attendees. First was a Tawny Port from Graham’s, their 30 year old blend. Tawny Port is a style which is often overlooked, with people generally being more familiar with the Vintage, Late-Bottled and Crusted styles that are particularly popular around this time of the year. This group was quickly caught up in the many charms of this wine – sweetly complex flavours of fig, caramel, nuts, raisins and mocha. As one guest enthusiastically pointed out, ‘this is like liquid Christmas pudding!’ I couldn’t have put it better myself.
The other, more unusual, wine in the pairing was a complete contrast and a delightful surprise to several palates. It has been ages since I had a really good Moscato d’Asti. Tasting it again, I was reminded of just how exceptional it can be when paired with the right dish. This 2010 Contero Moscato d’Asti di Strevi from Piedmont was sweet, frizzante and playfully light. It was the ideal foil to the heaviness of the puddings and really lifted and ‘de-cluttered’ the palate – very much like a refreshing bite of sorbet.
At the end of the tasting, Susy asked everyone to vote on their favourite wines. Clear winners were the Puligny-Montrachet and the Tawny Port.
2006 Franck Bonville Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Champagne 2006: 3 votes
NV Equipo Navazos ‘I Think’ Manzanilla ‘En Rama’ Sherry: 2 votes
2008 Puligny-Montrachet, Les Combettes 1er Cru, Domaine JM Boillot: 8 votes
2009 Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Riesling Kabinett, JJ Prum: 4 votes
2007 Chateauneuf-du-Pape ‘Bargeton’, Patrick Lesec: 1 vote
2008 Seghesio ‘Old Vine’ Zinfandel: 7 votes
Graham’s 30 year old Tawny Port: 9 votes
2010 Contero Moscato d’Asti di Strevi: 2 votes
All of these wines are available on request from The Antique Wine Company.
Once again, this was another terrific tasting at AWC Wine Academy, providing plenty of commentary, interaction and live entertainment. We’re planning on several more food and wine matching sessions in 2012 and we look forward to welcoming you in the coming months. Happy Holidays from everyone here at AWC!
To join us for a tasting or to reserve AWC Wine Academy for yourself, please visit - http://www.awcwineacademy.com - or contact Deborah Ives on +44 (0) 20 3219 5560.