WITH ROB NELLIS
Navigating the wine selection at LCBO VINTAGES to choose a special bottle for Christmas dinner – perhaps something a little different or unexpected – can be a daunting task.
There is a common misconception that you pair the wine to the turkey at the centre of the meal, but that tends to be the least dominant flavour on the plate.
The sausage stuffing, generous amounts of thick, savoury gravy, cranberries, cream mashed potatoes, sweet potato casseroles or flavour-packed Brussels sprouts that accompany an herb-scented, butter-soaked bird call for rich, textured wines, with balancing acidity and low tannins.
Aromatic whites, maybe even ones that seem a little spicy on the palate, work extremely well. Classic choices include Alsatian Gewurztraminer – which has plenty of heft from alcohol, ginger and cinnamon notes with intense aromatics of ripe lychee, golden delicious apple, peach and Chinese 5-spice – or a rich, luxurious Russian River Valley Chardonnay from Sonoma, with some vanilla and toasty oak notes interwoven with tropical fruit and vibrant acidity. Closer to home, popular choices include Ontario Chardonnay done in a richer style with some time in barrel or an off-dry Niagara Riesling with ripe apple flavours. Eastern European whites, such as Hungarian Furmint, Romanian Feteasca or Rebula (Ribolla Gialla) from Slovenia are a fun option. I also quite like Petite Arvine from Val d’Aosta when you can get your hands on it (shameless name drop for Easter dinner in the spring; Les Crêtes Petite Arvine “Fleur” 2017, available through Buyers & Cellars private order). Pinot Gris from Alsace is a totally different experience from most Northern Italian Pinot Grigio, with notes of dark honey, Asian spices, orange peel and cardamom. Unctuous and rich, it has the body and complexity to stand up to anything put against it. And Viognier, with its big body, low acidity and stone fruit notes is a proven winner.
Balanced robust reds can pair magnificently, but steer clear of astringent tannins or really earthy, tart, light-bodied wines – the exotic flavours on the table will make those seem sour and unpleasant. That Grand Cru Burgundy you’ve been saving for a special occasion will be destroyed! Some classic pairings include: Tempranillo from Spain, especially a Gran Reserva or Reserva, for that extra little kick of new oak; or California Pinot Noir, with its black cherry, cola and sweet oak elements, particularly if it has a little elevated alcohol, is always a winner. You could also consider a Southern Rhône wine, replete with big black fruits, crushed pepper and herbal “garrigue” flavours, all laced with minerality and freshness; or Languedoc blends from the south of France. If you want to reach a little farther afield try a Shiraz from Australia, particularly a Côte-Rôtie style with a dash of Viognier. Or a Carménère, the lost Bordeaux varietal that has taken hold in Chile, done in a riper style with spice and pepper notes, as well as a touch of herbaceousness. I also enjoy Middle Eastern blends, from regions such as Galilee in Israel, or Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Their spice box notes and ripe fruit are intoxicating and really lend themselves to the myriad flavours of the meal.
What better time – than when family and friend sit down together to enjoy a leisurely, luxurious meal – to experiment with a different wine? Here are a few options that will add lustre to your dinner without denting the budget:
16 Mile Cellar “Rebel” Chardonnay 2014, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario $22.95 (Winery Direct) – rich and textured, with toasty oak, ripe apple and apricot; zesty, mouth-watering acidity.
Tezaur Jidvei Sauvignon Blanc/Feteasca Regala 2017, Tanave, Transylvania, Romania $13.95 (LCBO Vintages #617340) – a little lighter and crisper style, but aromatic and perfumed; for those who demand “dry” whites.
Pierre Sparr Mambourg Pinot Gris Grand Cru 2015, Alsace, France $25.95 (LCBO Vintages #686451) – big and bold, with lemon curd, dark honey and tangerine notes; palate-coating, with a touch of residual sweetness.
Domaine des Tourelles Red 2014, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon $19.95 (LCBO Vintages #582155) -chunky, beefy red with exotic spices, crushed peppercorns, black plum and a touch of fig.
William Fevre “Espino Gran Cuvée” Carménère 2014, Los Majades Vineyard, Maipo Valley, Chile $24.95 (LCBO Vintages #624718) – ripe style with big, bold notes of blueberry, plum, cassis and that signature hint of bell pepper, with this one leaning more to red pepper.
Bodegas Corral “Don Jacobo” Gran Reserva 2004, Rioja, Spain $39.95 (LCBO Vintages #923748) – textbook Rioja Gran Reserva with sweet oak wrapped around earth, ripe strawberry, pin cherry and a touch of meatiness; drinking beautifully right now.