Last week we took a look at wine and food pairing and what wines to drink with your food over Christmas. This week, we thought we’d continue the festive theme with some (slightly random) thoughts on drinks choreography for all those other moments of the day when you’re prepping, digesting or sitting around chatting and fancy a little something.
First things first, let’s get chilling. If you’re drinking whites or Cava on Christmas Day, get them chilling early. It’s not that they need to spend hours in the fridge, but in all the chaos of the morning it’s easy to forget – and the last thing you want is a warm white with the seafood starter. If you’re planning on a lighter red – something like a Pinot Noir or a Garnacha perhaps - you could also pop that in the fridge to cool down a tad.
We know many people are uncomfortable chilling their reds, but indoors with the central heating on, room temperature can reach well over 20ºC – too warm for most wines. So, in some cases, chilling is actually a good thing. As a rule of thumb, think about tannins. if you’ve got a lighter, paler red wine with lower tannins, serving it slightly chilled can help enhance the flavour. But if you’ve got a wine made from grapes with thick skins and higher tannins, or aged wines that have taken on tannins from the barrel, chilling will tend to over-emphasise the tannins and make them taste too bitter and astringent. So try to serve them at around 17-18ºC to be at their best.
OK, we’ve got the chilling out of the way, it’s mid-morning and you’re sweating away over the stuffing – what better time for an aperitivo! Now I know we’ve banged on about sherry – or the “fortified wines of southern Spain” as we rather grandly like to refer to them - in other posts, but frankly, it’s such good stuff and (still) such good value it deserves umpteen mentions. And it’s a perfect aperitivo for the discerning chef.
The word aperitivo comes from the Latin “aperire” meaning “to open”, and that’s precisely what a good aperitivo is meant to do: excite the palate and stimulate your appetite. They’re often quite dry and relatively low in alcohol (ie under 20% ABV), and sherry in all its forms – Manzanilla, Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso, Palo Cortado – is the perfect candidate. Also don’t forget the excellent range of vermouths we can get all over Spain, packed with herbs and aromatics to get our gastric juices flowing.
Suitably armed, you’re now ready to tackle the gravy. Remember, a splash of red wine is going to help scrape all that deliciousness off the bottom of the pan and, at the same time, add a touch of welcome acidity to help balance the meat. But you don’t need to push the boat out – here at SSW we always have a bottle of something cheap and cheerful standing next to the cooker which we can pour in as needed.
Bring on the bubbles
So, the lunch is prepped and ready to serve and the family are all gathered in the lounge. It’s time to bring on the fizz. If you’re popping the cork on some Cava or Champagne, then rumour has it the “best” time for that is before you sit down to eat. Why’s that? Well, it’s sort of tradition from the professional wine-tasting community, and based on the idea that mid to late morning is when your palate is at its purest, untainted by toothpaste/nicotine/coffee/that brown sauce you had with your sausages over breakfast, and ready to pick up all the subtleties of flavour in good Cava or Champagne.
If you popped any reds in the fridge first thing, now is the time to get them out and let them relax before opening. And if you’ve opted for a fuller-bodied, more aged red to go with the main course, think about opening it now and perhaps even decanting it. Decanting is optional and slightly controversial; some wine experts argue that decanting wines that have been aged for several years or more helps get oxygen into the wine before serving and that this can enhance its “bouquet”- ie the collection of aromas and smells that the wine has acquired while it was being made and then aged. Another more practical reason for decanting older wines is to separate the wine from any sediment that might be in the bottle, which could spoil your enjoyment of it.
Finally, as we all push back our pudding bowls and gently pat our swollen bellies, we can let our minds turn to one of nature’s finest inventions (at least on Christmas Day) - the digestivo. As the name suggests, a digestivo is designed to settle the stomach and help you to digest after a meal. Digestivos tend to be slightly sweeter and more alcoholic than aperitivos, and that extra alcohol boosts the enzyme pepsin in the stomach which aids digestion.
Herb-based digestivos can help too; ingredients like caraway or fennel help the digestive tract do its job. Here in Spain, think of drinks like Orujo from Galicia, a kind of Spanish schnapps distilled from the grape skins left over from the winemaking process, Hierbas Ibicencas from the Balearics made with aromatic herbs, or the famous aniseed-based digestivos like Anís del Mono from Badalona in Catalunya with the monkey on the label, or Chinchón from the town of the same name.
So, there we have it – a whistlestop guide to choreographing your drinks on Christmas Day. We’ll leave it to you to decide what should accompany the obligatory Bond film/game of charades/turkey sandwich. But however you choose to end the day we hope you have a great one with family and friends, and that your chosen wine gives your spirits a well-deserved boost.