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21st Dec 2019

The Shelbourne’s Sommelier shares her expert Christmas wine tips (and Champagne coupes are OUT apparently)

Leslie Ann Horgan

Doing the Big Shop today?

Then, as mammy taught you, it’s all in the planning – and making a good list in key. Below, Nisea Doddy, Somellier of The Shelbourne, shares her top tips on what drinks to stock up on, as well as telling you how best to serve them on Christmas Day.

Kick things off with Champagne

A good NV (non vintage) is best to start celebrations. NV is the signature of each Champagne house and therefore the most important in terms of production. If you really feel like splashing out, save the richer and, indeed, more expensive vintage champagne for the first course of your Christmas feast! I would recommend a Rose Champagne to start the festive day.

What’s the right glass?

You can most definitely get more aromas and nuances from Champagne in a standard white wine glass, however, I do love the drama and elegance of a beautiful well-made Champagne flute. (No cut crystal!)

We use  lovely Champagne flutes with a tapering top which helps capture the toasty brioche nose. The one shape I would avoid is the coupe glass as the mousse, or bubble, disappears too quickly.

Looking the part

Frozen cranberries look gorgeous in the glass, as do pomegranate seeds. Add Pomegranate syrup or juice to make a festive mimosa or a thin slice of pear (cut from root to stalk) with a sprig of rosemary is delicious,  I would use Prosecco or Cava for these. Or try a sprig of redcurrants dipped in a simple sugar syrup and dusted with regular sugar which will sparkle on the edge of your glass.

Red and Whites

Turkey is a low-fat meat so for reds you need soft, medium tannins: Pinot Noir from Burgundy or New Zealand for example. If pinot is not your style, try a juicy Zinfandel or a Rioja with some bottle age. You also have to contend with your sauces and traditional accompaniments, so, again, watch the tannins and go for fruit. A Beaujolais Cru will tick these boxes.

Turkey with bread sauce cries out for a creamy, full-bodied Chardonnay from Burgundy or California but with not too much oak. The fresh acidity and minerality in such wines will keep your palate cleansed and ready for the rest of the feast. Or try a Gruner Veltliner with some bottle age again for complex fruit/acidity and structure. Trust in your local wine shop professional, they will not steer you wrong.

And now for something completely different…

There are fantastic Greek wines with wonderful herbal qualities, and delicious reds from Hungary using Cabernet Franc. Also perhaps try some of the natural or low intervention wines that are now readily available in the Irish market.

For dessert…

An often overlooked sweet wine which I love at Christmas is Recioto della Valpolicella, full of sweet red and black soft fruit character. This is made with the Passito method where the grapes are dried on straw mats before crushing.

Amarone is the more famous dry higher alcohol version. PX sherry (Pedro Ximenez) is another opulent option. Intensely sweet and syrupy a little goes a long way. Expect dates, figs, raisin, leather and tobacco and perhaps sip a small glass instead of the Christmas Pudding.

To decant or not to decant?

Decant your wines if you can – an hour or so before drinking will make all the difference. Make sure your reds do not get too warm. It is better to serve them slightly cool and let them evolve at the table. Rich whites also benefit from decanting and are best not served too cold. They do need to be chilled but don’t go below 7C.