By Jeremy Oliver
By Jeremy Oliver
On Christmas day, of all the days in the year, there is absolutely no excuse whatsoever not to drink well. You are either revelling in the company of those you are with and should, therefore, be keen to flush out the very best in your cellar, or else you will surely need a fine beverage or three to maintain signs of life amid a cacophony of screaming children or a fusillade of extended family. Help is at hand.
Coming as I do from a family rooted in the gastronomic traditions – such as they are – of parts English, it remains difficult even to this day to contemplate other than the statutory lunch-time triathlon of hot soup, roasted turkey and pork, ham off the bone, trifle, Christmas pudding, custard, brandy butter and mince pies. It’s well understood in my family that parents of children of what are meant to be a responsible age – whatever that may be – are quite entitled to get quietly to grips with an old fortified after the seasonal procession of food, before sneaking off for a quick kip thereafter. Little wonder that my memories of Christmas seem to peter out around four pm each year…
This year, however, a new leaf is to be turned, for Christmas lunch will be selected and scheduled to meet the specific demands of the Australian climate, cuisine and character. And coming from Melbourne as I do, this could perhaps mean almost anything.
Plates of antipasto will be accompanied by several different freshly shucked oysters, and plenty of them. Upon this stage wines like a bone-dry Eden Valley riesling under the Steingarten label with a lingering texture of chalk and lemon pith, a briny and bracing Blanc de Blancs (straight chardonnay) from Levantine Hill or a fragant, savoury and mineral DP 90 Fino from Seppeltfield will compete for attention.
Next up will be a seafood paella, a step up in richness, flavour and creaminess. This causes me to think immediately of finely balanced chardonnay. Given that it’s lunch, and we’re likely to be outside, I’ll have close to hand a taut, tangy Quartz Chardonnay from Bindi, possibly accompanied by a Les Clos Chablis from Raveneau, one of my favourite makers of wine, anywhere. If, perchance, the paella requires a little more substance, it’s straight out with a Margaret River version from either Pierro or Peccavi.
By now it’s high time for red, so a course is needed to showcase a pinot trio comprising Bass Phillip Estate, Main Ridge Half Acre and a mature vintage from Freycinet on Tassie’s East Coast. So out comes the vitello tonnata with roast potato Italian style – simple, classic and perfect for outdoors.
Next up a cracking board of cheese I’ve selected for its ability to handle firmer red wine – comprising a crusty Pyengana Cheddar, a Compte Gruyere, a crumbly Reggiano and a pungent, rather fluid Milawa Gold. So it’s time for something ethereal but a little more savoury: nebbiolo. Confident today in the quality of the finest Australian expressions of this classic Italian variety, I’m happy with a trio from Giaconda and Jasper Hill plus a stray entry from Barbaresco – the fragrant and leathery Riserva ‘Montestefano’ 2005 from the excellent Produttori Del Barbaresco collection. An alternative theme, should you wish to try it, could be to stay local with sparkling red. I’d be unable to decide between Primo Estate’s Sparkling Joseph and the Show Reserve Sparkling Shiraz from Seppelt Great Western (of which the 2004 vintage is still current), so I’d open one of each.
Approaching the finishing line, it’s time to consider a dessert. Again remaining with a local theme, I’m opting for a series of small, individual Pavlovas. As you can see, I have neither grown up in this regard, nor have I lost my enthusiasm for whipped cream. The wine options here are too wide to mention, but I will be looking for a fresh, youthful Sauternes from either Filhot, Climens or Coutet. They’re more savoury than most of the local alternatives, and I find they’re easier to enjoy into the second glass.
And finally, provided the spirit remains willing, it will be off to grab a glass from the in-house barrel of port, the core of which dates back around a century. This, of course, partners the inevitable but indeed essential Christmas cake. If for some reason your house is not inhabited by a vessel of this nature, you might reach instead for a bottle of Chambers Grand Tokay, Morris Old Premium Muscat or Penfolds Great Grandfather Port. It would be a crime indeed not to revert to the time-honoured traditions of Christmas! And I promise by now you won’t be hearing the children…
I wish each of you a healthy, safe and festive Christmas with the people who mean most to you.
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