Pre-Christmas wine thoughts

In keeping with state of the world economy, one may be inclined to be a little more thriftier this Christmas. On the other hand, one may take a defiant "business as usual" approach, determined to celebrate the occasion with as much cheer as possible.

There is a middle ground, of course, which is to celebrate Christmas sensibly.

Good wine at Christmas need not cost the proverbial arm and a leg. There are myriad choices of not just decent wines, but very good wines at sensible prices. Of course bearing in mind that "sensible" may not mean the same to everyone, each having their own definition.

In planning the traditional Christmas Eve dinner, the first question is usually "What are we eating?" I wonder what proportion of Singaporeans sit down to a traditional Christmas dinner these days? Which just reminds me that the first-ever Christmas meal I had was in 1941, at the impromptu lunch invitation from my church pastor on Christmas Day.

After the morning service, I was still on the church premises and as it was close to lunch time, the pastor, an American, came over from his home (on the Church grounds) and very kindly invited me to join him and his wife for Christmas lunch. It would have been churlish to refuse, besides which I felt enormously flattered.

That was my first traditional Christmas "dinner".

I remember distinctly there was the expected roast turkey with the usual trimmings. But no wine.

Of course, being a teenager I would not have been allowed to drink and in any case I knew nothing about wine - except that it contained alcohol!

That diversion aside, "What are we eating for Christmas dinner?" is a rhetorical question.

The more important decision is what wine to have with the main course. That is the most important wine of the dinner, serving as a guide to the wines that go before and after it.

This approach is of course what may be regarded as the "traditional", an approach probably less commonly practised today.

Bordeaux or Burgundy?

Traditionally the wine for the main course will almost certainly be a red - the question is more "Bordeaux or Burgundy?" And more frequently today, the answer will be Burgundy.

Which may well be another reason today's escalating Burgundy prices.

Before we get to the main course, there would commonly be a champagne to start, followed by a white, then perhaps another wine, usually a red, before the main red (or two!) with the main course.

The main course was traditionally followed by dessert, but this is usually dispensed with as most guests would have had enough wine (and food) under their belts.

Which explains why dessert wines are hardly drunk today, to our loss actually, but as the saying goes, "There hangs another tale!"

This traditional approach described above, with variations and adaptations, still provides (for me at least) the simplest guide to the choice of wines for dinner.

Champagne is relatively easy.

The principal determinant is cost.

And here I would urge more attention be paid to the simple non-vintage and non-deluxe vintage champagnes.

Laurent Perrier Vintage 2004 and Pol Roger 2002 for example are just lovely to start with. Deluxe champagnes, such as Dom Perignon vintage 2004, are actually a luxury!

Apart from the fact that if it were a non-sparkling vintage wine, the instinctive reaction would be "too young, needs ageing!" Besides which, most people tend to pay scant attention to the champagne they are served, so long as there are bubbles!

White before red, preferable, though not necessarily written in stone.

Why? Two main reasons.

The first being that seafood usually precedes the meat course.

The other reason is related to the matter of precedence in sensory impressions.

A red wine leaves sensory impressions on the palate (and in the mind) against which a white would have difficulty in being "heard"! It is like being "drowned out".

Sometimes, there may be an amuse bouche, seafood and a pasta before the actual main.

The sequence would usually be a light white - perhaps German -with the amuse bouche, a main white - a Puligny or Meursault for the seafood course, and a red, such as an Italian Chianti or "Super-Tuscan" with the pasta being be a good choice.

Then finally the main red (or two)to go with the main course.

Here is where the budget can get busted. Romanee Conti, Musigny, Lafite Rothschild? For budget watchers, and even for the well-heeled, these are best saved for celebratory occasions.

Serving one of these is akin to making a statement. What the statement is depends on who the guests are (or who the principal guest is). It may appropriately be taken to be a token of appreciation or of respect for one's guests.

Selecting dinner wines can be quite therapeutic, at least for me.

Takes one's mind off more mundane and sometimes irritating matters. Being in the cellar and browsing away for an hour or so in the cool of the cellar gives you a rest, away from the phone and e-mails!

This article was first published on December , 2014. Get The Business Times for more stories.