Celebrating Christmas is probably one of the biggest events of the year for many families, yet planning and preparing for the occasion can be incredibly stressful. Catering for seafood hating children, the solo vegan and your gluten intolerant sister can be a nightmare. And of course, getting the wines right is not straight forward either!
Such a special occasion deserves special wines. Of course, champagne or sparkling is virtually a necessity, but the type of trimmings, as well as individual tastes, need to be considered when it comes to choosing what to serve alongside the prawns or beef.
The top THREE most important factors to consider when catering are:
1. Food Matching
Matching wines to food is a topic of great debate and divided opinions. There are some who swear by the science of it and others who will tell you to drink what you like, when you like and with whom you like.
There are some widely accepted recommendations though and in general, the following is a sensible guide:
Match the weight of both the food and wine. Full bodied wines compliment heavy, rich foods
Match the Flavour intensity of both and also consider the wine’s Fruit Character
Match or compliment Acidity in wine and food (high acid wines complement fatty foods the same way lemon cuts the greasiness of smoked salmon)
The more Texture a food has (fatty food like duck, chewy like steak) the more Tannin the wine should have
(What are tannins? – They are similar to what you taste when you drink a cup of tea which has had a teabag sitting in it too long. That mouth-puckering flavour comes from both the grapes and the oak barrels the wine is aged in and when in balance provides a great flavour and helps cleanse your palate.)
If you’re looking for more specific pairing advice, we’ve put some suggestions together for you to consider when setting your menu.
Red Meat [roast or BBQ] – Cab Sav, Shiraz, GSM [grenache, shiraz, mouvedre blend] – You’re basically looking for a big wine that can keep up with the meat’s full flavour and has enough tannin to balance the fats in the meat. This style of wine helps to strip the fats from the meat off your tongue and leave your mouth ready for more.
Roast Pork – Fruity Rose, Pinot Noir or Grenache in reds. Chenin Blanc or Riesling in whites
Roast Chicken/Turkey – Chardonnay or Marsanne Roussane Viognier blend. Pinot Noir or a lighter red, such as a Dolcetto
Duck – Pinot Noir
Fish – Sav Blanc, but if you’re serving salmon then a Pinot Noir or Pinot Gris is more suitable
Lobster – Chardonnay or sparkling
Oysters – Sav Blanc or sparkling
Prawns – Riesling, Sav Blanc, Pinot Grigio
Scallops – Chardonnay
Eastern foods (SE Asia, China, India) – Gewürztraminer or Riesling for spicy or highly flavoured dishes. The sugars in these wines help smooth out the spices in the food.
Host Tip: if you have asked guests to contribute to lunch or dinner by bringing along a bottle of wine, it is polite to open that bottle to serve… don’t ferret it away to enjoy when everyone else has gone or your guest will be very offended!
So how much wine should you purchase for your Christmas celebration? Choosing the right quantities is not an exact science, and knowing how many glasses there are per bottle of wine can really help with planning. You can expect to get about 4 to 6 full-sized glasses per standard 750ml bottle of wine. Remember that a wine glass should only be filled half or two-thirds full, leaving space to swirl wine and release the bouquet. You will typically get about 7 full glasses, or flutes, from a bottle of sparkling wine.
Quantities will depend on the length and type of party. Generally, if you’re serving lunch or dinner you can expect guests to enjoy one or two pre-meal drinks in the first hour and approximately one glass per hour following. Though you will probably know your guests well enough to remember that Uncle Len will happily down far more than that and Cousin Jim will be the designated driver and so will sit on one glass all day.
Some quick points to consider:
- Whites tend to be more popular than reds, particularly in warmer weather
- If you’re serving an aged red wine which has sediment, it will require decanting so fewer glasses will be obtained
- Make sure there’s plenty of chilled water and soft drinks on hand so that you’re also catering for those not drinking and keeping everyone else hydrated
- Don’t forget to organise lots of ice, particularly if you’re planning on having champagne buckets or wine coolers on the table.
Host tip: Always buy a bit extra. There’s nothing worse than running out of wine.
Christmas can be a very expensive time of the year so you should give some thought to how much you want to spend on catering your event. With so many wines available there really is no restriction to your choices and no excuse to serve bad wine! There are some fabulous wines in the $12 – $18 price range that could confidently take on the big guns. If you’re looking to impress by serving something with a following, you can expect to pay somewhere in the vicinity of $20 – $30 per bottle.
Host tip: If you’re really clever, you’ll have a combination of both. Just serve the good stuff first and your guests will be suitably primed for the poor cousins next!