Why does the Easter date keep changing – and what should we be drinking with Easter fare and get together?
The actor Sir Michael Caine was famous, allegedly, for the phrase “Not a lot of people know that!” and one of the things that has mildly bugged me is the question as to why Easter falls on different dates each year, so – after a little investigation – here’s why!
Firstly, the dry bit – according to the Bible, Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection occurred around the time of the Jewish Passover, which was celebrated on the first full moon following the Spring, equinox. This soon led to Christians celebrating Easter on different dates. In A.D. 325, the Council of Nicaea set the date of Easter as the Sunday following the paschal full moon, which is the full moon that falls on or after the Spring equinox. In practice, that means that Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon that falls on or after March 21. Apart from Easter’s important religious references and heritage, it is also a time when we say goodbye to Winter and begin to look forward to longer, brighter, warmer days. There is a significant mood change as we gear up for Spring and Summer. Food produce also changes – we finish classics like the mussel season but enjoy new, young vegetables (most famously the asparagus season and the arrival of new potatoes such as Jersey Royals). Probably most symbolically of all lamb features highly and is often the centre piece of meals on Easter Sunday. In addition, many people enjoy fish specifically on Easter Friday .
There is less fanfare than with Christmas but is no less an important time to meet up with friends and family and share good food and wine together. With that in mind I have picked up on a few seasonal and personal highlights for me and sieved again through the excellent WineTrust list to highlight these.
I am going to be traditional and think fish for Easter Friday to kick the whole weekend off. This time of the year sees certain sea food at their seasonal best – such as Crab and flat fish like Sole, Plaice, Halibut and Brill, and for a treat Turbot. These all work well with white wine (no surprise), although a dry Rosé can also pair nicely. Crab really needs something crisp, dry, and mouth-watering – whether served simply dressed with a (new potato and leaf) salad, or partnered with some gentle chilli and coriander in a pasta. Plainly cooked flat fish tends to demand the same partner, but if you are indulging in a richer, buttery sauce then go for a fuller-bodied Chardonnay to accompany. And for the ubiquitous Salmon then I would opt for a Rosé – or if smoked as a starter – a spicier white.
Picpoul de Pinet Côteaux du Languedoc Baron de Badassière – Southern France – and a real crowd pleaser and excellent with anything fishy
Rosa dei Frati, Cà dei Frati – Lombary Italy – an absolutely belting dry Rosé and perfect with your hot or cold salmon, or sea trout
Chardonnay, Creation Wines – Walker Bay South Africa – spot on Springbok take in the classic barrel fermented Burgundy style – ideal with any richer fish and sauce dishes
On Saturday I would be tempted to go vegetarian – if the weather has been kind new season asparagus is a must (if not there is still the very good Peruvian and Mexican options). Asparagus works really well with two varieties in particular – Sauvignon Blanc and maybe more surprisingly Viognier, especially if steamed and enjoyed with melted butter and black pepper. As with flat fish if you serve with the classic Hollandaise then consider a Chardonnay as well as a Viognier. I also adore risotto, and especially with mushrooms. At this time of the year you can still find a good selection of wild mushrooms – even Chanterelles and Morels, as well as Shitake and Oysters. And there are plenty of house trained varieties with real flavour such as Portobellos and Chestnut. This dish works very well with a full-bodied rosé (ie as with the fish section) or lighter red – especially Pinot Noir.
Lawson’s Dry Hills Sauvignon Blanc – Marlborough New Zealand – zesty, fruity and aromatic, fine partner with all green veg, also tomato and most surprisingly goat’s cheese! (Vegan friendly)
Domaine de Vedilhan Serica Viognier – Pays d’Oc France – nicely rich and textured stone fruits flavours – more power than your Sauvignon for richer and maybe roasted veggie dishes (Vegan friendly)
Pinot Noir Giant Steps Yarra Valley – Yarra Valley Australia – refined cooler climate Ozzie red – just right for your mushroom risotto (Vegan friendly)
Onto Easter Sunday and some new season lamb. Ideally a rack or leg, oven roasted and served with confit slow roasted tomatoes, root vegetables and thyme (or rosemary) – and served if available with new season Jersey Royals. Let the lamb rest and deglaze the pan with red wine and some stock (and more herbs) to make a great tasting jus to go with it. This dish cries out for a classic red style – Burgundy, Chianti or oak aged Rioja are great options.
Château de Santenay Mercury Rouge – Chalonnaise France – this Burgundy Domaine has transformed itself in the last 10 years and now makes pristine, elegant Burgundies full of red fruits and style
Fontodi Chianti Classico – Tuscany Italy – simply one of the region’s finest examples – 100% Sangiovese – deep cherry fruit and polished French oak
Palacios Remondo La Montesa Crianza – Rioja Spain – leading producer with a nicely oaked and juicy style, with Garnacha (Grenache) taking the lead role in the blend with Tempranillo
On the last day of Easter (Monday) I love a cold spread with plenty of options for all tastes. Nice to think of a long lunch approach too on this day with friends. Go for a pork pie and some classic hams for example – English and the ultra-savoury Spanish Serrano and Iberico. Maybe top up the smoked salmon, or sushi! Serve with a big mixed leaf salad and dressing along with a good mix of crudités – such as blanched and/or raw baby carrots, green beans, celery, tomatoes, shallot, and radish. Finish with a classic dip – my favourite is aioli – mayonnaise with a lively garlic kick. And, don’t forget plenty of bread (not least for the cheeseboard) and more Jersey Royals if available (or oven roasted chips). The good news is that this sort of smörgåsbord allows for a liberal selection of wine styles – including some bubbles, but I would also go for a mix of dry whites, maybe another rosé, and light reds
Roederer Estate Quartet, Anderson Valley California, Brut NV – California USA – staggeringly good New World (Chardonnay|Pinot Noir blend) sparkling wine owned and overseen by the famous Champagne Roederer team
Lagar de Cervera Albariño, La Rioja Alta – Galicia Spain – ultra crisp, stone fruits, unoaked and thoroughly modern dry white wine
Valpolicella Allegrini – Veneto, Italy – proper Valpolicella; juicy, vibrant cherry fruit style with a light body and low tannins. Serve cool.