Christmas wine pairing with fish, vegetarian and soup dishes. By Nick Adams MW

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Part three of WineTrust100’s MW Nick Adams’ Christmas blog series. Today – matching to fish and vegetarian Christmas dishes – as well as soups.
It is easy to forget that a number of fish and shellfish are in plentiful supply and at their best in the winter with the following particularly good – examples:

  • Wild sea bass
  • Brill
  • Gilt head bream
  • Hake
  • Skate
  • Monkfish
  • Mackerel
  • Mussels
  • Oysters
  • Scallops
  • Clams
  • And, as ever – smoked salmon!

I remember a friend saying that for a change they did an oven steamed wild sea bass for Christmas day one year and it was a revelation – and slightly surreal with the crackers!
I think the recommendations are quite straightforward – always white wine and unoaked and crisp for plainly cooked fish, richer, maybe oaked Chardonnay based wines with fish with butter based sauce (beurre blanc/noir, hollandaise). The classic partner to many shellfish is Chablis Moreau-Naudet, for richer fish and sauces options include Burgundies Bourgogne Blanc Domaine Bachoy-Legros or for a treat Puligny-Montrachet Domaine Berthlemot
And it maybe as old as the hills but a good Muscadet – Sur Lie Domaine Gobin (really does work well with mussels – and please do steam the molluscs in the wine itself). If you are using fish in a Thai/spicy manner then aromatic whites are the section for you – and please give Riesling a chance (e.g. the Fritz’s Rheinhessen GunderlochSybille Kuntz Mosel Trocken, or from Australia the classic Grosset’s Polish Hills ) – especially if coriander, lime, lemon grass, green chilli are involved in any way. And this is where you can be really bold and go for a Gewürztraminer (Rolly Gassmann) – great name!), which interestingly might also work with that old seasonal favourite Scottish smoked salmon. The more heavily smoked the salmon, the bolder the wine can be – including being oaked. But please do not ever pour a red wine with smoked salmon – a marriage made in hell!
I often think the key to this is: “does it include tomato?” If so, the naturally high acid in tomatoes requires a high acid wine to compliment – which could be red as well as white. For example a homemade pizza, with a rich tomato base – and maybe roasted vegetable and mozzarella topping – could work well with an Italian red – as long as not too tannic – (good examples include the lively Nero d’Avola La Ferla to the richer, but very smooth El Passo from Vigneti Zabù – and not just through auto suggestion!), the same principle also applies with a good ratatouille. If you use some spice – such as a vegetable samosas for example – then stick to fruity, unoaked white wines (most New World examples are very good), such as the Amalaya Torrontés|Riesling, or Paul Culver Gewürztraminer.   Soft (low tannin) New World reds are also an option, fro example from Chile and Argentina, with the Calbuco Merlot, or Renacer Mendoza Malbec.
If you really char grill vegetables then you can be bolder with the wine – due to their “toasty” character – to include rosés for example (such as the Cà dei Frati Rosa dei Frati from Italy, or for a real treat the exemplary English sparkling Coates & Seely Brut Rosé NV ). A lot also depends if you are using pastry and/or eggs – e.g. making a tart – as this means you can serve a richer and fuller bodied white – maybe even gently oaked. This is especially so if you have a gratin (cheese) element such as with an onion and cheese flan. The stronger the cheese element the bolder the wine choice can be. In general, though, I would avoid really dry and tannic red wines – they tend to sit aside from many vegetarian dishes.
Another excellent combination is Viognier with asparagus (such as the Viognier Tabalí from Chile Limari Valley, or the Pecheron Chenin|Viognier blend from South Africa) with asparagus – at this time of the year probably from Peru (but still very good) – and by that served hot or cold, with or without a butter/hollandaise sauce.
With salads (and crudités) a lot depends on the intensity of the leaves and vegetables, plus the dressing combination. At the blander end of the scale, for example, is iceberg lettuce, maybe at the other endives such as radicchio, or frissé. Then there is onion – the minute this enters the fray the whole salad “warms” up. Add water cress, or rocket, and the peppery levels increases; just a few coriander leaves add citric notes. I think it very difficult to be at all definitive here other than to say that white wines invariably work better – and again unoaked. Frankly, Any wines from our “crisp, dry white” section will work. Nothing beats a mixed plate of blanched, crunchy vegetables – and I think especially when served with mayonnaise, or even better aioli! If you use these richer sauce accompaniments then you can indulge in more medium bodied and even lightly oaked white wines – a good example being the South African Sequillo White from Eben Sadie.
A final note on the ever popular beetroot. With its firm earthy notes and fleshy texture it is difficult, but not impossible! The star recommendation would be the Domaine Villargeau Giennois Pinot Noir Rosé from the Loire Valley.
Tis the season for soup – for sure. The classical chefs I work with generally prefer to serve their soup without any wine at all (hmmm!). However, and this is my real off the wall recommendation for the holidays – nothing beats a great pan of vegetable soup – onion, leek, celery, carrot, black cabbage (cavolo nero is just so damned good in soups) garlic, borlotti beans, flat leaf parsley with pressed tomato and deseeded chopped pulp. And what makes this so flexible is you use two pans – in one add chicken stock and shredded ham hock for the carnivores; and in t’other, skip the ham and use vegetable stock for the veggies – then everyone is happy!
To finish it off use any leftover bread to make your own crostini (roast in the oven with a little oil) topped with cheese and re bake – either a good cheddar or gruyere.
But to finish the whole experience off – and please trust me – chill down a bottle of the Rainwater Madeira – yes I did print and mean that – or the fabulous Valdespino Innocente Fino dry Sherry and pour a small measure into a copita shaped glass and indulge – you will be amazed with the combination!
Nick Adams MW
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