By Nick Adams, Master of Wine.
Why does the Easter date keep changing – and what should we be drinking with Easter fare? With a light at the end of the lock down tunnel this might just be the moment to indulge at home and raise a glass or two to a brighter 2021!
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!
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 vernal, or 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. Now that fact is worth raising a glass to, especially when we are allowed out to play again and you have just been asked it in your local pub quiz!
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 – and particularly so this year. With that in mind I have picked up on a few seasonal and personal highlights for me and sieved again through the Wine Trust list to highlight these.
Wine Parings: Good Friday
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 (classically Hollandaise) 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.
Crowd Pleaser: Picpoul de Pinet Baron de Badassière, Roussillon France.
A classic partner to all straightforward shellfish and light white fish dishes – classically dressed crab, or a crevette salad.
Wonderful mêlée of red apple, zesty citric fruits and greengage. Very refreshing and mouth watering, uncluttered by any oak.
Try something different: Lawson’s Dry Hills Riesling, Marlborough, New Zealand.
A crisp, dry, citrusy, light yet intensely flavoured wine. With hints of citrus blossom, apple and lime, the small amounts of sweetness in this Riesling are balanced by the acidity to make for elegant, fresh notes on the palate.
Something Pink: Rosa dei Frati Cà dei Frati, Lombardy Italy.
Fabulous Italian Rosé great with pan fried salmon or sea trout.
Zesty and vibrant with aromas of summer pudding and strawberries, this juicy, medium bodied Italian rosé is full of flavour, showing delicate red berry fruit, yet perfectly balanced with a lovely refreshing finish.
Treat Yourself: Sancerre Domaine des Brosses, Loire Valley France.
Perfect with classic flat fish dishes and shellfish.
Pale golden in colour, this wine has ripe citrus aromas paired with herbaceous notes. Its structured yet balanced palate reveals the consecrated minerality and freshness of an excellent Sancerre.
Wine Pairings: Easter Saturday
On Saturday I would be tempted to go vegetarian. If the weather has been kind, new season asparagus is a must! (if not, there are still the particularly good Peruvian and Mexican options). Asparagus works 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, especially with mushrooms. At this time of the year, you can still find a good selection of wild mushrooms – even chanterelles, morels, shitake and oyster mushrooms. There are plenty of house-trained varieties with real flavour such as portobellos and chestnut mushrooms. This dish works very well with a full-bodied rosé or lighter red – especially Pinot Noir. And don’t forget to top it off with shavings of Parmignano.
Crowd Pleaser: Percheron Chenin Blanc/Viognier, Western Cape South Africa
A dynamic duo of grapes which combine perfectly to provide great mid week and party drinking. One of the best value for money South African wines we have come across.
Vibrant and aromatic with delicious subtle perfumed aromas with white peach and hints of jasmine on the nose. On the palate it has tight, white, fleshy stone fruit and fresh apricot flavours that balances the sandy texture. Bright acidity and minerality helps to deliver a delicious flavoursome and characteristic wine.
Try Something Different: Château Lestrille Capmartin Blanc. Bordeaux France
Classically styled barrel fermented blend of Sauvignon Gris and Sauvignon Blanc, with a little Sémillon. Plenty of texture and body; would work well with either asparagus and/or butter sauce, as well as risotto if you prefer white.
Really zesty with bold citric fruits, pink grapefruit, and a touch of white pepper. Lovely creamy texture , but still low key, with a toasty oak overlay.
Treat Yourself: Newton Johnson, Family Vineyards Pinot Noir, South Africa
A classic Burgundian styled Pinot from leading South African specialist and simply perfect with the mushroom risotto.
Displaying ripe cherry and red berry fruits but also refined delicacy, soft tannins and a pleasurable, lilting character.
Wine Pairings: Easter Sunday
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, served with new season Jersey Royals. Don’t forget to rest the lamb and de-glaze the pan with red wine, stock, and herbs to make a great tasting jus to go with it. This dish cries out for one of two classic red styles; a Pinot Noir or oak aged Rioja.
Crowd Pleaser: Kaiken Clásico Malbec, Mendoza Argentina
Deep purple in colour, with dried fruit aromas of strawberries and cherries, nicely complemented with spicy notes and menthol aromas. On the palate, this wine displays extraordinary balance, freshness and soft tannins.
Try Something Different: Talò Malvasia Nera San Marzano, Puglia Italy
We never tire of finding new and exciting Italian wines, and this beauty is from the heel (Puglia) of Italy and from local star grape Malvasia Nera. Very savoury, smoky with sweet dark fruit and spice – this captures the very essence of southern Italy in a bottle.
Treat Yourself: Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Gran Reserva, Rioja Spain
A brooding, dark wine with intense vanilla and darker fruit flavours – a little tight right now but opens up with time and aeration. Notes of chocolate and black plum emerge all wrapped up in a grainy tannic frame. Long and poised – this is polished and refined.
Wine Pairing: Easter Monday
On Easter Monday I love a cold spread with plenty of options for all tastes. Go for a pork pie and some classic hams for example – English and the ultra-savoury Spanish Serrano and Iberico. Maybe top up with smoked salmon! 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, 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.
Crowd Pleaser: Prosecco Cantina Colli Euganei, Veneto Italy
One sip of this frothing, gulp-able wine shows why Prosecco is so irresistibly popular. This wine is straw yellow in colour with youthful hues and a fine, persistent mousse. On the nose the aromas are fresh and fruity, a blend of lemon, apple and pear, with white blossom hints. It is soft and lively on the palate without being aggressive.
Try Something Different: Malagousia Domaine Gervassiliou, Macedonia Greece
This wonderful indigenous Greek grape variety almost died out, very much brought back to life in this Domaine. A touch of Viognier here in its ripe apricot character and hints of mango and pear.
Treat Yourself: Château d’Esclans Rock Angel Rosé, Provence France
Will take on anything on a cold table; dry, mineral and intensely fruity.
Crisp and refreshing with intense flavours such as strawberries and raspberries and hints of peach and lemon, make for a long and creamy wine. Perfect not only for summer but year round enjoyment.
Happy Easter from all of us at WineTrust!