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    FESTIVE EATING, (WINE) DRINKING, (WINE) GIFTS … AND MORE

    Date:

    By Richard Slater

    Suddenly, the end of the calendar year is in sight, with its range of functions, dinners and gifts that are required. Here’s some ideas to get ahead (a corkscrew, a champagne stopper and decent glassware are prerequisites).

    Wine is meant to be enjoyed with food and shared with good company. 

    Gadgets

    A decent ‘waiters’ friend’ corkscrew usually does the trick – but with old or fragile corks, a ‘Durand’ for around $230 is a terrific investment. The similar ‘lisite’ at AliExpress is cheaper at $130. A Champagne stopper helps keep bubbles fresh (a spoon does NOT WORK). Wine aficionados can be very fussy about glassware. Riedel is well marketed; I am partial to Zalto; the ‘universal’ is excellent; the more cumbersome ‘Burgundy’ glass is outstanding. Spiegelau is very nearly as good, and cheaper. For most days, glasses from ALDI are used at chez moi.

    A decanter or carafe is just a fancy word for a glass jug. The aim for young wine (red and whites) is just to help them express themselves. For older red wines, the aim is to avoid sediment. Hold the bottle nearly horizontal and slowly and gently pour into the decanter – when you see sediment, stop! Sometimes muslin or absorbent paper in a funnel will be the only way to avoid sediment.

    I often pour wine remnants into half bottles (or smaller). This can keep your wine fresh for a few days; another useful tool is to protect your wine with a cover of inert gas (Winesave Pro around $35 is excellent) and preserve many, many wines each for several days.

    Visiting cellar doors

    These seem to be everywhere; sometimes with food options, sometimes with ‘flights’, and more recently often with a tasting fee. Staff knowledge can be variable; let them know what styles you like, ask questions, and the experience will be better on both sides – plus you may get some ‘extras’. Don’t feel obliged to purchase if nothing excites (or the wines you like are outside your budget).

    There are benefits in purchasing wines from a cellar-door; the owners get a decent return for their efforts, you may learn about the site, the people and wine, but best of all you own an experience, and a story behind the bottle – it can revive your memories of the trip!

    Techniques

    Be careful opening sparkling wines. Take any foil and wire off carefully, and hold the cork down firmly, gently twist the bottle and cork in opposite directions, wanting the result of a soft release of pent-up gas – ‘an angel’s sigh’.

    It’s a great idea to have a few handy bottles in a box; whites need less than 30 minutes to cool in the fridge (sparklings a bit longer), reds don’t need chilling (except if it’s very hot). I have suggested some current favourite consistent wines below, but there are many, many alternatives to consider. Experiment! And look up Wine Vs Wine (online) in the Westsider for ideas.

    Drink (and eat) in moderation, drink water too – and remember the sunscreen and bug repellent if outside.

    Starters

    Many different wine styles can kick things off. A glass of sparkling wine is versatile (Brown Brothers, House of Arras). If your budget stretches to Champagne, Billlecart, Bollinger and Louis Roederer easily meet my standards.

    Rosé styles have boomed in popularity, with their refreshing crunchiness and I recommend Turkey Flat, with Charles Melton’s Rose of Virginia a useful alternative.

    Main courses

    Seafood is wine-friendly; Rieslings from Best’s, Granite Hills, Jim Barry, or Pikes are easy to recommend; the Tahbilk Marsanne’s are another minerally crisp style. Oysters suit Chablis or Semillon – Tyrrells and Brokenwood set the standard here.

    Roast chicken, or pasta with creamier sauces is the forte of Chardonnays with their creamier, rich mouthfeel, and Oakridge, Stella Bella or Evans and Tate’s Redbrook will provide stunning accompaniment.

    Ham or turkey match amazingly with Sparkling reds – it’s hard to go past Seppelts, but Andersons, and Primo Estate are really worth hunting for.

    A pork roast will work with the Rieslings or Chardonnays; heftier red meat will succeed with a spicier-styled Shiraz (Craiglee, Clonakilla, Mt Pleasant) or some trendy varieties (Sangiovese from Coriole or Tar and Roses; Grenache from Stephen Pannell, Thistledown or Yangarra) – and there are many other choices.

    Lamb is classically accompanied by Cabernet Sauvignon; with Xanadu, and the ageless Wynns ‘black label’ high on my list. Malbec is another choice with Bleasdale my go-to.

    If duck or spare ribs grace the table, it’s hard to pass Pinot Noir. Alas, it’s less easy to find respectable examples on a budget, so splash out with Montalto, Coldstream Hills or Bay of Fires. 

    Dessert & Cheese

    With something simple (fresh fruit platter), or a fruit pie – a sweet wine is just a winner. The Deen de Bortoli botrytis Semillon is insane value; Mt Horrocks and Tim Adams also produce excellent sweet Rieslings.

    With the enormous variation in cheeses available, no single wine will match everything. Some will work better than others – I’ve had some success not just with red wines, but with Chardonnay.

    Winding up

    With coffee or just lounging around, Australian fortified wines represent true bargains; Seppeltsfield ‘Para’ styles, Penfolds ‘Father’ or ‘Grandfather’ Tawny and of course muscats or topaques (particularly Morris) just fit beautifully; for Vintage fortifieds Pfeiffer ‘Christopher’s’ is a complete delight, with Peter Lehmann’s ‘the king’ more widely available.

    Leftovers

    It’s inevitable that the fridge will be full of remainders from meals; this has the benefit of reducing meal preparation time. One handy tip for your wine accompaniments; don’t feel obliged to finish open bottles – the screw cap is a wonderful invention.

    Gifts

    Finally, a few ideas for gifts. The absolute best clue is to know what your person drinks – white, red, sparkling, and what styles; the better your homework, the greater the chance that the gift will be welcomed. Then ask for some advice to match your budget – helping customers with options is the most enjoyable part of sales staff duties.

    One fantastic long-lasting gift is a wine appreciation course – whether a few hours or across several weeks (or more) will improve confidence, knowledge, and the ability to describe and articulate impressions – without turning you into a wine geek. There are several places that hold courses in Melbourne – it’s the gift that keeps providing rewards. 

    Web resources

    There is plentiful wine information online – I don’t rely on ‘points’ but look at descriptions (and price) to help in decisions. The most helpful information comes from tasting a wine yourself, with other help from reliable wine friends, or supportive and knowledgeable retailers. Cellartracker has ‘user reviews’ of wines, of varying helpfulness. Another paid Australian site is Redbigot – mainly geared to red wines; apart from brief user reviews, it often contains links to sales of specific wines – it’s very easy to get your subscription cost back in savings.

    Now, I’m off shopping… 

    Richard Slater
    Richard Slaterhttp://Sweetworldwines.com
    Richard lives in Altona Meadows with his partner and daughter. Pre-COVID, he thrashed the local Men's Shed, various libraries, and U3A. He is learning guitar (acoustic and electric) and blues harmonica,  merrily cluttering home with books, CDs and classic DVDs. Sweetworldwines.com is his outlet for selected reviews and wine-related humour.

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