Drinking up Christmas

Posted on In Focus Dec 2011 - by Tandoori Editor
Drinking up Christmas

With Christmas now upon us, what better way to celebrate than with lots of celebratory food and plenty of drinks. But what exactly do you select for the latter? Chris O’Leary finds out.

 
It is a bit of an obvious point, but a British Christmas is an extremely festive period. 
My home town New York – for instance is a must go Christmas destination with famous landmarks like Macy’s on 34th Street and Rockefeller Center’s Christmas tree. 
 
However, the pervasive holiday spirit notwithstanding, what is extremely apparent in New York is that only a portion of us are actually celebrating Christmas. While it would be misleading to suggest that only people of a Christian background celebrate Christmas, the reality is that there are a lot of people for whom December 25 is an ordinary day.
 
In London and the United Kingdom in general, Christmas is generally embraced enthusiastically by a vast majority of British society from Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and more – not to mention atheists and agnostics. 
 
While back in the States we wish each other ‘Happy Holidays’ because you can never be sure as to which holiday someone might be celebrating, in Britain we all say confidently ‘Happy Christmas’ as it is clear that from late November till the 24th of December the celebratory tension is building in unison toward one common occasion – Christmas.
 
In Britain, the mood is set through a range of activities that somehow always seem to involve copious amounts of food and drink. These events almost exclusively happen at restaurants, pubs or bars – and as curry is still Britain’s favourite food, Indian restaurant owners have a chance to do very well this season.
 
With this in mind, any Indian restaurant worth its salt should pay extra special attention to its Christmas food and drink offering. Perhaps I am biased as a wine journalist, but I would say that between these two, I would dedicate the greatest attention to the latter.
 
While it will be crucial to stock up on plenty of bottles of Kingfisher and Cobra lager, the 21st-century diner is deeply fascinated by wine and will generally favour the restaurants that take their wine and cocktail selection – and menu pairings – seriously. 
 
So which wines should Indian restaurants serve this season? Really as long as you provide some festive sparkling wines and a selection of winter warming reds you should be fine. However, in reality some wines are better than others for Christmas. 
 
It is up to you to determine which you should add to your wine list this Christmas – however, in this article I have provided a selection of items that will look and taste very good on any wine list this Christmas, particularly at those of Indian restaurants!
 
 Champagne, France
The proverbial alpha and omega of any Christmas wine list is champagne. No beverage embodies the notions of celebration and luxury quite like it – and really nothing else quite tastes like champagne either! 
This Christmas I recommend a champagne that literally stopped my palate in its tracks – Moutard. Not only is this house’s champagne outstanding in quality, it is also extremely unique thanks to a minor medical affliction suffered by its owner, Mr. Francois Moutard.
 
“Mr. Moutard suffers from a stomach ulcer,” explains UK Brand Ambassador Martine Couet-Martin, “so he hates acidic champagnes. His champagnes are clean, round and (too!) easy to drink,” continues Couet-Martin. 
 
What struck me by champagne Moutard on my very first sip was that it is a significant degree sweeter than other champagnes. It is still a far cry from what is called a demi-sec, or slightly sweet, but when compared to brut (or dry) champagnes it has a silkiness that is utterly addictive. 
 
“Champagne is the Christmas drink par excellence,” says Couet-Martin. “It can be drunk from the time of opening presents right through aperitif, lunch with mince pies, and Christmas pudding.”
 
She adds that pairing it with Indian food is an extremely good idea but that – as with most fine wines – be wary of chilli! But she assures, “Champagne Moutard goes well with coriander!”
 
Her favourite wine from the Moutard range is the Pinot Noir Extra Dry a wine with a slightly sweeter and richer style which she says taste exquisite with southern Indian dishes like prawns in a creamy coconut milk sauce. She is also fond of this wine with tandoori salmon, chicken in cashew nut sauce and saag paneer.
 
 Central Valley California, USA
Even though a lot of Briton’s have not yet discovered its virtues, California’s wines are among the world’s best. Thankfully, they are finally enjoying good distribution in the United Kingdom so we over here can final acquaint ourselves with their deliciousness and innovation. 
 
Something truly special are California’s Port-style wines and in my experience they are often more exciting and just plain better than what is coming out of Portugal.
 
I have recently discovered Quady Winery, who specialises in Port, dessert and apertif wines. I believe Quady’s range presents daring drinkers with a unique flavour combination at Indian restaurants this Christmas. In my experience, pairing unusual potables with Indian cuisine almost always yields interesting results, so long as the wine in question is of a high standard, which Quady’s wines all are. 
 
Founder and owner Andrew Quady says his wines really come into their element at Christmas. “If the pudding has a lot of cinnamon flavors, it might be interesting with the Sweet Vya vermouth. The orange character in Essensia would be attractive with cinnamon, clove, cardamom.”   
 
“In cooler weather, we tend to eat richer foods so a bigger, richer wine is called for,” continues Quady.
Given the unique flavour profile of his wines and due to their sweetness, the Quady range stands up beautifully to Indian cuisine’s spice.
 
“We have enjoyed Essensia and Elysium with savoury Indian foods.  [For pairing] I would suggest dishes which are somewhat sweet tasting and/or spicy,” says Quady. 
 
Quady tips his Vya – a Orange Muscat-based wine blended with a selection of fresh and dried herbs including lavender, elecampane, galangal, angelica, orris and liden – for those who want to taste something different. He adds:  “Perhaps a wine with spicy components to it would work well with Indian cuisine. Try the sweet Vya served on the rocks! Dilute it out to taste with sparkling water. Do the same thing with the Dry Vya but add tonic water.”
 
 Sicily, Italy
While Christmas in Britain is majestic, it is also very cold. For this reason I believe we would all benefit from a bit of Sicilian sun on our palates this season. 
 
I have come to know a superlative Sicilian vineyard called Duca di Castelmonte through a white wine called Tripudium Bianco, an amazing Chardonnay and Moscato blended wine. 
 
Duca di Castelmonte Export Manager Carlo Pelligrino says, “One assumes that red wine is much more suitable in winter, but this year I would suggest something different – an aromatic Zibibbo (Sicilian for Moscato). It’s a very nice surprise for the palate!”
 
Pelligrino says that Sicilian wine is a naturally with Indian cuisine as it is used to being paired with Sicilian cuisine which makes fantastic use of chilli. He says, “I think that really spicy recipes pair well with fruity, powerful and big structured red wines while refreshing and mineraly white wines are best suited to spicy and aromatic fish dishes.”
 
Pelligrino is confident that curry lovers will love his wines with their favourite Indian dishes: “I am sure they will appreciate our wines. Again, we have a good number of Indian customers around the world and the results are very good!”
 
In conclusion, the value of a well thought-out and delicious Christmas wine list cannot be underestimated. Whichever way you decide to take your selection this season, so long as you offer your customers something festive, exciting and hopefully a bit different, your restaurant is bound to help get Britain into the Christmas spirit! 
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