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December 10, 2010

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Euro wines for festive dining

THE wines you choose to drink with special Christmas dishes should bring out the best qualities of the foods you eat and enhance the overall holiday experience. It would be great fun to enjoy some of the wines of Israel and Lebanon near where Jesus was born and lived, however someone first has to tell me where we can find these wines in Shanghai. Instead I will offer ideas on special Christmas wines from three nations that have long traditions of pairing wines and foods to celebrate Christmas. Italy, France and Spain are predominantly Catholic nations where Christmas is the most important holiday. These countries also happen to be the three largest producers of wine in the world where an important meal without wine is unthinkable. In these countries, the main Christmas meal is held on Christmas Eve or just after midnight. Italian Seven Seafood Christmas Eve Dinner

In Italy, the traditional Christmas meal consists of seven seafood dishes. There's a Catholic Church tradition of not eating meat on Fridays and important religious holidays. The number seven also has special significance as it represents the seven days of creation and the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. Traditionally in Italy, and especially in the south, Italians feast on dishes including octopus salad, deep-fried squid, shrimp, mussels, cod fishballs often in tomato sauce, clams with pasta and for the main course snapper, tuna or other large fish. The wine to accompany these dishes would almost always come from the same region. In Shanghai we're more fortunate; we can drink wines from all over Italy.

As always start your feast with bubbles. Prosecco is Italy's most popular dry sparkling wine and there are many available in Shanghai, with two of my favorites being Carpene Malvolti Prosecco di Conegliano Extra Dry and Tenuta S. Anna Prosecco Millesimato Brut. Next try a light crisp white from Sicily such as the Donna Fugata Anthilia Sicilia IGT, 2008. As the seafood dishes become more substantial try one of the exciting cooler climate white wines from northern Italy such as the Torre Rosazza Sauvignon DOC, 2007. With the large fish served as a main course pair a substantial Tuscan white wine such as the Barone Ricasoli, Torricella Chardonnay IGT, 2007. This hearty, but balanced Chardonnay has the weight and elegance to pair with many classic fish dishes. To finish should be a Moscato d'Asti, a sweet semi-sparkling wine with sweet fruit and honey flavors. French Reveillon Feast

Many French people attend a midnight mass then hold a huge feast called Le Reveillon. Large communal feasts with thousands of attendees are still held throughout France but in modern times many families will go home to dine. In either case, delicious foods are served with an abundance of local wines.

The most popular Christmas dishes vary from region to region, but no matter which region you're from, a French Christmas without Champagne or regional sparkler is quite frankly not French.

Begin with a bottle of Bollinger Special Cuvee, one of the best non-vintage Champagnes, or if you want something grander try the Bollinger Grande Annee, 1999 or Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque, 2000, two of the best vintage Champagnes. Next, I suggest a Sancerre white wine from a top producer such as Laporte or Henri Bourgeois that will stimulate and awaken your palate and be a perfect companion to seafood dishes.

A perfect red wine style for your Christmas feast is Saint Joseph from the northern Rhone. The Guigal Saint Joseph Rouge, 2004 and Fac et Spera Saint Joseph Les Granits Rouge, 2006 are two predominantly Syrah reds that have the power and intensity to embellish the best of late-night French meat and cheese dishes.

I suggest staying in the Rhone Valley but moving to the south for a perfect dessert wine. The Paul Jaboulet, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise is a rich and perfumed wine that will end your evening on a deliciously sweet note.


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