Hippo Manchester
December 29, 2005

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Wine: A wine for every holiday

Celebrate the season around the world

By Tim Protzman  tprotzman@hotmail.com 

Cold much?

Itís weather like this that makes me want to leave my beloved New England and head south. No, not to Florida, although it would be much warmer, but really south ó to Australia or Chile or Argentina or New Zealand or South Africa. I could get a job in the vineyards, tasting wine or pouring wine or even fertilizing the vines and removing excess leaves and grapes if thereís a big bumper crop.

Well, I can dream canít I?

Then again thereís hundreds of stories of old-time sailors and adventurers from New England dying a feverish, hot death in the tropics. Did they long for a snowy New Hampshire Christmas with a warm fire and hot punch? Itís probably human nature that whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, we long for greener grass. How nice it would be to get on a plane and spend Christmas in the tropics with the warm sun and the multicolored sunsets. But this year it wonít happen. So Iíll do the next best thing, in my mind, and explore the food and wines of those Southern regions, who, just as we enter winter, are amidst the joys of summer.

Christmas in Australia is a summer holiday. No Yule logs, and Santa wears a Victorian style red-and-white striped bathing suit with snorkel and Edwardian cravat. Presents are opened on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day usually includes a stroll on the beach. Thereís no Christmas tree, but there is a Christmas Bush, which is like a rhododendron but gives off a minty aroma and has purple or mauve flowers. Some folks barbecue a turkey or ham and others opt for a seafood meal of lobster, prawns, mahi mahi, barramundi and something called a Balmain Bug (a really ugly lobster). Dessert is vanilla ice cream with brandied fruit and brown sugar sauce.

The day after Christmas is a British invention called Boxing Day. Cricket matches and surfing contests are held. The southern wine country, the town of Loxton in the Riverlands region, is ablaze with more than 2 million Christmas lights. People come from all over to see the lights.

Wine suggestions for my Australian Christmas would be:

Leeuwin Siblings Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc, $20.99 ó from the slightly cooler west coast, this blend is citric tart with a smooth finish and itís great with fish and Asian cuisine.

Kirralaa Shiraz, $16.99 ó Look what happens when Mondavi and Rosemount Estate team up. I expected something akin to the Daimler-Chrysler experiment, but found the wine nice and rich, without the in-your -face taste of Aussie wines bent on world domination. More like a Paul Hogan than a Steve Irwin. 

In Argentinean wine country the heat of the day sends up mirages that obscure the nearby Andes. One only needs to travel up the mountain passes to reach the snow. On the other side is Santiago, Chile. Itís cooler there because itís higher up (2000 ft vs. Mendozaís 400 ft altitude) and since huge mountains separate the two, theyíre worlds apart climatically.

In Argentina, Christmas Eve begins with morning mass and a light workday. At sundown thereís another mass and then a cold supper. Midnight Mass is followed by fireworks, dancing and a grand feast. Nothing happens till noon on Christmas Day, when families and friends visit and eat and drink, but not as much as the Midnight feast the night before. Thereís salads, fruit, steak, yams, stuffed peppers, steak stuffed with hardboiled eggs, onions and bacon and a traditional white cake topped with a cider reduction.

Dominio del Plata Ben Marco Malbec, $17.99 ó a hearty Malbec with a European touch that comes from the winemakersí heritage pairs well with meats or by itself.

Walnut Crest Merlot, $4.99 ó from Rapel Valley, Chile. One of the Chilean wineries of the Banfi family, who also own vineyards in Long Island, Australia, Italy and Chile. I like this wine because itís inexpensive, fruity and unpretentious. Makes a good Sangria punch. Banfi owns Concha Y Toro too.

In South Africa Christmas is a big time for camping and cookouts. There are three different festivities; Afrikaner, English and Indigenous. One is Dutch in flavor, with gifts given to the kids on Dec. 5, St. Nicholas Day. The English eat plum pudding and the Indigenous persons (Zulu, Swazi and Xhosa) sing and make a stew of chicken, swiss chard, onions and garlic, yams, tomatoes and peanuts. In the morning thereís church and on Boxing Day soccer and cricket matches are held.

Wines for a Cape Town Christmas are a good Pinotage, any Chenin Blanc like Indaba ($9.99) or Rustenberg John X Merriman, $24.99 ó From one of the Capeís oldest vineyards in the Stellenbosch region. 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 46 percent Merlot and 2 percent Cabernet Franc. Itís not Chateau Kirwan, but it has that robust, confident taste of a wine that knows its roots.

This year Hanukkah starts at sundown on Christmas so why not try some Israeli wine?

Recanati, Carmel, Golan Heights Winery, Tzora, Kfira, Flam, Margalit and Yarden are just a few finer producers from Israel. Theyíre not always available, but itís interesting to taste the style and soil of the Middle East, because itís not quite what weíre used to.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa and a pretty good Festivus to all.