Friday, 2 December 2011

Party Wines

Scientists at CERN, the world’s largest physics lab, have clocked particles apparently travelling faster than the speed of light. If verified, this discovery would fundamentally change our knowledge of the way the universe works, even opening up the possibility of time travel.

I could have told them that time travel already exists. How else to explain why it is already near the end of the year, when it seems just yesterday that the wine world was abuzz discussing the launch of the en primeur campaign in Bordeaux? Somewhere in between the months of July and October, I must have inadvertently travelled into the future, and am now staring at a plethora of things to do before 2012 kicks his older brother into the dustbin of history.

One of those things on my list is to attend as many end-of-the-year parties as possible. I don’t mean those raucous, thump-thumping mass events where you drink too much cheap alcohol and wake up with a splitting headache, but rather smaller gatherings with friends and family. Granted, they still tend to be noisy, and I will once again wake up with a splitting headache, but there will be at least a guarantee of some really good drinks and heart-warming home cooked food.

Occasionally, people ask me what wines would be good to serve at a party. There are certain guidelines that will ensure that the wines go down well with the majority of the guests. Unless the crowd is open to experimentation, I would steer away from heavily perfumed varietals such as Gewurtztraminer or those that have niche appeal (such as Riesling). Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are popular choices for whites, while Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz are readily recognisable names for reds.

Young, fruity wines stand up better to a mix of dishes, and it is important to have an assortment of wines as some people will only drink red wines while others will only drink white. I am always delighted when the organiser has the foresight to use wine charms to identify the glasses, as it is only too easy to lose track of your glass when mingling around.

A sparkling wine is the best way to welcome your guests and whet their appetites. Try the Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut ($34.80, Carrefour), a bubbly from Penedès that is made using the traditional méthode champenoise. It comes in a classy and distinctively packaged black bottle. The nose expresses apple and pear notes, while the palate is fresh and rounded with a fine, creamy mousse. Alternatively, you could try the Two Hands Brilliant Disguise Barossa Valley Moscato 2010 ($36.00, The Straits Wine Company) which is off dry and has a slight spritz. The nose is reminiscent of fresh green grapes with floral accents. Sweetness on the palate is balanced by lively acidity, with notes of Granny Smith apples and Turkish Delight. At a mere 8% alcohol, your guests won’t find themselves tipsy before the food arrives.

During the party, the TerraVin Sauvignon Blanc 2008 ($35.00, Goddess Wines) from Marlborough works wonders with oily appetisers such as crispy spring rolls and deep fried prawn balls. Gooseberry and citrus notes dominate, with some mid palate weight due to a portion of the wine being aged in seasoned French oak. Displays zesty acidity and upfront fruit character. Red wine lovers can enjoy the St Hallett Gamekeeper’s Shiraz Grenache 2008 ($37.50, Culina), a big, bold wine from the Barossa region. The Shiraz contributes spicy aromas and body, while the Grenache gives savoury red berry fruit. There is a teasing, floral hint on the nose due to a small proportion of Touriga Nacional in the blend. A concentrated wine, with ripe tannins that can pair well with beef hor fun, chorizo or barbequed meats.

After the party is over, leaving you with a stack of dirty dishes and empty bottles, reward those who have stayed back to clean up with a bottle of Smith Woodhouse 10 Year Old Tawny Port ($78.00, Booze Wine Shop). Made from traditional Port varietals, this sweet, full-bodied fortified wine has notes of caramel, nuts and dried fruits that linger on the finish. An ideal wine for reminiscing with friends about the events of the past year.

The above article was first published in Appetite magazine in November 2011. 

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