Musings on Wine
Ukrainian Christmas Celebration
It's an annual affair in our home - just when you think the platters of food have run out and the fountain of wine has been shut-off, Little Christmas arrives and it provides another excuse to delay the resolution by just a few more days.
My father-in-law was Ukrainian so we were in the habit of celebrating Old Christmas, an ancient event from the old Julian calendar of Julius Caesar. Although pop is no longer with us, we still honour him by carrying on the tradition of having friends and family over for a feast of home made head cheese, village sausage, Borscht, perogies, cabbage rolls, schnitzel, sauerkraut and any number of annually chosen desserts, which this year was an airy light cheesecake with berry compote dusted with chocolate sugar. Not exactly a traditional Ukrainian dessert - that would more likely involve a combination of wheat, honey, nuts and poppy seeds - but a darn good alternative nonetheless! We typically offer our guests eastern European beer or even Krimsekt* when we can get it locally and then I'm charged with choosing the right wines to serve with this diverse banquet of flavours and textures.
This year, we started with Riesling Sekt from the Mosel spiked with a little Creme de Cassis - a sort of Franco-Deutsch Kir Royale. It was followed with a delightful young and wonderfully succulent 2009 Chardonnay from Creekside Winery in Niagara. Although not exactly Chardonnay specialists, when winemaker Rob Power and his team hit the mark, they tend to be very near the bullseye. This version was vibrant, lemoney and the precious life-giving acidity was preserved by avoiding malo-lactic fermentation. No new wood meant it was ever so nicely laced with oak character, giving it added complexity in the nose and a hint more depth in the finish. The acidity also helped the wine to survive the onslaught of intense flavours from the sauerkraut, sour cream and sugary beet soup. Maybe not the ideal marriage here, but satisfying nonetheless.
The reds for the evening were selected as a sort of comparison - a 2008 Barbera from Damilano in Piedmont and a 2008 Gamay Noir from Chateau Cambon in Beaujolais. Both were delicious in their own right, with the latter the lighter and more delicate of the two. As one would expect from a wine of this class (it's made by Marcel Lapierre of Morgon fame), it manages to showcase all the juicy, aromatic fruit of the Gamay grape without the excessive candied, sugary or watery character of far too many other examples from the generic Beaujolais appellation. Plenty of subtle earthy tones with very delicate spice and a seam of bright acidity combine to make this a pretty serious, yet easy-drinking wine. Having said that, in retrospect, it was just too delicate a wine to handle the robust flavours of cabbage and beets and the creamy richness of the perogies. The Barbera was a much more powerful wine and managed much better with the food. Deeper in colour with it's 14% alcohol nicely concealed amongst the fine tannins, softer acidity and dark bordering on dried berry fruit. Fuller bodied it handled the richness of the meal with ease and in this particular comparison was certainly the better wine of the two. We'll look forward to next year's version of this important celebration.