Wine makes every meal an occasion, every table more elegant, every day more civilised," observed the sage gourmet and wine scribe, Andre Simon. With the season of significant dining shortly upon us, it's time to break out the wines that befit these special celebrations.
Yuletide certainly came early for me this year as I tasted some of the most exciting current releases.
Here's a selection of the bottles that proved most impressive and well suited to festive fare, which should contribute to some deliciously civilised Christmas dining.
Auburn Bendigo Central Otago Riesling 2012 $30-$32
Riesling is only variety Auburn makes and boy has this focus resulted in some of the finest examples in the country. This release from Bendigo may be low in alcohol - at just 9.5 per cent - but it has an amazing intensity in its pristine palate that juxtaposes white peach, jasmine and grapefruit zest with a powerful line of mineral.
Though it's a sweeter style, its racy acidity makes it finish fabulously fresh.
Festive food match: Riesling is one of the most versatile grape varieties when it comes to pairing with food and I always ensure I have a variety of styles to hand. As well as its low alcohol making this example a genteel aperitif or luncheon wine, it will suit dishes from fresh fruit-based desserts to slow cooked pork belly, as well as working well with spicy dishes.
Stockists: Wine Vault, Wine Direct, Hillsdene Wines, Scenic Cellars.
Jules Taylor Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012 $19.99-$25.90
Local sauvignon blancs will likely be on most people's summer wine shopping lists. This superlative example struck gold at this year's International Wine and Spirits Competition, which is no surprise given its vibrant palate of gooseberry and elderflower supported by some exhilaratingly zesty lime.
Festive food match: The season's asparagus and many vegetable dishes, goat's cheese, and shellfish, such as oysters and mussels.
Stockists: Glengarry, Liquorland, Superliquor.
Doctors Flat Central Otago Pinot Noir 2010 $45
One of the most impressive new labels to come out of Central Otago in recent years, Doctors Flat is the solo project of ex-Carrick winemaker, Steve Davies. This svelte but muscular pinot possesses a dense palate of black plum, cherries and berries, laced with notes of roasted spices and game.
Festive food match: If, like me, you are likely to be having duck for your Christmas dinner, then this should prove a prudent match.
Pinot noir is great with game and spring lamb, while also pairing well with meatier fish, such as salmon and tuna.
Stockists: Caro's, Farro Fresh, West Harbour Wines, Titirangi Village Wines, Cambridge Fine Wine, Scenic Cellars.
Pegasus Bay Waipara Chardonnay 2009 $35.95
Pegasus Bay makes exceptional local chardonnay, with the 2009 a characteristically powerful and yet refined example. Its palate exhibits real intensity with its notes of white peach, grapefruit, smoke, mineral and well integrated nutty oak and it offers true textural excitement.
Festive food match: A richly textured barrel fermented chardonnay like this is a top choice for the traditional turkey. It would also work well with grilled chicken and milder game birds such as guinea fowl, as well as veal.
Stockists: Bacchus, Caro's, Glengarry, selected Liquorland, Liquor King, Liquor Centre, selected New World stores.
Babich Irongate Gimblett Gravels Hawkes Bay Cabernet Merlot Franc 2010 $37
There's a real elegance to this beautiful blend of Bordeaux varieties from Babich, which in terms of style sits with one foot in the Old World, another in the New. Velvety textured, its rich and supple dark fruits combine with notes of cigar box, dried herb and a subtle savoury undercurrent.
Festive food match: Roast beef is a winner with this wine, as are richer slow-cooked lamb roasts and more mature cuts
Stockists: Point Wines, Glengarry, Big Picture Wines, DFS, JR Duty Free, Babich Cellar door/Website.
The Islander Estate "The Red" Kangaroo Island 2010 $18.99
This grunty melange of malbec, cabernet franc, shiraz and Bush Vine grenache hails from Kangaroo Island off the coast southwest of Adelaide. It's one of the fruits of the Australian venture of famous Bordeaux-born flying winemaker, Jacques Lurton, who has jetted all over the world to make wines. This particular one is in possession of a palate of plush and juicy dark berry and currant fruit over nuances of earth and liquorice spice.
Festive food match: Barbecued food needs a gutsy wine with plenty of flavour and ripe fruit to pair with its assertive charry flavours, which this wine has in spades.
Waimea Nelson Gruner Veltliner 2011 $25
Another promising release of this Austrian white variety that is a newcomer in our vineyards. Crisp and bone dry, its palate exhibits the grape's classic white pepper and herb character combined with succulent apple and stonefruit, finishing with a flourish of citrus and mineral.
Festive food match: Like riesling, this crisp customer partners with a wide variety of food. It has the intensity to handle spicy fare and is wonderful with white fish and seafood, such as oysters.
Stockists: First Glass, Caro's.
Mill's Reef Elspeth Gimblett Gravels Hawkes Bay Syrah 2010 $45
A complex, well-structured syrah with dense and brooding dark berry and plum fruit, infused with a highly aromatic combination of exotic spice, black pepper, liquorice and florals. This is one to drink now with food or to cellar.
Festive food match: If venison's on your menu, then a syrah like this will make it sing. Its peppery notes also echo the dominant flavours in a peppered steak, with this example possessing the tannins to tackle one cooked rare. It's a good choice with charcuterie too.
Stockists: Point Wines, Mairangi Bay Fine wines, Liquorland Northcross and Newmarket.
Bellbird Spring Waipara Dry Pinot Gris 2011 $30-$32
This is a rare example of a bone dry and precisely balanced local pinot gris that has bags of concentration. Its opulent and creamy textured palate unfurls to reveal rich notes of stonefruit, nut and honey.
Festive food match: Another versatile wine compatible with a wide range of foods. While it's good with seafood and feistier flavoured fish such as salmon and monkfish, it has the weight to deal with white meats in creamy sauces, game birds and mushroom-based dishes.
Stockists: Wine Vault, Caro's, Bacchus Cellar, Glengarrys.
Te Mara Central Otago Pinot Noir 2009 $21.99
Christmas can take its toll on one's bank balance, but thankfully there are some real bargains to be had, such as this Central Otago pinot noir that offers phenomenal value. It's surprisingly complex at this price with mouth-filling ripe black and red cherry fruit interleaved with notes of smoke, herb, coffee and even a hint of floral.
Festive food match: Cracking with cold turkey and possessing the soft fruit profile to make it a happy combination with the Christmas ham.
Tekau by Blind River Barrel Fermented Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2011 $40
For fans of sauvignon blanc, Christmas is a good time to splash out on more serious reserve styles, such as this newly launched barrel fermented example from Blind River. Ripe sauvignon characters of nectarine and papaya, Mediterranean herbs plus a hint of honey are enhanced rather than overwhelmed by a suggestion of smoky oak, all wrapped around a taut flinty core.
Festive food match: This suits similar dishes to a chardonnay, such as white meats, especially if cooked in a creamy sauce, as well as grilled and lightly smoked fish like eel.
Stockists: La Barrique, The Wine Barrel, Hamilton Wine Company, blindriver.co.nz.
Chateau Mont-Perat Parcelle A355 Bordeaux Merlot 2009 $21.99
A great value quaffing claret, with smooth, juicy and bright berry fruit, some chocolaty richness and a hint of herb.
Festive food match: Turkey leg meat, ham, red meats and hard cheeses
Stockists: Caro's, Point Wines, The Wine Vault.
Osawa Wines Late Harvest Hawkes Bay Gewurztraminer 2011 $28 (375ml)
Filled with sweet things, the festive season offers the ideal opportunity to crack open a too-often-overlooked bottle of dessert wine. This exotic little number has been made from grapes infected with the noble rot that has concentrated their sweetness while retaining freshness. It's a fine example that's sweet and silky, threaded with delicate notes of lychee, rosewater and ginger spice.
Festive food match: Perfect with pavlova and other fruity desserts and magnificent with rosewater macarons, this is also appropriate for stronger flavoured soft cheeses and pates.
Stockists: Point Wines, Wine Vault, Cambridge Fine Wine, advintage.co.nz.
Barros 20-Year-Old Tawny Port $84.90
Port may seem more fitting for fireside sipping during a northern hemisphere Christmas, but the tawny style can be served slightly chilled, making it more summer-friendly. It's a more midweight fortified, that's sweet but not cloying, with lashings of dried fruit, hazelnut and spice notes over a savoury undercurrent.
Festive food match: Christmas pudding and mince pies or rich and chocolate-based desserts, blue and hard cheeses, and nuts and dried fruits.
Stockists: Glengarry, fine wine stores.