A million reasons to love the festive season
Updated: Feb 17
Article from WILD TOMATO, December 2019 - Sophie Preece
Stephanie McIntyre’s Christmas begins with bubbles, ends with bubbles, and has bubbles in between. If she’s with her parents in Canada, serving eggs benedict for breakfast, Stephanie will choose a dry brut, crisp and clean, to drink with presents. But at home in Blenheim, where the day begins with waffles, strawberries and whipped cream, they’ll opt for a lifted, fruit-driven sparkling rosé, to accentuate the strawberries. Either way she’s spoilt for choice, “because the breadth of quality sparkling on offer in Marlborough is really quite exciting”.
Stephanie, a sommelier, food fiend and recent Wild Tomato Dine Out judge, was a founding member of Méthode Marlborough, a society of Marlborough wine producers devoted to traditional method sparkling wines. The cool climate conditions that are perfect for Marlborough sauvignon blanc are also ideal for bubbles, ensuring 'vivid acidity' in early harvest chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier - the only varieties used by Méthode Marlborough producers.
But while the vineyard and viticulturists are key, much of the heavy lifting happens in the winery, with a long and elaborate process from press to pop. As per the traditional method, the society’s producers undertake a second fermentation in the bottle and hold wines on lees for a minimum of 18 months, three months longer than dictated in Champagne.
Beyond those hard and fast rules, there’s a world of opportunity, from oak barrel to stainless tank, from blanc de blanc to rose, and from a few years on lees to more than a decade. Each producer can mould their wine through science and art, using materials provided by nature, resulting in a surprising - and delicious - diversity, says Stephanie. That’s part of what makes sparkling wine so exciting for winemakers, and so fulfilling for festive foodies seeking a wine to match a multitude of meals.
It is “incredibly food friendly”, with the million or so bubbles in every glass offering delicacy and lift, along with complexity and length, says Stephanie, referring to a quote from a physics professor Gérard Liger-Belair that there are around a million bubbles in a glass on sparkling wine.
Her advice: Steer clear of foods that are overtly flavoursome or spicy, but try the likes of oysters au natural or grilled prawns, the traditional festive fare of turkey and ham, or perhaps salmon sashimi, using the umami of the accompanying soy sauce to release brioche characteristics from the wine.
Nautilus Vintage Rosé 2015. "I try to always have a bottle of this wine on my shelf," says Stephanie. “It is such a well-made sparkling wine. It opens with an appealing lush fruit component before revealing mid-palate complexity and impressive length." This is a great match with Christmas morning waffles but it also excels with savoury dishes such as miso glazed tuna, she says.
2009 Johanneshof Cellars EMMI. This wine spends at least eight years on lees, tucked away in Johanneshof’s underground cellar. “It’s a wine that delights me every time I drink it,” says Stephanie. “It is clearly a labour of love, with an incredible freshness that is quickly backed up by immense texture and complexity. It is a wine that you can sit and contemplate for every single sip.” Try a Christmas Day match with prosciutto-wrapped monkfish cooked on the barbecue, because the salt of the prosciutto will draw out the stone fruit flavours of the EMMI.