With the festive season fast approaching, there is planning to be done in the kitchen and cellar! For some Christmas inspiration, let me take you through a 4-course feast I created with London restaurant Nue Ground inspired by the wines from the Loire Valley wine region. The Loire produces a variety of wines, from dry sparkling wines to scrumptiously sweet wines and every shade in between. With such a range of choices, you can base a whole feast around them - from your aperitif to your dessert. Many wines from the Loire share some common characteristics: they are vibrant, fresh and pure with distinctive fruity, herbal and floral flavours. They are approachable and suit many tastes so are great for opening for a crowd over Christmas.
Crémant de Loire is one of the world’s greatest and best-priced sparkling wines. It is made in the same method as Champagne but from a range of different red and white grapes, the key one being the white grape Chenin Blanc. Crémants de Loire are usually made in a fresh and easy-drinking style, with Brut styles typically having flavours of orchard fruits, ripe citrus and honeysuckle with a delicate, creamy mousse. These sparkling wines are extremely versatile and very drinkable! They suit a range of occasions, but my choice would be to pop open and enjoy as an aperitif with canapés over the festive season. We served our Crémant de Loire with two canapés: a roasted pumpkin tartlet with aioli and hazelnut dukkah, and an heirloom tomato bruschetta with herb ricotta on sourdough.
Muscadet wines come from the coastal region of the Loire and seem to bring a bit of that Atlantic essence into every glass! They are reminiscent of the sea with flavours of lemon, apple and crushed shells, with zippy acidity and a saline hint on the finish. They are generally light and fresh in style and suit an array of delicious fish and seafood dishes. I really like serving lighter starters over the Christmas period to balance out some of the richer dishes served for main and dessert. A tip I like to share is to look out for the words “Sur Lie” on a Muscadet label. “Sur Lie” Muscadets are left in contact with their “lees” (dead yeast cells) for a period of time after fermentation and give the wines a creamier and fuller texture, so are great for more gastronomic pairings. We served our Muscadet “Sur Lie” with seared scallops, crispy spiced cauliflower, cauliflower purée and micro coriander. A lovely pairing to transport you to the seaside.
Choosing a red wine that all your guests like can be a tricky exercise! But fear not, Loire Cabernet Franc is a brilliant option to serve for a crowd. This grape is a great alternative for Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon fans – it’s a little lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon with medium body and tannins but very characterful with a great depth of flavour. Loire Cabernet Francs taste of juicy red fruits, green pepper and violet, with some smoky and savoury undertones. They are delicious with game birds and meat dishes so would be great with many Christmas dishes like partridge, glazed ham and beef wellington. Loire Cabernet Francs tend to have a nice bit of acidity which provides a lovely lift to rich and hearty dishes. We served a red Anjou with confit duck leg, pancetta and a tomato and white bean cassoulet. The smokiness of the pancetta and the vibrancy of the tomato picked up on similar nuances in the wine – an exceptional pairing!
A sweet Vouvray is a gorgeously indulgent, honeyed wine that’s perfect for pairing with a whole host of Christmassy desserts and also cheese boards. Vouvray is a small sub-region within the Loire Valley dedicated to Chenin Blanc. You’ll find all styles of Chenin made here, from still to sparkling, dry to sweet. Many sweet Vouvrays get their delicious sweetness from a special, beneficial fungus called “noble rot”. The nearby river promotes the rot with its humid and misty mornings causing tiny holes to be punctured in the Chenin Blanc grapes. The afternoon sun causes water to evaporate from the tiny holes in the grapes concentrating all the sugars and flavours - one of nature’s great miracles! The resulting wines are lusciously sweet packed with flavours of honey, wax, apricot and baked orchard fruits. We paired our sweet Vouvray with a pecan brownie, poached pear and vanilla ice cream. Other great Christmas pairings include mince pies, pear tarte Tatin or Stilton.