It’s not surprising that many of Natalie MacLean’s holiday memories revolve around drink. The Ottawa sommelier has two books to her name, wine columns with more than five million followers and a shelf-full of awards. She was named the World’s Best Drinks Writer at the World Food Media Awards in Australia.
“I beat them to a pulp with my liver,” chuckles MacLean, whose wit makes her a favourite at wine and food shows across the country. “I love what I write about. It’s a great honour to be invited into the kitchens of some of the world’s best winemakers.”
When it comes to celebrating Christmas with her loved ones, it’s all about the wine and food.
Who cooks Christmas dinner and what does it entail?
We are pretty traditional in that we have turkey. I can’t cook; I pull corks. My husband, Andrew, cooks the turkey and I pair the meal with wines. In our home, it’s Ontario Rieslings and Pinot Noir. Juicy wines with ripe, fleshy fruit flavours are ideal for Christmas dinner.
What is your favourite Christmas memory?
I come from Halifax and my relatives come from Cape Breton. My favourite memory is my grandmother’s homemade biscuits. I can see her kneading the bread and smell the aromas of the baking biscuits coming from her black iron oven. When the biscuits came out, you’d cover them in butter and the steam would escape while you ate them. I couldn’t wait to taste them every year. I loved them more than candy canes.
What does your family do on Christmas Day?
Everyone received a book as a gift so we spend part of the day relaxing and reading, which is a nice quiet period in the day. My mom visits for the holidays to celebrate with us. It’s a family traditioin to have lobster sandwiches with Tiesling at lunch. You can say it’s an East Coast tradition.
How do you decorate your tree?
Well I have to admit I own an artificial tree, as it is less work and the branches unfold perfectly. I’m a co-ordination freak, which is probably why I love vineyards, so I decorate the tree every year in blue and silver.
What is your favourite holiday treat?
Mulled wine. Can you detect a theme here? When my mom arrives, she starts making it. I love the aroma that spreads throughout the house. The smell of cinnamon sticks simmering on the stove is heavenly. It’s the taste of the holidays.
Natalie MacLean’s Top Five Bargain Holiday Wines
2010 La Puerta Torrontes Valle De La Puerta S.A., Argentina: You’ll be absolutely blown away at how pretty and tasty this wine is for the price point. Floral with mouth-watering juiciness. Buy three cases for your holiday parties: your friends will think you’re brilliant rather than cheap. Pair with turkey dinner. LCBO# 197970 $8.95 Score: 88/100.
2009 The Stump Jump Lightly Wooded Chardonnay D’arenberg Wines, Mclaren Vale, Australia: I love this style of Chardonnay because it’s refreshing, not heavy yet delivers lots of green apple and Asian pear flavour. Full-bodied and zippy. Pair with corn dishes and seafood. 173302 $13.95 Score: 88/100.
2008 Weighbridge Shiraz Peter Lehmann, Australia: Fantastic price for this juicy, mouth-watering, full-bodied, lip-smacking tasty red! Aromas of fleshy dark berries and plums, with a nice smoky finish. Pair with roast beef. 219170 14.50% Score: 88/100.
2009 McWilliams Shiraz Hanwood Estate, South Eastern Australia: Vibrant juicy plum aromas wrapped in smoky oak. Supple and medium- to full-bodied. Absolutely delicious! Pair with pork chops or lamb. 610683 $14.95 Score: 88/100.
2010 Banrock Station Moscato Rosé, Australia: A delightful bubbly with fleshy sweet strawberries with a light effervescence. Perfect aperitif for the holidays and to toast the New Year. Pair with oysters or potato chips. 170134 $10.95 Score: 87/100.