Iceland has two seasons: Winter, and Not Winter. This time of year the winter chill and dark days begs for cozy nights at home in comfort. Homes are generously heated with geothermal water, and soft holiday lights grace homes and streets in the darkness. The winter holidays are also just around the corner, so I present to you suggestions for wines that will pair with your rich holiday meals, decadent sweets, and festive celebrations. All of the wines mentioned here are proudly offered at Klaustur Bar, please drop in for a cozy glass of wine while you are out during the holidays. I have also included the names of wines, where possible, of these types that are offered at the State run monopoly, Vínbúðin.
(A non-traditional holiday meal from my bachelor steak & potatoes days)
First a breakdown of holiday feasts for non-Icelanders. In Iceland, traditional dishes include salted ham (hamborgarhryggur) with brown gravy and caramelized potatoes, smoked lamb (hangikjöt) with a sweet white sauce (uppstúfur), canned carrots and pickled red cabbage for the first two days of Christmas, December 24 and 25. On the 26th all of these salted meats are followed up with fowl for dinner, such as duck or ptarmigan (rjúpa). It is a very favorable, generous gesture to hunt rjúpa and give it to family and friends, who then may then bake it, braise it, or make a soup (rjúpasúpa) from the rich, gamey bird. All meals are accompanied by Laufabrauð, a flat, crispy fried bread with a hand-cut holiday design, a malted brown soda (malt), and orange soda (appelsín) or a mix of the two (the Icelandic version of German spezi). Creamy Waldorf Salad studded with fruits and chocolate make a regular appearance. The occasional turkey and a rare lamb are also starting to make an appearance.
(My first traditional Christmas meal in Iceland)
Holiday feasts generally can be rich, heavy, with lots of sauces, butter, and cream. Plus, all through the season there are cookies, cakes, candies, fruits, candied fruits, and fruit cakes to indulge in. I like to pair wines with similar textures to the foods I’m enjoying over the holidays. Sturdy, creamy, and slightly sweet white wines go very well. I also enjoy having heavy, brooding, full body red wines during the cold, dark months. Sticky, syrupy sweet wines are wonderful to sip after dinner. Sparkling wines also make festive appearances in celebration and to start off a night with dear friends and family. Please use my suggestions below as an exploratory guide, and I hope that you have some enjoyable surprises with them. Skál!
-Viognier. Possibly one of the most overlooked and underrated grapes. I love the peach, orange, and white flower flavors you can typically find in these. Rarely, I have found Viognier from Washington State (USA) that tastes like gingerbread or cake, almost like a champagne with no bubbles. You can find Eagle Harbor Viognier from Washington State, which tastes like lemon cake and blood orange, at Klaustur Bar. A recommendation at Vínbúðin is Granges de Mirabel from M.Chapoutier. E.Guigal’s Condrieu is available at both Klaustur Bar and Vínbúðin. Great with turkey and ham.
–White Burgundy. I have friends that said they didn’t like Chardonnay, but they were converts after trying Chardonnay from Burgundy. There are many areas here, and varying characteristics of different White Burgundies. For the holidays I typically look for rich, creamy, almost buttery wines, and also ones that show ripe, opulent fruit. Louis Latour’s Beaune “Aux Cras” tastes like a caramel apple, and their Pouilly-Fuissé has beautiful ripe peach and apple. Both are carried at Klaustur Bar. Chassagne Montrachet and Pouilly-Fuissé by Francois d’Allaines are both available at Vínbúðin. Great with creamy sauces.
-Chenin Blanc. Another overlooked varietal. Chenin Blanc from Loire Valley, France, can have bruised apple or pear and a touch of sweetness. The sweetness pairs well with salty and spicy foods. LaCheteau Vouvray is available at Klaustur Bar.
-South Rhone Blend. Typically blended with Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre, with other grapes possible, South Rhone red blends can be jammy, spicy, and perfect as a winter warmer. This is my top pick for wine to enjoy with Icelandic lamb. Regions within the South Rhone to look for include Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, and Cotes du Rhone Villages. Gigondas from Olivier Ravoire, Clef des Papes Chateauneuf-du-Pape are available at Klaustur Bar. Perrin & Fils Cotes du Rhone Villages is exceptional value and available at both Klaustur Bar and Vínbúðin.
-Amarone della Valpolicella. For this Italian wine, grapes are dried out first to make a dense, rich, full body wine. This wine pairs well with rjúpa and dark rich sauces. Amarone is very popular in Iceland, and my highest recommendation is for Tommasi Amarone della Valpolicella, offered at both Klaustur Bar and Vínbúðin.
–Australian Shiraz. Bold, broad, bursting with dark fruits and cocoa. A full body Shiraz is a wonderful comfort in Winter. Shiraz is the Australian name for the Syrah grape, and I find it so soulful compared to Syrah wines from other regions in the world. Enjoy with lamb, duck, or to mellow out on a cold night. Mollydooker’s “Blue Eyed Boy” I have called the top wine in Iceland for the price, and is available at Klaustur Bar along with “The Story” Shiraz. Peter Lehmann’s “Futures” Shiraz is available at Vínbúðin, and recently won 2nd place at a competition for the best Syrah in the world.
-Rosé Champagne. This champagne’s pink tinge is extremely festive. It can be a bit dry and robust, with palate-cleansing acidity, making it an excellent accompaniment to rich foods. Laurent Perrier Rosé Champagne is good value and very popular at Klaustur Bar when it’s not sold out. Veuve Cliquot Rosé is also an excellent choice, available at both Klaustur Bar and Vínbúðin.
-Prosecco. A great sparkling wine, and excellent value for the price. This is a bright, festive way to start your evening, or to toast to the New Year. You can also use this for great holiday sparkling wine cocktails: I like to infuse vodka with cooked cranberries, sugar, vanilla, and lemon rind for about 7 days, add a half shot to a champagne flute and top with Prosecco. Valdo Prosecco is simply a great offering at both Klaustur Bar and Vínbúðin.
Sweet wines can be rich and comforting, coating your stomach after a heavy meal. A good rule is to pair desserts with a wine that is at least as sweet, if not sweeter. Dessert wines can often get overlooked, so save some room for a nice classy glass of one after dinner. Passito from Italy is made from grapes dried out to raisins, and can be dence, juicy, rich, and much sweeter than an Amarone. Sagrantino di Montefalco Passito is available at Klaustur Bar. Madeiran wines from Portugal can have a very different kind of exotic sweetness: think hazelnut, caramel, dried tropical fruits. Henriques & Henriques 10 year Bual from Madeira is also available at Klaustur Bar. Consider dropping in for one of these after dinner, it is a comforting, cozy experience!
(Passito and Madeira, rich sweet treats for after dinner)