Friday, 15 April 2011

A moveable feast

Easter is, to quote Ernest Hemingway, a moveable feast. 24th April is apparently the second to last date on which Easter can possibly fall. In case you were wondering, the earliest possible date for Easter is 22nd March.

All this shifting around can cause confusion and create challenges for schools – some children will have finished their “Easter” holiday before the religious festival has actually happened this year. In order to avoid being caught out, supermarkets take the sensible precaution of stocking Easter eggs and hot cross buns from January onwards.

While we have another week to wait for the onslaught of chocolate and general pigging out which characterises Easter, people in Thailand are already in the throes of celebrating Songkran, or their new year festival. Instead of happening in the dead of winter, the Thai festival falls in the hottest month of the year in that country, when temperatures can reach 40ºC or more. Understandably, they choose to mark the festival by indulging in large scale water fights, with hoses, buckets and water pistols all entering the fray. The celebrations last for 3 days, with time being stretched to fit: 13th April is the last day of the old year, 14th a transition day between the old and new and 15th April is the first day of the new year - now why didn't we think of that?

If you fancy indulging in a Thai banquet to get into the Songkran spirit, you will doubtless be wondering what drinks to serve with it – aren't you? Well we are.

Tsinga is of course the authentic Thai beer that is perfect with your pad thai. However, you might find the fizz and the highish alcohol a little unwelcome if you plan on trying things from the spicier end of the spectrum. A green curry has a tricky combination of sweet, sour and hot flavours – but try a cloudy wheat beer and you might find that its fruity, sour edge stands up well.

Wine lovers have to think carefully when matching wines to strongly-flavoured, spicy foods. Heather D was once challenged to come up with wines to accompany a Thai buffet and the undoubted star was an unfashionable but delicious German riesling. Bassermann-Jordan Riesling 2008/9, £9.99 from Waitrose, has just the right balance of apricot-y sweetness and citrus acidity to cope with both green and red curries with aplomb.

You could also try Tim Adams Pinot Gris 2009, from the Clare Valley in Australia (£11 from It's a pretty pale mink colour and has plenty of really juicy greengage-y fruit, coupled with crisp acidity that makes light work of cleansing the palate. Probably a better choice away from the hottest curries, but fine with Thai flavours.

What doesn't work? With your best interests at heart, Heather D managed to find a “good” bad match – a bone dry rosé. The sweetness in the food made the wine taste unbearably dry and stripped out all the fruit from the wine – more of a mouthwash than a palate cleanser. You should also avoid tannin (which rules out most, if not all, red wines) as this will fight with the chilli and spices.

Now all you need is a water pistol.

Back to Blighty and the impending Easter celebrations. For some of us, this is the most welcome feast of the year, coming as it does after the self-imposed privations of Lent. We must confess that we are not much given to depriving ourselves of anything for Lent, but enjoy participating in the excesses of Easter nevertheless.

Lamb is the traditional meat for Easter and it is happily a very wine-friendly meat. With Easter so late this year, it's just possible that the first spring lamb may be available – if your purse can stretch to it. These lambs are essentially reared indoors and fed only on their mother's milk prior to slaughter (let's face facts), producing tender, light pink meat with a delicate (some would say bland) flavour.

Such delicate flavours shouldn't be subjected to anything too overwhelming. If the weather is kind, then a chilled rosé could be fun. Try Château de Sours 2009/10 (2010 if you can find it), £.9.99 or buy 2 for £7.99 each at Majestic. This is the rosé that spawned a thousand (or lots of them, anyway) imitators, leading the way with its ravishing light ruby colour, lashings of plummy fruit, while remaining bone-dry and food friendly.

We prefer to save the spring lamb for later in the season, when the price isn't so eyewatering and the meat has perhaps a little more bite, but also more flavour.

Hogget, or year-old lamb, will have much more flavour at this time of year. Roast lamb with Jersey Royals and green beans is a meal to makes the mouth water. Having saved some money on the lamb, you could splash out on a fancy wine to go with it: Sonoma-Cutrer Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2007 (£21.99 at Waitrose, Ocado and – but down £5 at Ocado until 26 April). Pinot noir is a great friend to lighter red meats and is lovely with lamb. Russian River Valley, in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, has long had a reputation for fine pinots, largely thanks to the coastal fogs which act like natural air conditioning, keeping the temperatures low. Enticing perfume of lilies, roses and a hint of cinnamon, lead onto a lush palate of raspberry and cherry fruit with a lick of vanilla oak. A suitably hedonistic wine for a time of feasting.

Chocolate – there's no way to escape it at this time of year. If you're looking for the secrets to matching wine and chocolate, then have a look at our previous column, now available on Your Liquid Assets blog:

Whatever you are celebrating, have fun and enjoy. Next time – toasting Wills and Kate or, any excuse for a party.

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