Season to wine and dine

It's that time of year to let rip all the pent-up tension generated by a year-long life of all work and little or no play.

Invariably Christmas provides some of us with the opportunity to spend quality time with family while feasting without pigging out.

Inevitably the drinks cabinet would be looking ready to be raided, that is if there's no last-minute stocking up to be done.

A trusted and helpful companion when shopping for wine is the annual John Platter South African Wine Guide, which some retailers and supermarkets keep handy on the shelves for the consumer.

The booklet, for example, guides one through the minefield that is wine appreciation - not forgetting, of course, that one's palate is the best judge ultimately.

The Wine and food partners section provides an illuminating insight into the art of matching cuisine and wine.

For the national pastime - the braai - one will obviously need a full-bodied red, especially when red meat is the choice for the barbecue. For fish (snoek) and chicken barbecue, I would suggest full-bodied whites such as Chardonnay or Semillon.

And trust a crisp bubbly as a perfect welcoming drink for guests, which could help set the tone for things to come.

Personal favourites in this genre are Villiera Tradition Brut Rose, Woolworths' Villiera Blanc de Blanc, Graham Beck Brut Blanc de Blancs, Beyerskloof sparkling, Weltevrede Philip Jonker Brut and Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel.

Sweet sparkling wines can be cloying, therefore they should be reserved for later because they could have the unintended consequence of blunting the guests' appetite.

Of course, for the light starter such as salad, nothing beats a fresh, crisp Sauvignon Blanc.

Thereafter the line up can progress from lighter wines (Sauvignon Blanc to Chardonnays) depending on the type of cuisine; and from lighter reds (Pinot Noir and Merlot) to full-bodied varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz).

As always, the excitement around the dessert menu can be heightened by a dessert wine. Be prepared to spend a little more for the ultimate enjoyment of dessert wines. It comes in small bottles (well, dynamite comes in small packages!)

Competition is stiff on this terrain but try Klein Constantia Vin de Constance (if you can find it) Nederberg Edelkeur or Emminence, Neethlingshof Weisser Riesling, Simonsig Vin de Liza and Pineau de Laborie.

Before relishing "the liquid gold", the colloquial term for these sweet wines, please ensure that you have taken your diabetic medication by this time.

For the finale, which is when the family exchange gifts and wallow in the day's camaraderie, keep the cheese platter ready along with the whisky, cognac and cigars for the lazy afternoon on the patio.

Mmmmmm. Happeee!!!