It’s almost Easter, so I’m going to recommend a bunch of wines for eggs, ham and lamb. For Passover, which starts at sundown on April 10, I offer a kosher chardonnay.
This being Canada, I’m tempted to include a few pairings for beaver, too, because, as I recently discovered, there's a Lenten connection to that apparently tasty rodent. Or at least there once was in Quebec, according to a Scientific American article from 2013. (What can I say? I came across the piece after getting sucked down an Internet rabbit hole searching for Easter egg designs.)
One basis for the emphasis on eggs and meat on Easter Sunday is that the faithful were required to abstain from such carnal seductions, either daily or just on Fridays, during the 40-day, pre-Easter sacrifice period of Lent. Yes, even eggs and milk used to be on the blacklist (and, depending on your specific devotion, still are). Apparently, if it so much as came out of a terrestrial creature, it was off limits. And according to some traditions, even wine consumption, particularly in the early years of Christianity, was declared a Lenten no-no. But cooler (and probably thirsty) clerical heads eventually prevailed on that score.
Fish was spared because, in part, it was considered by theologians to be a humbler protein. Which brings me to beaver. Many native Canadians in Quebec who had converted, willingly or not, to Christianity during the 17th century found it tough to endure a beaver-free diet even on Fridays. Castor canadensis turns out to be pretty succulent on the grill, apparently. Enter the Bishop of Quebec, who went up the chain of command to request a special exemption for his flock. “Since the semi-aquatic rodent was a skilled swimmer, the church declared that the beaver was a fish,” Jason G. Goldman writes in Scientific American. “Being a fish, beaver barbecues were permitted throughout Lent. Problem solved!”
I’m not sure where the church stands today on rodent taxonomy, but where wine pairings are concerned, I’d recommend any of the hearty reds below for beaver, even if, theologically speaking, the keen swimmer happens to be a fish.
Louis Roederer Nature Brut Champagne 2009, France
SCORE: 93 PRICE: $112.95
The uneven, almost graffiti-like typeface on the label suggests this is not your typical bubbly from the house that makes Cristal. The package and the wine were crafted with assistance from renowned designer Philippe Starck. Well done, monsieur. It’s extremely dry, as the sugar-free “nature” designation would suggest, yet somehow silky when served at higher-than-fridge temperature, with flavours of lemon curd and pastry dough and a snappy saline tang. Like most dry sparkling wines, it’s ideal for omelets and other egg dishes but also exceedingly versatile at the table, period. Available in Ontario at the above price, $97.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta.
Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2016, New Zealand
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $24.95
Check your wimpy-wine-drinker hat at the door. This is bracing, nervy stuff from a top New Zealand producer. Light and juicy, it comes across with zesty grapefruit, dried grass and fistful of herbs. Try it with a goat-cheese omelet or steamed asparagus topped with chopped eggs. Available in Ontario at the above price, $31.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $31.28 in Nova Scotia.
Tawse David’s Block Merlot 2012, Ontario
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $50.50
Pricy but polished merlot from a Niagara vineyard block that ceased production in 2014 after vines succumbed to harsh winter weather. Full and round, with a good centre of gravity and plum-blackberry fruit laced with chocolate and cedar. Ideal for roast lamb. Available direct through tawsewinery.ca.
Glaetzer Bishop Shiraz 2015, Australia
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $39.95
Best not to peek at the alcohol declaration.It’s 15 per cent, but you’d hardly know it. This is full-bodied, ripe and smooth, a luscious wine from Australia’s big-red valley, Barossa. Winemaker Ben Glaetzer weaves together black-forest-cake characters with savoury spice and tobacco and a vibrant, lip-smacking tang. Perfect for roast lamb. Available in Ontario at the above price, $43.99 in British Columbia.
Giesen Riesling 2014, New Zealand
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $16.95
Prepare for some sugar here, but don’t let that hold you back from this gem. Silky and sweeter than off-dry, it’s smartly balanced with fresh acidity, showing peach, lemon candy, lavender and the slightest whiff of petrol. Ideal for ham or other pork dishes as well as light curries. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta, $12.86 in New Brunswick.
Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2016, South Africa
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $17.95
The great champion of South African chenin strikes again. Midweight, with a pleasantly oily centre of gravity. Well-measured touches of vanillin oak, honey and melon. Great for ham. Available in Ontario.
Chakana Estate Selection Red Blend 2014, Argentina
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $24.95
Full, rich and smooth, a blend of malbec and cabernet sauvignon that tastes a little like syrah. Plum, cracked pepper, vanilla and shoe leather. Gently grippy tannins but ready to drink. Nice for lamb. Available in Ontario.
Turkey Flat Butchers Block Shiraz Grenache Mataro 2014, Australia
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $19.95
Chocolate, cherry jam, dried plum, a pinch of cayenne and a whisper of lavender. Big, rich and smooth. Great for lamb. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta, $23 in Quebec.
Halos de Jupiter Côtes du Rhône 2014, France
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $17.95
Don’t ask for elegance and poise from this 15-per-cent-alcohol red. But it’s got much else to recommend it. Such as an uncanny resemblance to raspberry jam and a succulent, supple core offset by light spice. A good partner for roast or grilled lamb. Available in Ontario at the above price, $22.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $20.95 in Quebec.
Recanati Chardonnay 2014, Israel
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $24.95
Medium-full, with fleshy tropical-and-apple fruit, vanilla and toasted nuts. Well-integrated oak. Kosher for Passover (but not mevushal). Available in limited quantities in Ontario.
Torresella Prosecco, Italy
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $14.95
Crisp and chalky, with pronounced green apple and hints of pear and berry. Crowd-pleasingly short of bone dry. Good with egg dishes. Available in Ontario.
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