Friday, 21 December 2012

Christmas is coming...

So you’ve ordered the turkey and can look forward to queuing patiently in the cold to pick it up at the butcher’s this weekend. 

What?  You haven’t ordered one?  Man, are you in trouble.  If you’re reading this over breakfast you’d better chuck your coat on over your pyjamas, high tail it to your local supermarket and trample the old and infirm underfoot as you fight your way to the freezer section in the hope of wrenching the last frozen turkey in the county from the hands of a little old lady.

And if you’re unsuccessful, then it’s going to be a question of brazening it out with “Oh we thought we’d give turkey a miss this year and try something new.  We’re having festive shepherd’s pie instead – so much less work for the cook, too.”

I well remember the year my parents opted to have roast beef instead of a bird for Christmas dinner.  What, no stuffing?  The memories are still painful.

But you’ve laid in all the wines, right?  No?  Okaaay….then you’d better spend the next few minutes casting your eye over this column, then just tear it out and take it with you on your supermarket sweep.

Ordering deadlines for online deliveries are past, so you are going to be either fighting it out with the crowds in the supermarket aisles, or you could enjoy a more civilised experience at your local independent wine merchant.

To assist you, here’s the shopping list:
  • Fizz
  • Cheap and cheerful crowd-pleasing wines – red and white
  • Wines for turkey (or indeed shepherd’s pie) – red and white
  • Versatile wines for “cold meat and pickles”, family games or Doctor Who watching

I’m recommending particular wines but, as time is tight, feel free to take them as inspiration rather than gospel (if that isn’t too blasphemous).


Champagne Jacquart – on offer at Majestic for £18 a bottle
This is an easy-drinking Champagne, made by no-nonsense and gifted winemaker Floriane Ezniack for one of the region’s co-operatives.  A blend of the 3 Champagne varieties, Pinots Noir and Meunier plus Chardonnay, this has plenty of lively, appley-marzipan fruit, as well as a Silver medal from this year’s Decanter World Wine Awards.

Crowd pleasers
Waitrose’s El Guia wines – white, rosé and red, £3.99 a bottle
This could be your “two birds with one stone” wine.  Cheap and cheerful (and believe me, there are plenty of cheep and woeful ones out there), Spanish wines with excellent gluggability.  Keep these on hand for any festive parties, or just to offer drop-in guests.

Sainsbury’s House Côtes du Rhône - £3.99
When I’m pushed for time and faced with the wall of wine in a supermarket, I home in on the Rhône for reliable and good value reds.  This one is at the simple end of the spectrum (don’t go expecting Châteauneuf complexity at this price), but is well made and has some depth of flavour.

Sainsbury’s Vinho Verde - £3.98
Featherlight, gently perfumed, zippy and zesty and off-dry.  A perfect Christmas pick-me-up for jaded imbibers – and at just 9% alcohol it’s practically a health tonic.

Wines for turkey
This is rather misleading, as I am not talking about matching wine to the turkey itself, which is what could be politely described as delicately flavoured.  Rather I’m thinking about matching a wine to the occasion and to stand up to all the flavours that we pile on to our Christmas dinner plates.

Martinborough Vineyard “Te Tera” Pinot Noir 2011 - £17.49 but currently £13.99 when you buy 2 bottles at Majestic
My favoured tipple for the festive bird is a Pinot Noir.  If you have a treasured mature bottle of red Burgundy, then by all means uncork that, but older wines do carry with them the threat of spoilage – so always have something else as a back-up.

I love the pure, expressive fruit of New Zealand Pinots, and those from Martinborough, at the southern tip of the North Island, combine ripeness with depth and structure in a most food-friendly way.

It’s always a good idea to have both white and red on offer for Christmas dinner, to please all tastes.  Chablis often makes an appearance at Christmas, but its lean minerality makes for too weedy a wine for the occasion.  Ditto most Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé. 

Domaine Bégude Terroir Chardonnay 2001 - £8.99 from Waitrose
From the surprisingly cool area of Limoux, north of Corbières, comes this great value classy Chardonnay.  Some of it was fermented in barrel, giving it texture and a subtle gunflint character.

Versatile wines
These are easy-going and adaptable wines that can do more than one thing: pep up a meal of essentially leftovers, accompany a family game of Monotony (sorry Monopoly), or soothe you as you relax on the sofa in front of the telly.

Domaine Zind Humbrecht Gewurztraminer 2011 - £14.99, down to £11.99 when you buy 2 at Majestic
I’d never be without a bottle of Alsace white in the house at Christmas (or any time of year, come to think of it).  If you’ve never experienced the Turkish Delight and pink peppercorn charms of Gewurz before, then let this rich but dry version from Olivier Humbrecht, Master of Wine and PhD, seduce you.

Chénas 2011, Jean-François Trichard - £10.99, down to £8.99 when you buy 2 at Majestic
Beaujolais is such a wonderfully accommodating style of wine – drink on its own or down it with a plate of cold food.  The ripe, perfumed and tangy raspberry/cranberry fruit makes for a juicy palate cleanser.

You could also serve up Pinot Noir here – or indeed have the Beaujolais with Christmas dinner.

I covered sweet wines (and other sweet drinks) last time, so have a look on my blog if you’d like to remind yourself of my sage words on the subject:

But for supermarket shoppers in a hurry looking for something to go with Christmas pudding, keep your eyes peeled for Moscatel de Valencia.  At around £4 a bottle, its sweet orange peel flavours are a billy bargain match.

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