Friday, 20 December 2013

Christmas top wine tips and picks

If you’re still casting around for ideas to inspire your wine choices for Christmas, read on. Also read on if you’re one of those people, like me, who has already laid in the necessary, but can’t resist a quick scan of others’ recommendations, to see if they have the good sense to choose the same wines as you would. In which case, we should both probably get out more, but hey, don’t let me stop you reading.

La Noë Muscadet Côtes de Grand Lieu sur lie 2012 - £11.75 from Lea and Sandeman; Château du Cléray Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine sur lie (Sauvion) - £9.99, or £8.99 if you buy two at Majestic
If you spend a bit more than the minimum on Muscadet, you’ll be reminded why it was such a popular style in the first place. The Sauvion has more classic citrus freshness, whereas La Noë’s structure comes not from acidity but with a certain mineral weight, possibly influenced by the granitic soils of the vineyard. Either would make a classy aperitif or fine accompaniment to seafood. 

Christmas Day
Domaine Champalou, Le Portail 2010 - £22.90 from Caves de Pyrène, near Guildford
Feel free to drink white wine if that’s what you fancy with Christmas dinner – and I don’t think it matters a great deal what the meat is (if any). All the flavours we pile up onto one plate mean a couple of things: avoid anything too subtle, which will be overwhelmed (eg Chablis); or too flamboyantly flavoured, which might clash (eg Gewurztraminer). Christmas dinner is often a multi-generational affair too and you don’t want to intimidate those who maybe don’t enjoy wine that much or even drink it for most of the year.

But if you do want to splash out a bit, this is the kind of thing I’d plump for. It is a 100% Chenin Blanc from Vouvray in the Loire which has been given the white Burgundy treatment, with fermentation and ageing in oak barrel for 18 months before bottling. This is not a typical Vouvray, but the Champalou family like this style of wine, so they make it. It fulfills much the same function as would a white Burgundy, or any high quality white with barrel fermentation and ageing characters, but the Chenin grape imparts its own personality, giving hints of fresh ginger and honey in harmony with the spice of the oak.

Craggy Range Te Muna Road Pinot Noir 2011 - £22.50 down to £17.99 if you buy two at Majestic
I am a big fan of Pinot Noir for Christmas dinner: the vibrant red fruit rubs along with rather than fights with the multiple flavours on the plate and there is just a hint of tannin, but good acidity to refresh the palate and cut through the richness. 

This one is from Martinborough, New Zealand, which produces the kind of exuberant fruit we associate with the New World, but with a powerful underlying structure and food-friendly savouriness.

Château Musar 2005 - £19.99 at Majestic, (and £20 at The Wine Society, though their Christmas ordering deadline has now passed)
This is for those who like to live by the mantra: claret for Christmas – but with a twist. Young red Bordeaux is I feel too tannic and structured to meld with the wide variety of flavours (including sweet) that are involved in Christmas dinner. However, mature ones are more mellow and harmonious and this is an example of that mature style, but not from Bordeaux. A really good Rioja Reserva or Gran Reserva with some maturity would also do a grand job.

The Musar is made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan grown in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. Unusually it is not released until a full seven years after harvest, having been fermented and matured in cement tank and then French oak barrels, before spending more time back in tank before a final rest of four years in bottle. It has a combination of high-toned pungency and mellow spiced fruit with hints of leaves and leather that will appeal to fans of mature wine.

Stanton & Killeen Classic 12 year old Muscat - £15.60 (for a half bottle) from Caves de Pyrène
What, I hear you cry, are we to drink with Christmas pudding (or Christmas cake, or mince pies)? I have tried many different accompaniments over the years and there are in fact a good many vinous matches for these dried fruit and spice-heavy concoctions. A rich, sweet, old Oloroso would be wonderful; ditto a 20-year old tawny Port, Malmsey (or Malvasia) Madeira, a solera-aged Maury or Banyuls. A less obvious, but successful, choice is Moscatel de Valencia, whose distinct orange peel flavour marries with the dried fruit and candied peel of the pudding or cake.

However, Rutherglen muscat from Australia is the closest you can get to Christmas pudding in liquid form, with its intensely sweet yet tangy flavours of dates, treacle, caramel, nuts – it’s one of those wines in which you find something new with every sip.

Boxing Day
Les Hauts de Bergelle 2011, Saint Mont - £7.99 at Majestic, down to £6.99 if you buy two
You may never have heard of the region of Saint Mont, which is an area between Bordeaux and the Pyrenees, tucked in next to Gascony. You are unlikely to have heard of the grape varieties involved here either (Gros Manseng, Petit Courbu and Arrufiac), let alone tasted them before. These disadvantages are more than made up for by the fact that this is made by one of France’s very best co-operatives and that the grape varieties, while rare, make wonderfully characterful wines. An intense grapefruity tang, allied to hints of apple and quince and a subtle whisp of honey make for a punchy wine that would pep up Boxing Day cold meat and pickles.

Bellingham The Bernard Series Roussanne 2013 - £10.99, down to £7.99 at Sainsbury’s
Roussanne hails originally from the Rhône valley, but it has been on its travels and appears here in a South African incarnation. This is another weighty, characterful wine with a rich mixture of stone fruit, pear, citrus and herbs and a hint of damp wool. Quite a full-on style, but refreshing. 

Next time – the party’s over: hangover advice for the compulsively convivial.

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