For me, selecting wines to drink at this time of year is all part of the pleasure of the celebrations to come – but I know that’s not the case for everyone. For many, this is just another task on a very long “to do” list in December. So, if you’re looking for some helpful suggestions, here are my seasonal top tips.
Wines for a crowd, anytime wines, wines for guests dropping in for a mince pie and a chat – you need a couple of go-to bottles that will please most palates. Here are some of my favourites.
Zarcillo Riesling, Bio-Bio, Chile - £6.50 from The Wine Society
I love the bracing, generous, limey fruit of this Chilean Riesling – and the price is pretty good too. You could also try Rolf Binder “Highness” Riesling 2013, Eden Valley, South Australia - £10.99 at Waitrose.
Domaine Salvard Cheverny 2013 - £7.95 from The Wine Society, also from independent merchants
This Loire white is mostly tinglingly fresh and zingy Savignon Blanc, with a small amount of Chardonnay which gives more body and substance. It’s one of my ultra-reliable wines that suits cold buffet meals and is great with goats cheese.
Pujalet 2013 Côtes de Gascogne - £5.49 from Waitrose
I enjoyed this crisp, floral, easy drinking white – but then Côtes de Gascogne whites are one of wine’s safe bets, so look for this on the label and you can’t go far wrong. The style is straightforward, widely appealing, the quality pretty uniform and the price very wallet-friendly.
Marquis de Saint Jean Carignan 2013, Vin de France - £6.99 at Waitrose
A dense ink-tinged Carignan which is smooth and fruity; perfect party red.
Things that go pop
You can’t have Christmas without fizz. If it’s for mixing with orange juice, then choose a basic Brut Cava, which will have no discernible flavour of its own to make you regret making it into a cocktail.
Prosecco marches on, and that’s fine by me, for a quick, welcoming glass of something. For a drink that you might want a second glass of, or to have with food, I’d rather have a good quality sparkling wine or Champagne.
Château de l’Aulée Crémant de Loire NV - £12 from Oddbins
I have a soft spot for Loire crémants, from the Chenin Blanc grape. Most are made by large scale concerns around Saumur and represent great value for money. This one, though, is on a more artisanal scale, made from grapes from a single château. It has lovely, lively appley Chenin fruit, with a hint of honey, but is essentially dry.
Waitrose Blanc de Blancs Brut NV Champagne - £24.99 and Waitrose Brut Special Reserve Vintage 2006 Champagne - £31.99
Supermarkets take pride in the quality of their own-label Champagnes so, if you’re not worried about sullying your festive table with the name of a supermarket, they make great choices at Christmas. I enjoyed the delicate fruit with a hint of marzipan richness in the Blanc de Blancs, which would make a great aperitif. The 2006 Vintage has more mature autolytic characters and bready, appley spice – one for food.
Wines that can stand up to the big set piece meals of Christmas.
Simonnet-Febvre Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2013 - £18.99 from Waitrose
Chablis is an archetypally linear, mineral expression of Chardonnay, with none of the rich ripeness of wines from further south in the Côte d’Or or the Mâconnais – and it’s true I wouldn’t want to pitch this against the cornucopia of flavours of a traditional Christmas dinner. However, I do find 2013 Chablis relatively ripe and broad tasting, so it can make a good choice for lighter meals, or salmon-based starters and the like.
Albert Bichot Secret de Famille 2012, Bourgogne Chardonnay - £14.99 from Laithwaite’s
Buying Burgundy can be a quick way to blow a wad of cash on a disappointing wine. One strategy is to look for lesser wines made by reliable producers – and this is a good example. Plain old Bourgogne on the label, the négociant Albert Bichot has access to some parcels of good quality wines from across the region, resulting in satisfyingly rich, expressive Chardonnay with typical Burgundian character. There is also a Secret de Famille Pinot Noir worth searching out.
Bergerie de l’Hortus Blanc Classique 2012 - £13.95 from Berry Brothers and various independent merchants
This is from the delightlfully named Pic Saint Loup area of Languedoc and is an unusual blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Marsanne and Roussanne. With all those varieties, there’s no shortage of flavour. Fruity enough to enjoy on its own; structured enough to cope with turkey and - I’ve been trying to avoid saying this - all the trimmings.
Abbots and Delauney Cumulo Nimbus Minervois 2011 - £16.99 from Averys
I know that you can pick up most Minervois for well under a tenner, but you can also get lots for your money if you pay more, such as this richly flavoured blend of Syrah and Carignan. Blueberry and black cherry flavours mingle with some bitter chocolate and good, balancing acidity. If you’re planning a meal involving roast beef or duck, perhaps, this would make a great partner.
Côtes du Rhône Cairanne, Domaine Richaud 2013 - £22.99 from The Wine Reserve Cobham and other independent merchants
Cairanne is one of the Côtes du Rhône villages which have been promoted beyond the standard appellation and are able to use the village name tacked onto the Côtes du Rhône bit. This is serious stuff but, as so often with the southern Rhône, never austere and always with the generosity and ripeness of Grenache from the warm south.
Laithwaite’s Domaine Martin Rasteau 2013 - £13.49, does the same sort of thing, in a more foursquare and slightly rustic way. Also keep your eye out for other southern Rhône villages such as Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Vinsobres.
I see that my list is overwhelmingly French – sometimes the French just do things better. C’est la vie!