Monday, 19 December 2016

Wines for the Christmas table

Here’s a handy guide to wines to make your Christmas Day go with a swing.

Smoked salmon
When you have your smoked salmon might determine your choice of drinking accompaniment.

Pouilly Fumé 2015, Masson Blondelet - £15.99, Ocado
If it’s as a starter to the Christmas Day feast, then a smart bottle like this could be the way to go. Sauvignon Blanc finds its most mineral, sometimes smoky, expression in the Loire vineyards of Pouilly Fumé. The fresh, tangy, slightly marine aromas give way to a textured, fragrant wine with zesty acidity, delicate structure and persistent flavour.

If, however, your smoked salmon crops up in a more brunchy setting – don’t look at the clock, it’s Christmas - a bottle of something sparkling might be more fun. There are plenty of fizz recommendations in my previous column (online version here: If I were to choose one perfect match from that list, it would have to be Champagne Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs 2007 Grand Cru - £33.99, Waitrose.  

The main event – Christmas dinner
Roast turkey (or goose), roast potatoes, sprouts, cranberry sauce, gravy, pigs in blankets – is it really possible for a wine to match all the foods that we merrily pile onto our festive plates on Christmas Day? In truth no, so we can be liberated from embarking on that impossible task. The prime consideration is to choose something you know you’ll enjoy.

But there are wines that will cope with the kind of rich cornucopia of flavours better than others.

Pinot Noir is usually my choice of red for the occasion. It makes wines that are fragrant and full of red fruit with only a whisper of tannin, but with crisp acidity: a profile that makes for wines which can rub along happily with a wide range of flavours, rather than clashing with them.

Try one of these:

Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Noir 2015 - £8.50, Morrison’s, £9, Asda
At its full recommended retail price of £13.35 this is no bargain, but at these special offer prices there’s plenty to recommend this New Zealand Pinot: aromas of raspberry and clove carry through to the palate, with barely there tannins. This is fruity and easy-drinking enough to take with you after the meal to the sitting room for slurping with a box set. In the same sort of vein is Ara Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014 - £11.99, Waitrose.

Sancerre Rouge au Bois de l’Epine 2015 - £15, M&S
Red Sancerre, always made from Pinot Noir, has improved greatly in quality in recent years. This has lovely ripeness of fruit, body and texture.

Domaine Lucien Muzard Santenay Premier Cru Maladière 2014 - £21.49, Waitrose
Ultimately, no-one does Pinot Noir better than in Burgundy. This example, from the Côte de Beaune, the southern half of the Côte d’Or, has spent a year in oak and combines depth and intensity with a smooth richness.

Contino Rioja Reserva 2005 - £25, The Wine Society (Marks & Spencer have the 2010 at the same price, as do Waitrose)
You can’t go wrong with Rioja. The mellow nature of the wine, thanks to oak ageing, makes it slip in just fine with all manner of dishes. It’s renowned for matching with lamb, but, I would argue, is one of the most versatile of red wine styles. And who isn’t pleased to see a bottle of Rioja on the table?

Contino is a byword for quality in Rioja. Their wine is made from all their own estate-grown fruit (not the norm in Rioja) and the balance of flavour, ripeness and freshness is usually spot on.

Christmas pudding
Sometimes it’s hard to do justice to the Christmas pudding after all the conspicuous consumption that precedes it.

Royal Palace Colheita Port 2002 - £26, M&S
A Tawny Port, aged for a few years in oak, would make a good match for the dried fruits, nuts and spice of your Chritmas pud, and could happily continue on to the cheese course. Warre’s Otima (widely available at around £12 for a 50cl bottle) is a reliable introduction to the style, with some mellowing nuttiness alongside the sweet, spicy fruit. Single vintage, or Colheita, Ports are often a step up in quality and complexity. This one, from the 2002 vintage has a stimulating mix of berries and herbs with a medicinal hint.

Fontanafredda Moscato d’Asti Moncucco 2015 - £9.95 (50cl), Great Western Wine
Or you could go more leftfield and try a Moscato d’Asti. Rather than matching flavours, this is about providing a contrast. The fresh, lightly sparkling pear flavours of this delightful Italian charmer provide a foil to the richness of the pudding.  And if you can’t face the pudding at all, a glass of this (at only 5.5% alcohol) is a great post-prandial pick me up.

Harveys VORS Palo Cortado - £22.59 (50cl), Waitrose
VORS stands for Very Old Rare Sherry and this Palo Cortado, aged for a minimum of 30 years, certainly fits the bill. The label indicates medium sweetness, but I would say it is just off-dry and the long ageing brings wonderful complexity, with tangy nuttiness, caramel, dried fruits and more to savour. Sherry is perhaps not a classic cheese match, but try this and you might be converted. If I were Len, I’d give it 10.

Cook’s treat
Finally, and most importantly, the success of any Christmas Day should include something delicious for the cook(s) to sip at as they chop, stuff, steam and baste in the kitchen.

Dr Loosen Slate Hill Riesling 2015 – £8.99 on offer at Majestic (mix six price)

This zingy, fresh Riesling has a little lemon and peach fruity sweetness, but finishes dry. The perfect thing to have by your side as you cook and, at only 8.5% alcohol, you can have a glass of this without feeling sozzled before the turkey’s on the table.

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