Friday, 21 December 2007

Christmas wines - part 2

In my last article I gave suggestions for wines for festive season parties and entertaining. This week I’m turning my attention to the big day itself and focusing on special occasion wines for Christmas Day and beyond.

Start with sparkling

First things first, many of us like to start off with something fizzy, in the form of buck’s fizz. Can I make a plea to give ANY pre-made bottle of the stuff a wide berth and make up your own? Choose a cheap but dry sparkling wine (Cava is a good bet) and the best orange juice you can find and mix them 50:50. Waitrose’s own label Cava Brut Non Vintage at £5.49 makes a good, fairly neutral base.

Later in the day you might want to splash out on some of the real stuff – Champagne. Here are some of my favourites, in roughly ascending order of price:

Veuve Duval-Leroy NV is nominally £24.99 from Majestic, but goes down to £12.49 when you buy two (and why would you buy a single bottle when two bottles cost a penny less?). It’s well-made in a light style. Waitrose make a range of own label Champagnes which are good quality and offer terrific value for money. I particularly like the Waitrose Blanc de Blancs NV at £18.99 and the Waitrose Brut Special Reserve 1996 Vintage at £23.99 (if you’re a fan of vintage Champagne, you’ll know it’s all but impossible to find 1996 vintages any more). However, there are times when you may not want to have a supermarket’s name splashed over the front of your bottles: if this is you then try Bredon Brut NV, £14.79 from Waitrose. In effect it is an own-label Waitrose Champagne, but there is no mention on the bottle and it offers plenty of depth and flavour for the money. The best value vintage Champagne I’ve found is Heidsieck Gold Top 2002 from Majestic at £31.99 or £15.99 if you buy 2 bottles. However, my favourite Champagne under £30 is Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve. It’s a sort of half-way house between Non Vintage and Vintage Champagne and tells you when it was “mis en cave” (i.e. put into the cellar to age). Tesco have the mis en cave 2001 and Waitrose the 2003 both at £26.99. For my money the Waitrose version is the better one with lovely weight and depth of flavour and a hint of richness.

If Champagne is your passion and you want to splash out on something special, then have a look at these: 2003 by Bollinger is a one-off special edition Champagne from an exceptionally hot vintage, available from Majestic at £75 a pop, or £44.99 if you buy two. Threshers/Wine Rack have the same bottling at £59.99 each or £39.99 at the 3 for 2 price (or even less with their 40% off any 6 bottles current offer). The more classic Bollinger Grande Année 1999 is available at the same £75/£44.99 price from Majestic or £74.99/£49.99 from Threshers/Wine Rack.

The main event

Most of us still sit down to turkey and all the trimmings on Christmas Day. Many pre-selected gift boxes consist of the classic pairing of a white Burgundy and a red Bordeaux. I don’t happen to think either of those wines is a great match for Christmas dinner – but I have included some recommendations for them, as I know many of you will want to buy them.

White wines
What will I choose for my own Christmas Day bottles? I prefer red wine with my turkey, but, whatever your own tastes, you need to offer a white wine as well. However, in contrast to tradition I’d plump for a white Bordeaux and a Pinot Noir (the grape that makes red Burgundy). White Bordeaux is relatively unfashionable here, but deserves to be better known. They are usually made from a combination of ultra-fashionable Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes, with some oak-ageing to give a rounded, slightly spicy flavour. Here are my picks:

Waitrose’s Château Saint Jean-des-Graves 2006 at £6.49 offers layers of crunchy, peachy fruit with spicy length. G de Guiraud 2006, £7.99 from Majestic is a revelation: beautifully ripe, complex and rounded yet fresh.

If you want to stick with tradition and go for a white Burgundy (or Chardonnay), here’s my list of suitable candidates:

Pouilly Fuissé L Chavy 2006, £12.99/£8.66 or Jadot Les Climats Chardonnay 2004 £18.99/12.66 both from Threshers/Wine Rack. Tesco has Les Quatre Clochers Chardonnay Reserve 2005 at £6.99 or their own-label Tesco Finest Chablis 2006 at £7.99 – or you could strike out a little and try Evans & Tate Chardonnay 2006 from Western Australia’s Margaret River, £10.99 at Tesco.

Red wines
Pinot Noir grapes produce wines which are relatively low in tannin (the mouth-puckering substance which is very noticeable in red Bordeaux) and have plenty of raspberry or cherry fruit with some spice. These characters make it a good match for turkey (or goose for that matter), where other red wines would be too chewy. Pinot Noir would also be easy to drink along with ham, either hot or cold. It’s hard to make a good Pinot Noir for under £10, so there are few bargains to be had, but have a look out for these:

Majestic gets the ball rolling with New Zealander Waimea Estate Pinot Noir 2005/6 at £10.99 or £8.79 when you buy two. Villa Maria, also from New Zealand, have a reputation for well-made Sauvignon Blanc, but their Private Bin Pinot Noir 2006 (£11.99 or £7.99 3for2 at Threshers/Wine Rack) and Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2006 (£14.99 or £9.99 3for2, also Threshers/Wine Rack) show what they can do with this grape. Clean fruit flavours, with good depth.

If Pinot Noir doesn’t do it for you, you could try a Rioja from Spain. These oak-aged red wines offer ripe, sweet fruit and soft tannins thanks to their time in barrel. Majestic has Rioja Gran Reserva Torre Aldea 1998 on offer for £9.99 or £6.99 when you buy two bottles, which is a pretty unbeatable price for this level of quality. Or you could plump for the classic Marqués de Riscal Reserva 2002 (I would not be so keen on the 2003 vintage just yet) also at Majestic at £12.99 or £10.99 if you buy two. Waitrose has Marqués de Murrieta Reserva 2002 at £14.95, or you can get the same wine from Threshers/Wine Rack for £17.99, down to £11.99 at the 3for2 price.

If Christmas means claret for you, I’ve provided some recommendations below – although I’d rather serve these wines alongside some rare roast beef.

Waitrose’s superior own-label Saint Emilion 2005 is good value at £8.99. Château Martinens Margaux 2005, £15.99 from Tesco is very approachable, perfumed and good value from a highly-prized (and priced) vintage. Majestic offer La Réserve de Léoville Barton 2001 at £19.99 or £15.99 if you buy two: very “proper” and will impress even the biggest claret-loving visitor.

Bordeaux blends of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc hail from all over the world so for claret style with a twist you could try:

Rustenberg John X Merriman 2005 from Stellenbosch in South Africa, £9.99 at Waitrose. Or create a bit of a stir with Château Musar 2000, from the Lebanon and £13.99 at Tesco.

Whatever your festive drinking, be sure to enjoy it. Cheers!

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