When asked to write something on Christmas drinks I really wanted to avoid repeating the countless wine columns in the papers and magazines at the moment by suggesting some slightly different wines to try at Christmas. What to have with turkey, smoked salmon, Christmas pudding, etc. There is a reason the classics are classics though – they do tend to work. Port with Stilton – it’s a no brainer. Chablis with smoked salmon – the two come hand in hand. Turkey – ok there’s slightly more room for manoeuvre here, but you can’t go too wrong with a decent Bordeaux or top end Tuscan.
So I’ve gone with a slightly different approach – some drinks for the other Christmas moments, and some alternatives to the tried and tested favourites.
A sparkler to get you through Christmas morning…
Whether your Christmas morning consists of church, stockings, presents, food preparation, family diplomacy or a combination of all of the above, a glass of something sparkling and delicious is an absolute must. I always used to think that nothing but Champagne would do, but I tasted an English sparking wine in September which changed my mind: Nyetimber’s Blanc de Blancs 2003, from Chardonnay grapes grown in West Sussex. It is made in the same way as Champagne, and the price is sadly no different, but it has the patriotic card in its hand, and most importantly it tastes heavenly. Swirl it around your glass and take a gentle sniff and you’ll be met with a host of aromas which meld together like honey on buttered toast (full fat butter and rich fruity honey), while when you take a sip there are flavours of dried apricots, quince, peach, which flit about in the smooth sparkling mousse. Divine!
Be careful not to over chill your sparking and white wines – the fridge should be fine, but when left in buckets of ice for too long they can be so chilled that you lose some of the aroma and flavour in the wine.
If you are an ‘only Champagne’ sort of person, (and if you can’t demand this at Christmas then when can you?) then go for something classic. There are so many supermarket deals that it’s difficult to tell if you are really getting value for money. Quite simply you cannot go wrong with Pol Roger, Louis Roederer, Bollinger, Billecart Salmon etc.
A wine for when the family have gone…
If you are hosting this Christmas then no matter how wonderful your guests are, you will probably be a tad relieved when the last one leaves. This is the moment for a little something secret to be cracked open for a cheeky glass on the sofa in front of the Downtown Christmas special. I’ve chosen a sherry for this, bit controversial but hear me out. Sherries come in several shapes and sizes and the key is picking the right one for the right moment. For this occasion, I’d go for an ‘Amontillado’, and would recommend Valdespino if you can get hold of it, but if not last Christmas I remember a bottle of the Sainsburys Taste the Difference Amontillado really doing a decent job. Without going into the terrifyingly complicated way in which this sherry is produced, suffice to say Valdespino Amontillado is a complete treat. Dry as opposed to sweet, but rich and smooth on the palate but not heavy. It is warm and welcoming with buckets of dried fruit aromas. Intense savoury caramel notes, roasted nuts and orange peel, with the lightest touch of Christmas cake and hint of winter spices. An excellent (if a little indulgent) partner to a log fire and relaxing evening. Seriously yummy.
A crowd pleaser…
If you are planning a large gathering or drinks party it can be tricky to choose something to please everyone, and that isn’t going to break the bank. To finish up I’d like to sing the praises of a white wine that ticks so many boxes yet is often maligned and forgotten about. Soave (pronounced swaav-ay) can be clean, fresh, smooth, waxy and wonderfully flavoured. If decent, it would struggle to offend any palate, no matter what your tastes, and ot works happily with or without food. Unfortunately there has been an awful lot of dodgy stuff made in the past, which is where its reputation comes from. Look out for bottles labelled ‘Soave Classico Superiore’ as these come from better vineyard sites (although there are always exceptions). Most supermarkets do their own label versions, and again these tend to be really quite decent and a safe bet. On the more high end side of things, in my office the undisputed king of Soave is called Pieropan, and particularly their single vineyard wine ‘La Rocca’. Just a joy of a wine, but slightly more special. If you get hold of this over Christmas – I’d keep it all to yourself!