Making a case for Christmas 2016
In my recent Christmas Card, I suggested wines that’ll make your festivities go with a bang. I’m following my advice – here’s a case that includes wines that I’ll be drinking myself. Chosen with Christmas celebrations firmly in mind, there’s a dozen here. I’ve selected premium fizz from the £20+ range, and all the others are between £5.95 to £11.99. Hence there are treats for everyone without busting the wallet.
English Sparkling Wine, Nyetimber Classic Cuvée NV
West Sussex, UK, 12%
Nyetimber is one of England’s star sparklers, and it’s perhaps the best known and most widely available of any. The fact that English Sparkling Wines are now truly world-class is undisputable. Bone dry, it’s made from the holy trinity of Champagne grapes grown on the Sussex Downs and in the same way as in Champagne. Hence there are apple, pear and cinnamon fruit, and pleasing pastry aromas. A little honey will appear with some bottle age. If you haven’t discovered the joys of English sparkling wine yet, this is a good place to start. An excellent aperitif or with smoked Salmon. Widely available, including supermarkets, with offers from £24.00. Find more great English sparkling wines here.
Franciacorta, Ferghettina Rosé Milledi
Lombardy, Italy, 12.5%
Ferghettina was created by the hugely experienced Roberto Gatti in 1991. While it is a Chardonnay-dominated house, their Rosé Milledi 2011, unlike those from many of their peers, is made from 100% Pinot Nero. Exquisite strawberry and raspberry-scented fruit and lovely fresh acidity make this a superb foil for antipasti, cold meats or even light desserts like meringués. They are also proud of their patented reinforced square bottles, claiming them capable of improving cellaring and elegance. Regardless, this is refinement personified and will grace any table. D.Byrne, Clitheroe £22.00
Champagne, Pol Roger Brut Reservé NV
Champagne, France, 12.5%
Also known as “white foil”, this is an elegant non-vintage Champagne that defines the Pol Roger house style. Pol Roger was a favourite of Sir Winston Churchill, being a blend of 30 different base wines from at least two vintages. All three grape varieties (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier) are present in equal parts. With three years on the lees (UK stocks get an extra six months to appeal to the “English” palate), this is a rounded and elegant wine of considerable depth, for drinking immediately on purchase or over the next five years or more. You’ll find blossom, green apples, brioche, stone-fruit, nuts and a lick of honey in harmonious proportions. Widely available, including supermarkets. Christmas offers from £25.00. Find out how Champagne is made here.
Prosecco, Aldi Valdobbiadene Superiore extra-dry NV
DOCG Veneto, 11%
My pick of the supermarket own-label Prosecco’s is from Aldi. Believe me; I’ve tried them all. A full mousse and peach and pear-drop fruit make this an ideal party pleaser or especially for using as a base for my favourite Aperol Spritz or Bellini Cocktail. Extra-dry mean it’s a little sweeter than some, so think off-dry. It’s textbook, and while of course there are better examples of Prosecco, but either not at this price or not from Valdobbiadene, the best DOCG area. With a nicely designed label too. Bravo! Aldi, £6.99. Find out how Prosecco is made here.
Sherry, Gonzales Byass, Tio Pepe Palomino Fino
DO Jerez, Spain, 15%
This world-famous wine remains hugely underrated and an absolute bargain. Pale coloured, with a perfect brine and almond nose, it tastes fresh and full-flavoured. There’s a citrus zip and it is bone dry, leaving a cleansing and refreshing impression with a salty moreish finish. There’s more body here than with many a Fino, and it has a little less briny tang than a Manzanilla. Hence it makes a fine introduction to the style. Serve cold; nothing works better than Fino with a bowl of olives or cheese and nibbles. Or try it with a classic prawn cocktail starter. If you like the style, then move on up to their En Rama version or the Palmas special releases. Widely available, in half or full bottles, a 75cl bottle is from £8.00. Find more Sherry styles here,
Oaked Chardonnay, Boschendal 1685
WO Western Cape, South Africa, 14%
If you need or prefer white wine to go with your Christmas Dinner, this is it. Boschendal, one of the oldest Cape wineries, make this big bold voluptuous statement. Their Chardonnay that gets all the definitive treatment, from whole grape bunch pressing through to fermentation and maturation in oak, with lees stirring to stoke it up. The result is buttery, richly textured and has tropical and citrus fruits plus a cinnamon and hazelnut finish. In a word, old-school lush. It’s not the last word in elegance, and many might prefer their Chardonnay without overt wood influence. Nevertheless, oak helps with all those festive trimmings. Super, carefully made wine at a great price. Waitrose, £9.99
Sauvignon Blanc, Trinity Hill, 12%
Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
I don’t know about you, but I adore Bubble and Squeak on Boxing Day. It’s an English dish made from the shallow-fried veggies leftover from the Christmas Roast. Usually dominated by potatoes and greens, especially Brussels sprouts, it needs a white wine with acidity to cut it. A Kiwi Sauvie is my weapon of choice, as it then turns B&S into a feast. Instead of looking at the famous Marlborough region, I’ve chosen an example from Trinity Hill in Hawkes Bay. Occupying a unique terroir and best known for its fantastic reds, winemaker John Hancock knows a thing or two about whites too. There’s lime, citrus, stone fruit and lemongrass, while a mineral streak underlies a softer, restrained palate. The Drinks Shop, £11.34
Zinfandel, Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel
Lodi, California, USA, 14.5%
Ravenswood’s Joel Peterson is a notable champion of Zinfandel and makes a range of different Zins that over-deliver for the price. His motto is “no wimpy wines”! It’s a full-bodied red made from 84% Zinfandel, with 14% Petite Sirah and 2% Carignan that is given 18 months maturation in French oak. It’s those ancient Zin vines that bring scent, complexity and a rich palate, with bright blueberry and plum fruit to the fore. Despite the alcohol level all is balanced, while bright acidity and soft tannins. Brown spices and a long smoky finish complete the impressive package. Drinking well yet capable of improving over say 3-4 years, when leather and balsamic notes will appear. Zinfandel is my ideal choice for Christmas dinner. It’s a crowd-pleaser that takes whatever you throw at it. Widely available, including supermarkets, from £9.00
IGT Rosso Veneto, Gruppo Cantine Colli Berici, Baccolo
Apassimento Parziale, Veneto, Italy 13%
A family-run Co-operative makes this gem in the Colli Berici, between Padua and Verona. They take Corvina, the key Valpolicella grape, and blend in a fair bit of Merlot. They use partially dried grapes, which brings a touch more alcohol and a heck of a lot more complexity and concentration. Lot’s of sour cherry fruit, a bucketload of spices, a good creamy texture and a pleasing bitter finish make this my choice for Boxing Day, or frankly, any other time you fancy. The result is that it has all the hallmarks of a quality Valpolicella Ripasso at a bargain price. I’d have happily paid twice the price for this. It was enough for me to pack my bag and visit the Colli Berici this year. How many wines can make you do that? The Wine Society £5.95
Moscato d’Asti, Michele Chiarlo, Nivole
Piemonte, Italy, 5.5%
Moscato d’Asti has long been one of my favourite ways to end a meal. It’s light, frothy and an excellent palate cleanser. It’s gently sweet and fleshy, with elderflower, orange peel and apricots lining up. Gentle fizz too – just 1.5 atmospheres. Advantageously it only has 5.5% alcohol, and it is almost weightless, no wonder it’s called Nivole, which in Italian means clouds. Consequently, this is Trifle and Mince-pies heaven. Furthermore, if you like your cheese with added fruit, then this is a great match for them. Stilton with apricots anybody? For desserts, don’t overlook Fizz and impress your guests! Comes in half-bottles. Gerry’s Wines and Spirits, £8.50
Tawny Port, Warre’s Otima 10-year-old, NV
The Douro, Portugal, 20%
Otima is a lovely light mahogany colour. It smells of walnuts and dried fruits, especially figs. While sweet, it is about as dry an example as you’ll find, not cloying, in a relatively light-bodied style with a big burst of figgy fruit and a length measured in minutes. The comforting warmth of alcohol hits at the end. Those flavours are brilliant with Christmas pud or Christmas cake. Plus, it’ll keep a week in the fridge if necessary, but I won’t have it that long. Or make a long drink, ice-cold, using lemonade or sparkling water as a refresher. Widely available, a 50cl bottle is £11.99 at Waitrose. Find out more about all the different styles of Port here.
De-alcoholised, Torres Natureo Rosé
Penedes, Spain, 0.5%
Look, there are times when drinking alcohol at Christmas just isn’t a good idea. Perhaps it might be your turn as designated driver, or you’re pregnant. Maybe you just prefer to have a night off the sauce. Sadly, most no/low alcohol wine and beer tastes vile. Sparkling mineral water, lime and soda or yet another coke can quickly get tiresome too.
Fortunately, Torres have seen this and have introduced de-alcoholised white, rosé and red wines to their range, called Natureo. They remove the alcohol from the wine by spinning cone technology. Because the result is only 0.5% alcohol, it’s technically no longer wine at all. All three are remarkably good, as Torres have managed to preserve the fruit and aromas and so it tastes well. However, they inevitably feel a little dilute and lack the texture that alcohol brings. My pick of the three is the rosé, made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. But why not try the red (Syrah) and white (Muscat) as well? Waitrose, £5.99.
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