Paul Howard Articles, Blog, England and Wales, France, Italy, Spain

Happy Christmas 2019

Christmas 2019 – a dozen wines to check out!

Happy Christmas to you all, and here’s my pick of the wines for Christmas 2019. Here’s my Christmas Card as well. It’s the skating rink at the Christmas Market held in Bruges, Belgium.  Anyway, here are a delightful dozen wines for the festive season that are all available in the UK.  There’s something here for everyone and every joyous occasion. So if you try them, please let me know what you think!


Christmas 2019 Fizz

Coates and Seely,  “La Perfide.”  Blanc de Blancs Brut.  Hampshire, UK.  2009

Winner of a prestigious wine award in 2019, this wine was disgorged in 2015 after five years on lees and then released in 2016. Now this wine is approaching its tenth anniversary and still has further to go. 100% Chardonnay grown on Hampshire chalk, made by the traditional method in a dry Brut style with nine g/l residual sugar. If you’ve wondered how English Sparkling Wine can age, here’s an ideal way to find out. Treat this just like you would any premium vintage Champagne. Limited supply Direct, £70.00

Astoria, Fanò.  Asolo Prosecco Extra Brut DOCG,  Veneto,  Italy.  2018

100% Glera with a 35 day Charmat fermentation. Made in the dry Extra Brut style, an Asolo Prosecco DOCG speciality, with <6g/l residual sugar. A refreshing almond and sherbet finish after an explosion of apple and honeysuckle fruit, not a trace of sweetness. Suitably blingy, even the glass bottle has a wow factor. Proper Prosecco, as previously featured in my Asolo Prosecco articles. Good on its own, but this style is food-friendly too, from smoked salmon blinis to classic Panettone. I admit to loving it with Boursin and crackers! Gerrard Seel, £13.95


Christmas 2019 Budget Whites

Bodega Vinai  (Cavit),  Nosiola.  Trentino DOC,  Italy.  2018

Here’s a crisp, fresh and light dry white with hints of hazelnut (nocciola) on the nose and palate. That explains the name of the Nosiola grape variety. The giant Cavit cooperative makes this example from vines in the lovely Valle dei Laghi. No wood, just stainless steel with four months maturation on the lees. Pear fruit with a zippy citrus edge and saline finish. Nosiola traditionally makes sweet Trentino Vino Santo but also comes as a dry single varietal wine like this. It’s like a breath of fresh air. Winner of the 2018 Trophy for best value white wine in The Wine Merchant awards, so don’t just take my word for it. Latitude, Leeds, £9.50

Cellar de Roure,  Cullerot Blanco,  València DO,  Spain.  2018

Cullerot is a multi-blend of local and international grape varieties, changing each year according to the harvest conditions. In 2018, it’s 25% Macabeo, 10% Malvasia, 25% Pedro Ximénez, 10% Tortosina, 10% Merseguera, 10% Chardonnay and 10% Verdil. Unusually, the fermentation starts in tanks but finishes off in amphorae. The final blend then gets six months of maturation in amphorae.

Recently, an ancient buried cellar with intact amphorae was found. These are once again in use, sitting alongside new amphorae. Cullerot is pale-coloured, with floral aromas. On the palate, there’s lemon peel, tangerine and pear fruit, with a silky texture.  Wine for fish and white meats, or for drinking on its own, this artisanal low-sulphur wine makes superb value.

I’ve been a fan of Cellar de Roure since visiting them, and so delighted to find this wine at The Wine Society, £9.95


Christmas 2019 Centrepiece Whites

Bodegas Abadal.  Picapoll.  Pla de Bages DO,  Catalunya,  Spain.  2017

One of the smallest and least-known of the Catalonian DO’s is Pla de Bages. It’s about an hour northwest of Barçelona, the main town being Manresa. Nearby, the Abadal estate dates back to 1199 and has been in the same family for 35 generations! Since being renewed in 1983, their current range is excellent. Abadal is in the vanguard of recovering rare local grape varieties, and Picapoll is one of those. Indeed, this wine was the first example released, and others have followed. While visiting Abadal, they said that though some people claim this grape variety is the same as the French Picpoul, it isn’t. Instead, it’s related to Clairette.

Regardless, this lovely white isn’t particularly aromatic, but the weighty palate is creamy textured; with apple, peach and pear fruit. A tangy long finish with a bit of fennel rounds it off. This white sees no oak and doesn’t need it. Fab with crab tagliatelle. Agents and stockists are Martinez, £14.49

Filippi,  Turbiana,  IGP Bianco Veronese,  Veneto,  Italy.  2017

The great Filippi organic winery is in Soave. Turbiana is a 100% Trebbiano di Soave, the same grape as the Verdicchio. It features organic viticulture, natural yeasts, tiny yields, stainless steel and eight months on the lees. Light gold, with quince fruit and a long mineral and almond finish, it’s perfect with roast turkey or chicken. Drinking well now but will go on developing if kept. Indeed, an example from 2006 had turned deep gold with added honey, pastry and herb complexity. An outstanding wine. Tannico, £24.41


Christmas 2019 Budget Reds

Vignerons de Bel Air,  AC Beaujolais,  France.  2017

This Beaujolais comes from a large cooperative formed in 1929 near Belleville. It has the typical vibrant purple colour, raspberry and strawberry aromas and fruit. Yet it’s also complete, soft and rounded, with good persistence. Uncomplicated yet highly satisfying and delicious. While much Beaujolais at this level still disappoints, this example is how the real thing should be – a joyous experience that punches well above its weight and good value too! My extensive recent article shows how versatile Beaujolais is with festive food – from Christmas dinner to cold cuts on Boxing day.  Slurp, £8.95

BVC,  Toro Loco,  Vino Tinto Orgánico,  Utiel-Requena DO,  Spain.  2018

This branded wine is owned by the Benoit Valérie Calvet company of Bordeaux, with their BVC Bodegas arm in Requena, near València linking up with the Coviñas Cooperative. There is an entire range of Toro Loco wines, so look for this one, the organic red, which has a white label.  It’s even one of the cheapest, 70% Bobal, 20% Tempranillo and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. But, unlike the majority of wines available at this price, it’s surprisingly good. A properly made, highly quaffable, reliable and food-friendly dry red wine that happens to be organic, vegan, and vegetarian. There’s plenty of red cherry fruit balanced with the tannins and acidity, even if it’s a little rustic and short on length.

Nevertheless, it’s full of character and goes just dandy with a pizza, a burger, or even a fry-up – which you’ll be craving during the extended festive period. What’s not to love at this price?  It’s one of my go-to wines, and if it gets you curious about Bobal and Utiel-Requena, so much the better. If it does, then find out more here.  Permanently in Aldi, £4.99

Christmas 2019 Centrepiece Reds

Finca  VilaDelloPs,  Garnatxa Tinto,  Penedès DO,  Catalunya,  Spain.  2012

Finca VilaDelloPs is just thirty minutes from Barçelona airport yet is in an entirely different world, mountain country; once inhabited by wolves and now by wild boar. It’s an organic estate with 60 hectares of vines owned by the Desvalls family. There’s a long history of growing grapes for the cooperative, but now it makes wine itself;  authentic expressions of Xarel-lo for white wines and Garnatxa (Grenache) for reds. This example blends 85% Garnatxa with 15% Syrah, two varieties that always seem made for one another. Maturation is 12 months in French oak, then a further year in bottle before release. Deep and inky, this wine combines power and grace, where the tannins are polished to a silky shine. It has blackberry and plum fruits, with liquorice, orange and roast meat complexity, before a final spicy ending.

Think of it as a Mediterranean version of Châteuneuf-du-Pape. Big roast dinners are its forte. Terrific wine, great value too.  Albion Wine Shippers, £15.50

Tenuta di Ghizzano,  Nambrot,  IGP Costa Toscana,  Tuscany,  Italy.  2016

Nambrot, from the biodynamic Tenuta di Ghizzano, is an irresistible proposition for any special occasion. This Pisan Supertuscan is their 20th-anniversary release. it’s a Bordeaux-blend of 60% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 20% Petit Verdot. Maturation takes 18 months in 225-litre French oak barrels, of which 30% are new. Nambrot is a young wine of brooding intensity and longevity, so decant it for a least an hour first. It’ll also want ten minutes in the glass to open up. There’s an attractive cedar note on the nose, plus violets and tobacco. The palate shows brown spices underpinning damsons and cherries. A black olive note alongside a graphite/pencil minerality adds complexity. Nambrot is delicious now, even if young and not yet at its peak. As for food, choose meats that the tannins can get to work on, such as steak, beef, lamb or game. Woodwinters, £42.00


Christmas 2019 Dessert Wines

Maculan.  Torcolato Dolce,  Breganze DOC,  Veneto,  Italy.  2015

Maculan is probably most famous for this sweet wine from Breganze, north of Vicenza, made with the local white Vespaiola grape. When ripe, these have such sweetness that they are a magnet for wasps. Hence the name Vespa. As the grapes also retain high acidity, they are ideal for making balanced sweet wines. After picking, the grape bunches are air-dried in lofts, hanging down from rafters on twisted strings (called torcolare) for four months. That concentrates the sugar and acidity even more and adds new flavours. After the fermentation, the wine matures in French oak barriques (30% new) for 12 months.

A brilliant golden colour, it’s also highly aromatic – honey, honeysuckle and vanilla all compete for attention. In the mouth, the wine is lush, though the high acidity balances out the sweetness perfectly, leaving it clean tasting. Amidst this honeyed sweetness are Seville oranges, nuts, figs, apricots and custard. A complex classic. Pastries, chocolate and caramel desserts are ideal; think Millionaire’s Shortbread. Ripe old cheeses too. Half bottles are at Tannico, £19.31

Les Vignerons de Maury,  “1928 Solera”,  AC Maury Vin Doux Naturel,  Roussillon,  France.  NV

This speciality is from Maury, a town in the Agly valley, the deep south of France. It’s a Vin Doux Naturel, a fortified wine made from Grenache Noir, Grenache Gris and Carignan. The wine utilises the Port-method, where adding neutral spirit stops the fermentation early, leaving the wine sweet and alcoholic. The wine then matures and changes over the decades. The 500-litre barrels for this wine started in 1928, using a Sherry-like solera method. When a small quantity of wine is bottled, younger wine tops the barrel up. As a result, there are only 450 bottles per year.

Where to start with descriptors of what is known as “rancio”? Amber coloured and Madiera-like. Complexity: nutty, figgy and even a little salty. Treacle tart. Caramel. Still fresh and lively acidity, yet creamily textured and not sticky. It starts sweet but finishes remarkably dry and clean. Massive. Length measured in minutes.  Food-wise, ideal with dried fruit and salty nuts. For desserts, this is one of the best wines to go with chocolate in all its forms. It’ll do well with Christmas cake, mince pies and Christmas pudding too. Blue cheese heaven. In short, this treasure is Christmas in a glass. 500ml bottles are at The Wine Society, £17.00

And finally

And my Wine of the Year 2019?  Well, I’ll share that with you at one minute past Midnight on the First of January 2020!

Meanwhile, if you’re still looking for more recommendations, please look at my previous year’s picks; 2018,  2017 and 2016.

Wishing you a cracking Christmas, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing!

Buon Natale
Joyeux Noël
Feliz Navidad
Frohe Weihnachten
Nollaig Shona
Feliz Natal
God Jul


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