Christmas 2019 – a dozen wines to check out!
Happy Christmas to you all, and here’s my pick of the wines for Chrismas 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 for every festive 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 IWSC Trophy 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 9 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 days Charmat fermentation. Made in the dry Extra Brut style, which is an Asolo Prosecco DOCG speciality, with just 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. This is 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
A crisp, fresh and light dry white with hints of hazelnut (nocciola) on the nose and palate – which explains the name of the local grape variety, Nosiola. The huge 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 now 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 maturation in amphorae. An ancient cellar containing intact amphorae was found on the estate and these are employed once again, with new amphorae also added. Cullerot is a pale-coloured white, with floral aromas. On the palate, lemon peel, tangerine and pear fruit are mixed in the silky texture. One for fish and white meats, or on its own. This is an artisanal low-sulphur wine that’s carefully and faultlessly made.
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! Making wine again since 1983, their 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 especially aromatic but the palate is creamy textured and weighty; with apple, peach and pear fruit. A tangy long finish with a little 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 is made at a large cooperative formed in 1929 near the town of Belleville, in the heart of Beaujolais. This has the typical vibrant purple colour, raspberry and strawberry aromas and fruit. Yet it’s also full, 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 big recent article also shows just 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. This is 70% Bobal blended with 20% Tempranillo and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Quite 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 just happens to be organic, vegan and vegetarian too. 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 real character and it’ll go just dandy with a pizza, a burger, or even a fry-up – which you’ll be craving during the long 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 its own wine; 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 have been polished away 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. This 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 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. It’s made from the local white Vespaiola grapes. 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 is matured 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 is made using the Port-method, where a neutral spirit is added to stop the fermentation early, leaving the wine sweet and alcoholic. The wine then matures and changes over the decades. In this case, old 500-litre barrels were started in 1928. This one also employs a Sherry-like solera method, where a small quantity of wine withdrawn from the barrel for bottling is topped up with younger wine. Different numbered casks are used for each release of 450 bottles.
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. Starts out 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 my Wine of the Year 2019? Well, I’ll share that with you at one minute past Midnight on the First of January 2020!
Wishing you a cracking Christmas, wherever you are and whatever you’re up to.