Paul Howard Argentina, Articles, Blog, France, Greece, Italy, Lebanon, New Zealand, Spain

Happy Christmas 2020

Christmas 2020 – A Dozen Festive Wines!

Happy Christmas to you all! Here’s the pick of the wines for Christmas 2020, together with a Christmas Card.

This year, a delightful Baker’s dozen wines are recommended for the festive season, all with UK availability. Also, they are sustainable, taste great, and match festive fare. And, of course, there’s something here for everyone and every occasion.

Three Christmas 2020 Sparkling wines

Bellenda,  San Fermo,  Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG,  Brut,  Veneto,  Italy.  2019

Bellenda’s San Fermo is a favourite example from the forthcoming double-feature article about DOCG Prosecco. This sparkling wine is in the increasingly fashionable Brut style, which is genuinely dry. The Glera grapes here grow on gravel soils left by the retreating glaciers of the last Ice Age in the eastern part of the DOCG near Conegliano. As a result, wine-growing is sustainable, with a low-sulphur regime, and there’s less ageing of the base wines, generating authentic aroma and flavour intensity. Punchy, textured and mineral, this is a food-friendly wine style and a delightful apéritif. It shows that top Prosecco is an outstanding wine, a million miles from sweet froth. Les Caves de Pyrene, £16.45

Huia,  Blanc de Blancs Brut,  Marlborough,  New Zealand.  2016

Huia Blanc de Blancs is 100% organic Chardonnay. The grapes are whole-bunch pressed for the base wine and then fermented in old French oak with wild yeasts. It then goes through secondary, malolactic fermentation to soften the acidity. The Traditional Method then creates the fizz with a long period of 32 months lees ageing. This 2016 vintage has a low dosage of 6 g/l sugar in a dry Brut style. The result is a fab celebration wine. The full details are in an article here.  The Solent Cellar,  £29.99

Champagne Marie-Courtin,  Efflorescence,  Blanc de Noirs  Extra Brut,  Côte de Bars,  France  NV

Champagne Marie Courtin is in the village of Polisot in the Côte des Bars in southern Champagne. Dominique Moreau founded the estate in 2005, naming it after her Grandmother. From only 2.5 hectares, she makes single-everything (vineyard, variety, vintage) and zero-dosage Champagnes, all farmed Biodynamically. Efflorescence is 100% Pinot Noir. It ferments in the barrel with natural yeasts and then matures for 36 months. With a warmer climate giving riper grapes, there’s no need for a balancing dose of sugar at disgorgement, and there’s minimal sulphur too.

The result is a pale-gold wine with tiny bubbles and a steady bead. It’s precise, balanced and subtle, yet has power and body, too – with shortbread biscuit and a mineral crispness plus a smidge of tannin. A product of individuality, vision and terroir, Efflorescence means “to evolve in perpetuity”, and it probably will. When serving, don’t overchill and use traditional wine glasses rather than Champagne flûtes.  Buon Vino, £55.00


Two Christmas 2020 Budget Whites

Ktima Raptis, Lion’s  Den,  Assyrtiko,  PGI Peloponnese,  Greece.  2018

Assyrtiko might be an unfamiliar Greek white grape, but it’s world-class. While the best Assyrtiko is from Santorini, its charms have spread to other parts of Greece. This example is from Ktima Raptis. They make it at Leontio in the northern Peloponnese, a mountainous area near Patras. It’s dry, fresh and mineral in style, and without wood influence.

Moreover, the salinity, acidity and silky complexity are typical of Assyrtiko. An excellent food partner, it’s perfect with Meze and roast chicken. After Christmas, many start thinking of sun-drenched holidays, so this wine will help set the mood.  Aldi (online, not stores), £9.99

Viña Zorzal,  Garnacha Blanca,  DO Navarra,  Spain.  2018

While Zorzal’s red wines are of great value, the value of this white wine, made entirely with Garnacha Blanca, is even greater. Navarra is a significant DO bordering La Rioja with a long history of winemaking. It’s now emerging from the wine-growing shadow of Rioja and making excellent wines in its own right. Meanwhile, Zorzal is a relatively young company focusing on native varieties, terroir and the environment. For example, white Grenache originates from Spain, a mutation of the red variety, yet is now more widespread in southern France. However, this gem comes from two hectares of old bush vines growing near the town of Fitero at 490 metres.  Using only the free-run juice, this ferments stainless steel and flexitanks before spending four months on the lees.

The result is pale yellow, with citrus and blossom on the nose. The palate offers lively stone fruit, poached pear and a surprisingly long finish. Stupidly good at this price, it’s ideal for salads, poultry and white meats. Available at  The Wine Society, £6.50. PS, this isn’t a discounted price – you can pay £17.95 for it in Harvey Nichols (yes, really).


 Two Christmas 2020 Centrepiece Whites

López de Heredia,  Viña Tondonia Reserva Blanco,  DOCa Rioja,  Spain.  2007

Founded in 1877, Lopez de Heredia has a big reputation and is one of the three oldest Rioja wineries. It’s a traditional estate that makes wines of legendary quality and longevity. They eschew modernity or fashion.

Their 100-ha Tondonia vineyard is on the banks of the River Ebro. Viura (Macabeo) with 10% Malvasia are the grapes from there used for Tondonia Reserva Blanco. First, the wines ferment in the original open-topped oak vats with natural yeast, and malolactic fermentation occurs. Then ageing transforms the wine over the next six years, always in old US oak barrels, made in their cooperage. Finally, after bottling, these wines undergo even more ageing! With so many sleeping vintages, the winery cellars are vast.

Unsurprisingly, Tondonia isn’t about modern, fresh fruity flavours. Instead, it majors on secondary development that comes only from extended ageing. Hence it’s a white wine of deep colour, with the smell of old wood furniture. Then there’s the palate of waxy polish, honey and nuts – yet with a firm and fresh acidity. It’s a unique and brilliant expression that stands up to any combination of Christmas food. It’s ready to drink now but will live on for decades.  The Black Dog Wine Company, £38.95

Domaine Guillemot-Michel, “Quintaine”,  AC Viré-Clessé,  Mâconnais,  Burgundy,  France.  2017

This domaine always makes exciting artisanal expressions of white Burgundy. They were an early adopter of Biodynamics, and it was here that I became convinced by its merits. Quintaine is lovely now, even though young. The Chardonnay ferments with natural yeasts in cement tanks and without wood maturation. The colour is a bright green-gold, with subtle white flower aromas. The broad palate has a silky texture, with apple and lime fruit undercut with a mineral streak. It finishes clean and fresh, ideal for smoked salmon.

It’ll also develop further, with a subtle honeyed character, and even last 25-30 years. Up there with the best. Haynes, Hanson and Clarke, £28.70


Two Christmas 2020 Budget Reds

Artesano by Argento,  Malbec/Cabernet Franc,  Agrelo,  Mendoza,  Argentina.  2018.

Artesano is a powerful blend of 70% Malbec with 30% Cabernet Franc, from Mendoza, at the foot of the Andes. There is some oak influence, though this is subtle and supportive. Rich and velvety with blueberry and plum fruit, leavened by an appealing savouriness, a hint of violets and pencil shavings. There’s a welcome complexity that many rivals lack at this price point: roast Beef and Steak heaven. Sustainable credentials, too; it’s not only organic but Fair Trade. There are more details about it here.  Sainsbury’s £10.00

Luna Beberide,  Mencía M,  Bierzo DO,  Spain.  2019

There’s a treasure trove of still relatively unknown but brilliant wines at value prices off the beaten track in Spain. Bierzo is a small DO region in northern Spain, with splendid mountain scenery and Roman gold and iron mining. Meanwhile, Mencía is the main red grape variety. It has an aromatic and fruity character, thriving on BiBierzo’sigh altitude, dry microclimate and slate soils. In the hands of the highly regarded Luna Beberide, it makes a superb Joven wine, unoaked, uncomplicated, with no big tannins, but enormously pleasurable. Crimson-coloured cherry fruit, with freshness and a lust for life. Boxing Day leftovers, watch out! Dangerously drinkable, a second bottle is always tempting. The Wine Society, £9.50

Two Christmas 2020 Centrepiece Reds

Château Massaya,  Le Colombier,  Bekaa Valley,  Lebanon.  2018

This red wine from Massaya is their entry-level blend of 35% Cinsault and 35% Grenache with 30% Tempranillo. Typically Lebanese, it has the character and complexity to match a wide range of food. The Massaya grapes grow at high altitudes in the Bekaa valley, the centre for Lebanese wine growing. These days le Colombier sees no wood and ages for about a year before release. There are fresh acidity and soft tannins alongside various fruit flavours, from strawberry and raspberry to cassis and plum. Also, there are then figgy notes, pepper and brown spices on a long dry finish. As with most Lebanese wines, there’s a strong French influence, while the wine has a warmth and richness typical of Lebanon. Massaya wines are widely available in the UK; try The Grassington Wine Shop, £13.45

Antonella Corda,  Cannonau di Sardegna DOC,  Sardinia,  Italy.  2019

Cannonau is the red signature grape of Sardegna, grown all over the island. It’s a form of Grenache Noir, though distinctive from French and Spanish examples.

Fermentation and ageing are mainly in stainless steel. However, a portion matures in untoasted oak barriques, adding a silky texture without overt wood flavours.  A light brick-red colour, there are pepper and rose aromatics mixed in with red cherry and raspberry fruit. Meanwhile, the tannins are exceptional, balanced by fresh acidity and with an underbrush and almond finale. With a rare poise and elegance, it will stand up to any traditional Christmas fare. In short, this is one of the most exciting expressions of Cannonau there is. It’s ready to drink now or will last for years. Buy all you can carry. An article about it is here.  Valvona and Crolla,  £23.49


Two Christmas 2020 After-Dinner Wines

Isole e Olena, Vin Santo del Chianti Classico DOCG,  Toscana,  Italy.  2008

Tuscan Vin Santo is a speciality appassimento (dried grape) wine made from white Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes. Maturation is what makes it unique. It matures in small sealed wooden barrels (caratelli), sometimes located in lofts and sometimes in cellars. That’s for a minimum of three years but can be for up to a decade. Then, the wine slowly evaporates, creating an air space that oxidises the wine, imparting new complex flavours. These wines can range from bone-dry to sweet. The best ones deserve their billing as “Holy Wine.”

Isola e Olena is famous for their marvellous SuperTuscan, Ceparello. Their Vin Santo also has few peers, being (in 2008) 65% Malvasia and 35% Trebbiano. The grapes dry for five months before a slow fermentation, then age for eight years.  Consequently, the results are spectacular. Firstly, the colour is deep amber. Aromas include apricots, smoke and orange. Now for the mouth-filling melange of caramel, orange, apricots, walnuts, honey and custard. The sweetness morphs into a surprisingly crisp long finish. So dip your Cantucci biscuits in it for a complete dessert – a sinful indulgence.

Half bottles (37.5 cl), and wide availability. Try Latitude, Leeds, £43.50 and Valvona and Crolla, Edinburgh, £48.00

Cantina Negrar,  Recioto della Valpolicella Classico DOCG,  Veneto,  Italy.  2016

Cantina Negrar in Valpolicella is one of ItItaly’sest co-operatives, founded in 1933. They make all the Valpolicella wine styles, including Recioto, the traditional appassimento sweet wine that was also the forerunner of the dry Amarone style. As with all their wines, this Recioto is an excellent example and great value, based on 70% Corvina, 15% Corvinone and 15% Rondinella.

This recioto is moderately sweet with 50 g/l residual sugar, kept fresh and clean by the acidity. Flavours include raspberry, black cherry, plums, and prune in a creamy mix with a long finish. Drink with cakes and pastries or blue cheese heaven. A 50 cl bottle is £15.99 at Waitrose.

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for more recommendations, here are the picks for 2021, 2019,  2018,  2017 and 2016. If you try any of them, please let me know what you think!

Here’s wishing you a cracking Christmas 2020, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. Keep safe!


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


And my Wine of the Year 2020?  Well, I’ll share that with you at one minute past Midnight on the First of January 2021!

Finally, given it’s the season, here’s my perennial piece on Brussels Sprouts.


Share this Post