Christmas 2021 – a dozen delights
Happy Christmas and a Prosperous New Year to you all! Thanks for reading, supporting and encouraging me during this incredibly challenging year. Here’s my present to you all – the pick of the wines for Christmas 2021, together with a Christmas Card.
This year there are a dozen delights. All come highly recommended for the festive season, and all have UK availability. Also, they are sustainable, taste great, offer superb value and match festive fare. There’s something here for everyone and every occasion.
Christmas 2021 Sparklers
Oxney Organic Classic Brut 2016, 12%, East Sussex, UK
Classic is a blend of 20% Chardonnay, 51% Pinot Noir and 29% Pinot Meunier from the 2016 harvest. The grapes are grown organically near Rye in East Sussex, while winemaking employs the Classic Method. The grapes undergo the first fermentation in stainless steel, apart from a small amount fermented in old French barrels. All the wines then undergo softening malolactic fermentation. Once blended, the second fermentation and maturation in the bottle take 18 months before disgorgement.
A golden colour has developed, while the nose offers stone fruit and white flowers. Given the malolactic and barrel work, this creamy wine retains tension from the acidity and mineral sensations. Stone fruit again on the palate, with some baked apple. There’s plenty of aromas and flavours of brioche and pastry. Proof that Britain can do organic wine brilliantly even in our capricious climate – if you have the sites, the skills and the courage. Just terrific precision wine growing. It makes a brilliant aperitive but will match seafood, smoked salmon or gravadlax. Do try and keep some back for the cheeseboard! £34.00, Vintage Roots
Champagne Veuve Devaux, Rosé “Oeil de Perdrix”, Brut NV, 12%, France
Champagne Devaux started as a family-owned house on the Côte des Bars but later became a co-operative that follows sustainable practices. Their entire Champagne range is excellent, and this rosé has gastronomic credentials. It’s an “Oeil de Perdrix” or Partridge Eye, accurately describing this wine’s colour. It’s a blend of 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay and only uses the juice from the first (best) pressing. And then there’s a long 48 months of maturation in the bottle before disgorgement.
There’s plenty of redcurrant and raspberry fruit on the nose and palate, while the delicate yet creamy texture has hints of brioche and aniseed before finishing crisp and dry, as a Brut style should. Real finesse at a bargain price. Drink as an apéritif, or with charcuterie. Or save it for fruit desserts like Pavlova or cherry pie. £27.99, Majestic
Christmas 2021 Budget Whites
Filos Estate, Assyrtiko, Aspi Petra single vineyard, PGI Florina, 2020, 13%, Greece
This Assyrtiko white wine has been a regular at the table all year, and Christmas will be no exception. It is made by Filos Estate, in northwest Greece, from a 2.5-hectare single vineyard on Mount Vitsi, high up at 625 metres. It’s certified sustainably made and includes 10% of Sauvignon Blanc. The wine ferments stainless steel, then matures on the lees for more texture and flavour for three months.
Pale yellow, there’s an excellent balance of acidity and fruit (grapefruit, lemon and grass), with a crisp and dry mineral length. Try a seafood starter on Christmas day (prawn cocktail?) or cold chicken and turkey leftovers on Boxing Day. Bubble and squeak, anyone? Incredible value, easily worth a tenner. Online at Aldi, £6.99
Contesa, Abruzzo Pecorino DOC, Abruzzo, 2020. 13%, Italy
Pecorino (the grape, not the cheese) was nearly extinct before being rescued twenty years ago. Now it’s one of Italy’s fastest-expanding grape varieties, with vineyards occupying rolling limestone hills on the Marche/Abruzzo border. Contesa is a much-respected brand owned by the Pasetti family. They have 50 ha of vines, and their Pecorino is from a single vineyard of 1.7 hectares at around 200 metres altitude, farmed organically. Fermentation is in stainless steel, with three months on the lees. After that, there’s another six months rest in the bottle before release.
This yellowish wine has peach, citrus and Hawthorne aromatics. Then there are hints of sage and thyme underpinning the fruit on the palate and a mineral finish. Try pairing with fresh crab, or drink with roast chicken. Also good with harder, aged cheeses, including Pecorino. Wine Society £9.95
Christmas 2021 Centrepiece Whites
Rafael Palacios, “Louro do Bolo”, Godello, DO Valdeorras, 2019. 14%, Spain
Valdeorras in Galicia is the homeland of the now fashionable Godello grape, which was once nearly extinct. Rafael Palacios (the younger brother of Alvaro Palacios in Priorat) is a great Spanish white winemaker. He helped rescue Godello and establish it on the international wine scene. Louro isn’t his top Godello cuvée but does represent fantastic value. Made from small parcels of old Godello vines farmed organically and biodynamically at high altitude, it ferments in old 3,500-litre French oak foudres and matures on the lees for four months.
Yellow-gold in colour, the nose shows almonds and wildflowers. A powerful, weighty wine, but the balance is perfect, so the alcohol isn’t intrusive. Lipsmacking acidity, with citrus and the stones of stone fruit. Pleasing broad and slightly oily texture before a long mineral finish. White Burgundy lovers will go a bundle on this. Drink it with white roast meats, so chicken, pork, and of course, turkey. Widely available, including The Old Bridge, Huntingdon, £19.95
Cantina / Kellerai Tramin, “Stoan”, Bianco, DOC Alto Adige, 2019, 13.5%
Stoan is an organic blend of 65% Chardonnay, 20% Sauvignon, 10% Pinot Bianco and 5% Gewürztraminer. It’s from Cantina Traminer in the alpine Alto Adige region of Italy. Stoan is a local dialect word for “stone”, describing the limestone soils found on steep sites at 500-600m facing southeast. While single-varietal wines dominate Alto Adige wine production, skilful blends such as Stoan add complexity and harmony dimensions that would otherwise be unobtainable. In musical terms, there’s plenty of room for an orchestra as well as for a soloist. Each grape variety ferments separately in large wooden barrels with a partial malolactic. The wines are kept apart during maturation, on their lees in inert old oak for eleven months. After blending, the bottles rest for another three months before release. Drinking now, Stoan has ageing potential for 7-10 years.
A light gold colour heralds fruity aromas of peach cut with roses and jasmine, reminiscent of a cottage garden. The palate is akin to a grassy orchard. Citrus, apples and pears gambol. The texture is silkily smooth and elegant, with acidity balancing fruit and alcohol. More than the sum of its parts, there’s a long finish dominated by a saline minerality. Stoan will be delightful with fish-based starters for food, so try trout or even trout paté and toast. It’ll also complement lighter white meats such as poultry or pork. Don’t overchill it, and consider decanting for half an hour before serving. This 2019 is £20.69 at Strictly Wine, while Valvona and Crolla have 2018 for £27.49.
Christmas 2021 Rosé
Mirabeau, Pure Rosé, AOP Côtes de Provence, 2020. 13%, France
Mirabeau have British owners and have made a splash in the UK with their range of Provençal rosés over the past few years. Pure is the top wine, made from 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 10% Cinsault.
A typical (and fashionable) pink-salmon colour, it has plenty of the essential slippery satin texture that’s Provence’s calling card. Poised and bone dry, with some grassy and herby aromas. Then red fruits such as strawberry, cranberry and raspberry, fresh acidity, moderate alcohol (it feels slightly less than the stated 13%), and a touch of exotic fruit. Many assume that light, charming wines like Provençal rosé are best as apéritifs. However, they are also versatile and food-friendly. Try a plate of charcuterie to start, or poached salmon with garlic mayo. Alternatively, fresh strawberries with a little balsamic vinegar and black pepper take some beating! Waitrose, £15.49.
Christmas 2021 Budget Reds
Vignobles Benoit, Mas de Longchamp, IGP Pays des Bouches du Rhône, Provence, 2019. 12.5%, France
It’s easy to be fixated on wines to match the main festive season meals. What about wine for those slaving in the kitchen? Or wanting an enjoyable quaffer? Or for opening a second bottle? Or the days in-between? This wine excels in these situations. The Bouches du Rhône is in western Provence, the land of the Camargue and Marseille.
This certified organic red from Vignobles Benoit is a blend of 40% Caladoc and 60% Grenache, made in cement tanks. Caladoc may be unfamiliar, but it’s a modern crossing of Grenache with Malbec, now extensively planted in this area. Though it’s a recommended grape variety, it’s not allowed in appellation (AoP) wines. Nevertheless, this wine is smooth and soft, with mellow red berry fruit and a fresh finish. Relatively simple it may be, but it’s well made, tastes good and hits the spot. Vintage Roots £8.99
Aldi, Specially Selected Lebanese Red, Bekaa Valley, 2019, 14.5 %, Lebanon
Here’s another intriguing Aldi wine, made, so my spies say, by Domaine des Tourelles, a top Lebanese winery. This wine is “entry-level”, but it’s a great introduction to the typically French-influenced Lebanese style at this price. Oh, and there’s quality packaging too.
There’s a deep crimson colour, then a mix of cherry and red berries, with some attractive rosemary and thyme underbrush notes. It’s a powerful wine, and the alcohol does show a little warmth, while the tannins are still edgy. Hence if you decant it for an hour or so, the exposure to air will smooth it out and let it sing. It finishes with an attractive cocoa hint from (I assume) wood maturation. Indeed, details about this wine are scant; it’s a blend, probably of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Cinsault in proportions unknown, but no matter.
While you’d expect this wine to be right at home with middle-eastern dishes, it won’t let you down with Christmas fare either. Roast Lamb would be the first choice, and it has the power to stand up to those intensely flavoured side trimmings too. Mind you, cold cuts on Boxing Day would wash down a treat. Brilliant value, and I hope this wine will encourage more wine lovers to discover Lebanon. Online at Aldi, £7.99
Christmas 2021 Centrepiece reds
Dominio do Bibei, “Lalama”, DO Ribeira Sacra, 2016. 13.5%, Spain
Dominio do Bibei makes this impressive Biodynamic red in the Ribeira Sacra DO of northern Spain. It’s 90% Mencia, with 10% being a field blend of Brancellao, Mouratón, Sousón, and Garnacha. A field-blend means those different vines are grown together – an old and now rare practice – with some vines being 100 years old. Fermentation uses natural yeasts in large wooden tanks. The wine then spent 15 months in 300-litre old oak barrels.
Garnet coloured, the aromas show a floral and menthol complexity. The balance is exquisite, with just enough acidity, fruit, tannin and alcohol. It makes it feel almost weightless in the mouth, super-elegant. The fruit is in the plum/dark cherry and red berry spectrum, with a subtle savoury and stony mineral undertow adding to a long finish. Try it with charcuterie, duck, roast ham, and especially game birds from goose to grouse. Fabulous. UK availability includes Lay & Wheeler £22.48
Cantina Santadi, Terre Brune, Carignano del Sulcis Superiore DOC, Sardinia. 2016. 15%
Sulcis is the southwest coastal tip of Sardinia, where it’s hot, droughty, salty and windy; harsh conditions for which Carignano is ideally suited. Meanwhile, Santadi is one of the island’s best co-operatives. They make a range of excellent Carignano del Sulcis wines, of which Terre Brune is the pinnacle. In addition, Sulcis is one of the few areas where centurion ungrafted vines survive. In places, they grow in almost pure sand, which inhibits phylloxera and means survival. Furthermore, Superiore means they are bush trained (Alberello Latino). As a result, Sulcis is one of the world’s unique wines, with Terre Brune as its fullest expression.
Terre Brune is 95% Carignano, with 5% Bovaleddu (Bovale Sardo), previously mistaken for Carignano. Meanwhile, the maturation rules for Riserva and Superiore are the same; a minimum of two years, with at least six months of it in the bottle. Terre Brune gets longer, with maturation in French barriques for 18 months followed by another 12 months in bottle.
The resulting wine is a deep ruby red with garnet flecks. The nose has aromatic complexity; plum, blueberry, bay, juniper, olive, tea, and tobacco. The rich, full-bodied palate also has complexity and intensity. Kirsch, damson and black fruits mix with smoke, earth, tar, brown spices and leather before liquorice and cocoa appear on an exceptionally long mineral finish. There’s a terrific balance between acidity, fruit, alcohol and mellow tannins, with a finely judged use of complementary wood effects. This powerful and astonishing wine is one of Italy’s best. Decant it for an hour or two before serving, ideally with Beef, Venison and all the trimmings on Christmas Day. VINVM, £40.00
One wine for “Before and After.”
Here’s an exceptional but versatile bone dry wine that can be drunk as an aperitivo or taken after dinner.
Williams & Humbert, Palo Cortado Sherry, Dos Cortados, “20 yo rare old dry”, VOS, DO Jerez. 21.5%, Spain
Palo Cortado is a lesser-known sherry style. It’s often said to have the body, flavours and colour of an Oloroso sherry yet have the aromatics of an Amontillado. Palo Cortado starts as a Fino/Amontillado, where the Flor yeast transforms the wine biologically. However, in some barrels, the Flor dies early. So instead, the wine is strengthened with more alcohol. Now exposed to air, the wine oxidises like an Oloroso. In other words, this combination of different ageing processes creates something unique with elements of two different styles.
These wines are always bone dry and aged for many years. They often come in 375 ml or 500 ml bottles. Once Palo Cortado is open, it will keep in the fridge for months.
This example is known as Dos Cortados because (unusually) it is strengthened not once but twice. In addition, it’s designated a VOS, so the indicative age of the wine is at least 20 years old. Indeed, the Solera for this wine began in 1877 and now has 300 casks.
An orangey-mahogany colour. The nose has an intense nut, roast, caramel and orange aromas. The velvety and rounded palate, with a dense glycerine feel, fresh acidity and bone dry. Salted caramel, vanilla, coffee and burnt orange flavours with a long nutty finish. Serve lightly chilled as an aperitivo with olives and nuts, or try a charcuterie plate as a starter. Or serve with chocolate or a cheeseboard, including cheddar and blue cheeses. It’s Christmas 2021 in a glass! Waitrose, £19.99, for a 500 ml bottle.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for yet more recommendations for Christmas 2021, here are the previous suggestions from 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017 and 2016. If you try any of them, or indeed anything else, then please let me know what you think!
Here’s wishing you a cracking Christmas 2021, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.
And my Wine of the Year 2021? Well, as usual, I’ll share that with you at one minute past Midnight on the First of January 2022!