The best festive wines

Posted On November 3, 2006

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I can’t lie to you. I suffer terribly from CADDAD – Christmas Affected Doom, Depression and Despondency – and the festive season is my least favourite time of the year. I love it, however, so I can’t leave the country, and we do at least agree on the importance of a well-stocked cellar. Indeed, it is only the promise of a spectacular bottle or two that gets those of us in the bah-humbug brotherhood through the endless days of tinsel, holly and dried-up turkey.

For Christmas Eve > Tempting though it is to crack open your most sumptuous wines on Christmas Eve, it is important to keep your powder dry until later in the festivities.

You don’t want to run out of your finest bottles before Boxing Day, nor do you want to peak too early. The liver is a remarkably forgiving organ, but it is only fair to treat it gently so early in the proceedings. These wines will help you gear up gently for the big day and they provide a full card, from fizzy to fortified.

Good-value sparklers > 2001 Château Rives-Blanques, Blanquette de Limoux. A creamily delicious alternative to Champagne that won’t show you up in front of your guests. They were making sparkling wine here well before Champagne.

2003 Nivole, Moscato d’Asti. Sweet, sparkling and only 5.5 per cent alcohol, this is really charming and ideal for puddings or as a festive aperitif. Even the kids can have a slurp.

A zesty white wine > 2003 Saumur Blanc, Cave des Vignerons de Saumur and 2003 Ménétou-Salon, G Chavet. Two light, lean, citrussy and refreshing whites from the Loire, the former made from Chenin Blanc and the latter from Sauvignon Blanc.

Robust reds from South America > 2003 Finca Flichman Shiraz Reserva, Argentina. There is plenty of substance to this robust red.

2003 De Martino Legado Carmenere Reserva, Chile. Rejected in Bordeaux, Carmenere is now a hugely popular variety in Chile, and the de Martino family has fashioned a full-flavoured beauty here.

An unusual sweet wine from France > 2003 Domaine des Quarres Coteaux du Layon. A very well-priced alternative to more famous dessert wines, this goes surprisingly well with blue cheese.

Soft, mellow fortified wines > Blandy’s Alvada Five-Year-Old Rich Madeira. Ideal for a mid-morning sharpener with mince pies or to accompany a post-prandial coffee.

Warre’s Otima 20-Year-Old Tawny Port. A light and delicate port that would go down well after lunch. No need to bother with the palaver of decanting.

For Christmas Day > If you are doing the smoked salmon, roast turkey and Christmas pudding thing this year, I offer my commiserations, but at least you have the excuse for such delicious and traditional wines as these.

No point mucking around: nail your colours firmly to the mast and start with vintage Champagne. With Chablis, claret, dessert wine and port to follow, you can’t go wrong.

Fancy Champagne > 1996 Nicolas Feuillatte Grand Cru. I love the Nicolas Feuillatte non-vintage. This, the vintage, shows real class, and at a price that certainly shows goodwill to all men.

1996 ‘R’ de Ruinart. An absolute peach of a Champagne with a complex aroma of soft white fruits and mouth-filling scents of toasted brioche.

Decent Chablis > 2002 Tesco Finest Chablis. Bone dry, but with the faintest hints of honey on the edge; would go well with a fish starter.

2003 Chablis Premier Cru, Fourchaume, Domaine Séguinot-Bordet. Really stylish and luscious; characterful enough for those who like white wine with their roast turkey.

Classy Clarets > 2001 Les Tourelles de Longueville, Pauillac. The second wine from Château Pichon-Longueville. It has plenty of soft fruit on the nose and a long, supple finish. Really classy.

1998 Cloître Lescours, Grand Cru St Emilion. From a great year, this Merlot-dominated red (with a splash of Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon) is all soft, ripe fruit and drinking beautifully at the moment.

A sweet wine that tastes like nectar > 2002 Münsterer Rheinberg Riesling Auslese, Weingut Göttelmann. One of the most delicious sweet wines I’ve tasted. It goes well with Christmas pudding and vanilla ice cream, but if you have no room for pudding, it is utterly sublime on its own.

A good all-round port > 1986 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port.

For Boxing Day > You may be jaded, but you will still need to be on form to entertain your friends and to face the cold turkey. The following wines are chosen to help you get through the day. A pink Champagne will lift your flagging spirits while the whites and reds have been especially chosen for their digestion-soothing softness.

A pink Champagne > Perrier Jouët Blason Rosé Champagne. A wonderfully festive pink fizz from a fine Champagne house.

Two great white Burgundies > 2002 Givry, Les Galaffres, Domaine Chofflet-Valdenaire and 2002 Montagny, ‘Les Bassets’, Château de Carey Potet. Two soft, creamy, well-structured white Burgundies without any alarming acidity to disturb your digestion or too much cloying oak.

And a fabulous red > 2002 Santenay-Beauregard Premier Cru, Roger Belland. A superb red Burgundy whose soft mellow fruit and rounded tannins will accompany pheasant stew or cold ham perfectly.

An elegant Rioja > 1999 Viña Caña, Rioja Reserva. This smoky and subtle Rioja is a warming and comforting partner to cold turkey.

A sweet wine for the end of the meal > 2001 Château Pierre-Bise, Coteaux du Layon Beaulieu. A scrumptious sweet wine made from botrytised Chenin Blanc, this has a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity.

A hale and hearty port > Dow’s Crusted Port. A robust port with lots of peppery spice on the palate that would make a fine alternative to a full-blown vintage one.

And remember… > Shop around. Prices differ between wine merchants, and supermarkets often have heavily discounted promotions, a method used by distributors to raise the profile of their wines rather than to offload poor quality stock. 
Most merchants will allow you to buy on a sale-or-return basis. This helps when calculating how much your guests will drink. I generally allow half a bottle a head for lunchtime drinks and a bottle a head for evening drinks or dinner.
Merchants and off-licences often have glasses available for hire, but reserve them soon before someone else bags them. They come free with a wine order and a deposit, or you might have to pay, in which case you are usually able to return the glasses dirty. I’d rather pay. Ask if you can keep the glasses until after New Year.
Don’t forget the drivers and other non-drinkers among your guests.
Most non-alcoholic drinks are pretty grim, but elderflower cordial isn’t bad with fizzy mineral water. Not only is it refreshing, it also passes pretty well for Champagne when served in a flute, thus avoiding the inevitable, “Not drinking? Oh go on, it’s Christmas.”
To guarantee delivery before Christmas, most merchants and off-licences will need your order by December 10-16, but check this. You can also send presents this way, although delivery charges can mount up if they are going to several addresses.

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One Response to “The best festive wines”

  1. Ruinart at V comme Vin

    Yes, no doubt, this Ruinart’ year is among the best. We too love it!