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Wine with traditional Christmas dinner

All the usual wine purchasing rules are abandoned during the Festive Season. The quantity we buy soars, as does the amount we are prepared to spend per bottle. Right now those crafty retailers are tempting us with an expanded range that includes many more expensive wines. This month I will concentrate on steering a path through the jungle to recommend wines for Christmas entertaining. I have a theory that having spent a fortune on Christmas day we divide into two camps: The Hopefuls, who are looking to save a little bit on the wine; and The Hopeless, who just don't care any more! Recommendations therefore, cover a variety of budgets. UK Stockists and prices in pounds sterling are given, approximately £5=$8. (Note that Peckhams is a Scottish chain).

Champagne


What better than a glass of bubbly to kick-start the party? I tasted my way through a range of inexpensive Champagnes and sparkling wines to come up with the very best.
Peckhams Champagne (£13.99) stood out from the crowd. From a fine, traditional Champagne house it contains a high proportion of mature wines in the blend. It has real depth with aromas of baking bread, yet it is intensely fruity with soft, peachy flavours and fine, long-lasting bubbles (buy 2, save £1 during December). Deutz Brut (Oddbins, Victoria Wine, £10.99) is made in New Zealand by an excellent Champagne house. It is nettly and fresh, with lemon fruit and a dry finish hinting at baked apples. Champagne Monteau Brut (Victoria Wine, £9.99 on special offer) is zesty, appetising and very good value at its reduced price.

Whites


whites Let's start with a couple of terrific wines that would marry well with a range of light starters. First up is Selaks "Drylands" Sauvignon Blanc 1997 (Peckhams £9.99, Oddbins, £7.99). This stunning New Zealand wine has a nose that is so pungent and intensely perfumed it's almost petrolly, whilst the palate displays brilliant tropical, lychee and melon flavours. Tesco Langhorne Creek Verdelho 1997 (£5.99) is lovely stuff. Verdelho makes sweet wine in Madeira, but the Australians have created a fresh, dry, aromatic white with tangy, tangerine and apricot fruit.


chard If you are looking for a white to go with roast turkey I have a trio of distinctive Chardonnays to recommend, starting with Antonopoulos 1997 (Oddbins, £9.99). This new-wave Greek wine has extraordinary depth and bags of toasty oak, yet bursts with tropical fruit and mouth-watering acidity. Sainsbury's Classic Selection Chablis 1997 (£7.45) is much more delicate and elegant, but has enough rounded, buttery flavours to please most palates. Lastly, Santa Julia Chardonnay 1998 (Victoria Wine, £4.99) is an easy to drink, vibrant, crowd-pleaser from this year's vintage in Argentina.


Reds


Claret is a traditional partner to Christmas turkey.
red Château La Vieille Cure 1994 (Sainsbury, £10.99) is a blue-blooded Claret that will look as impressive on your table as it tastes. Refined aromas of pencil shavings, leather and blackcurrant lead on to a cedary, supple palate and long finish. Montes "Alpha" Merlot 1996 (Majestic, £8.99 on special offer) is a Chilean super-wine. Lavishly oaked with great breeding and finesse, it has a core of pure blackcurrant fruit. Although delicious now, it would also re-pay cellaring. Concannon Petit Sirah 1996 (Peckhams, £8.49) comes from California. A glorious nose of blackcurrant and Seville orange gives way to dense, liquorice, raspberry and cassis fruit. It is velvety, long and would be great with cranberry sauce. Tesco McLaren Vale Grenache 1997 (£5.99) has a massive 14.5% alcohol: it is lush, fruity and immensely enjoyable: a great, big bear-hug of a wine.

Dessert wine


sweet These are all half bottles, which should easily be enough for 6 to 8 people - luscious, sweet wines tend to go a long way: Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling 1997 (Oddbins Fine Wine, £9.99) is clean and limy on the nose with beautiful notes of honeycomb and sherbet, it is smooth and luscious, with opulent, marmalade flavours. A lesser but good value alternative is Sainsbury Muscat de St Jean at only £3.49. For something really different try Boutari Visanto 1993 (Oddbins, £6.49 per 500ml). A crimson red sweet wine from Greece, it's like a cross between sherry and a sweet cherry liqueur.

After dinner drinks


port How about a glass of Port before (or after) you sleep it off? At around the £10 mark I recommend a Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) or 10 year old Tawny. These are less expensive than Vintage Ports and are ready to drink immediately. I really enjoyed Offley LBV 1990 (Oddbins, £10.99), Peckhams Vintage Character Port (£9.99) and Tesco's 10 year old Tawny (£10.57). Another choice would be Lustau Old East India Sherry (Majestic, £8.99 on offer). This sherry reproduces the days of sailing ships, when the cargo of sherry cooked in the hot sun of a long sea voyage, developing dark flavours of walnut, caramel and molasses. It makes a nice alternative to Port.

Gifts for the wine-lover


There is a better range than ever of stylish and contemporary wine accessories in the shops. Glassware is an ever-popular gift, but for the purist wine-lover, any glass must obey 4 simple rules:
  1. the bowl should be large enough to allow you to swirl the contents
  2. it should taper towards the top, so that aromas are trapped in the glass
  3. it should be made of plain, clear glass so you can see the true colour of the wine
  4. it must have a stem so the heat of your hand does not transfer to the wine.
The Austrian company Riedel makes a range of wine glasses, each designed to suit a particular style of wine. Prices start around £8/$13, up to £40/$65 per glass (for the hand-blown "Sommelier" range, where each glass could hold around a bottle and a half!). I have found their mid-priced "Vinum" range a pure delight to use, and they're as practical as they are beautiful. For stockists see Riedel Web Site.

Corkscrews: I like the Screwpull range from Le Creuset. I have used the basic model for years with faultless results. The secret is in the wide, open helix of the screw which is Teflon coated for foolproof opening (widely available at around £13/$20). For serious wine-nuts the top of the range model is the Lever-pull - a cool £100 worth of miraculous engineering that will un-cork and re-cork your most precious bottles effortlessly.

Oddity corner: How about "Le nez du Vin"? This bijou little box contains a complete set of tiny bottles, each filled with a different scent - blackcurrant, cedar, sandalwood, leather, etc. It is used as a training aid in recognising similar aromas in wine. Does it work? Who knows - but it's a unique gift, and certainly different! (£69.00, Mail order in the UK - 0171 491 4912)

Whatever you are drinking, may I wish you a very happy Festive season. Sláinte!