Have you decided what to drink this Christmas?
By Master of Wine, Christopher Burr
I am told that with the logistics problems we have all read about, combined with people loving to get out and party, and lots of delayed weddings taking place, and much more optimism in the air, that some of the top Champagne brands are really concerned that they will run out in mid-December!
Just to be safe, I have already ensured I have adequate stocks of my favourite fizz to carry us through the Christmas holiday.
But what else should we be drinking over Christmas?
To first start with the ultimate celebratory fizz, Champagne. My favourites without going mad, are three non-vintage classics; Bollinger Special Cuvee, Pol Roger Brut White Foil, and Louis Roederer Brut Premier. All three are currently on offer at Majestic Wine for a mixed six price of between £37 - £49 per bottle. These are much the same price as offers in the supermarkets also.
One of the best value Champagnes we tasted recently was Champagne Brigitte Delmotte NV, from Laithwaites, now for Christmas reduced from £35.99 to £17.99! Yes, 50% off - this small House holds its own in quality against much more famous Houses. It has fresh and creamy biscuity aromas, and is a round bright complex wine, worth far more than this incredible price.
This Christmas, we shouldn't neglect our thriving English Sparkling Wine producers, who are making some wonderful fizz to rival the best sparklers in the World. I love Wiston, Gusbourne and Balfour Hush Heath, which you can find now in good distribution.
I think one of the best value English fizz is Harrow and Hope, Brut Reserve NV. from Laithwaites. Made by the founder of Laithwaite Tony's son, Henry, who has studied wine making around the World, and came home in 2010 to plant a vineyard of the classic Champagne grapes on Marlow's south facing Chiltern Hills.
This is excellent complex fizz.
There are many other good fizzes about, for Prosecco lovers, look no further than Waitrose for their San Leo brand, made for them by the Zonin family, one of the best producers. £9.99. They also have it in the most impressive party size, the Magnum at £15.99 on offer.
Last year the regulators of Prosecco sanctioned the production of Rose or pink Prosecco. I think the blending of a little pinot noir into the white blend gives a wonderful dimension and complexity to Prosecco and some gorgeous red fruit characters. The San Leo Rosato from Waitrose Cellar is £6.99, a snip considering the premium that pink fizz seems to command. This is a delicious bright red fruit and pear complex wine, and great value.
Cremant has at last been recognised for its quality and value. Waitrose have a lovely Cremant du Bourgogne from the Cave de Lugny in the south of Burgundy and from 100% Chardonnay. £14.99. But I love their Cremant de Limoux, Cuvee Royale. at £12.75, a full-bodied fizz with a brioche and white flower nose.
Whilst most wine growing regions of France make good Cremant, the Loire, Alsace and Bordeaux, as well as those mentioned above, the Cremant from the Jura is excellent , and the 100% Chardonnay, Exquisite Cremant du Jura from Aldi at £8.49, is dry, bright, fresh and crisp with floral, citrus and green apple fruit and a bready yeasty complexity, is one of the best.
Then we move to our white wine selections. Christmas is a time for some good sea food, the height of the shellfish season, and with often smoked fish making wonderful starters.
Although the fashion is for the driest crispest whites, I am in favour of some residual sugar in my whites, particularly where there is some salty component to the fish. A little sugar balances and counters the saltiness, whereas in the very driest wines the salt tends to be accentuated.
There are now some exceptional German wines on the shelves, from the Mosel and the Rhein. Try Dr. Loosens Slate Hill Mosel from Majestic. This wine has bright white peach and apricot aromas, but with some gentle sweetness balanced by lovely bright citrus. Classy wine at £10.99. It is also only 8.5% alcohol, still full of intensity but light and elegant.
Waitrose have an excellent Rheingau from Leitz, a Magdalenenkreuz Riesling Kabinett, don't worry about how to pronounce all that! The wine is delicious with shellfish, medium dryish, but full of crisp bright flavours.
For those who want something crisp bright and bone dry, a good minerally Muscadet Sur Lie is a top choice, as this wine is so much better made these days. It is also perfect with mussels, scallops, clams and oysters.
Morrisons have an excellent 2019 Muscadet Sur Lie in their "The Best" range for £8. Bright crisp wine with green apple fruit but a honeyed richness from the long yeast lees contact.
For those who are eating white fish or salmon, a good buttery Chardonnay is probably the "go to" wine. With top white Burgundy now so expensive, I am tempted to recommend some of the excellent and rich Chardonnays from California.
Majestic have a wonderful and extensive range from £10.99 Sebastiani Butterfield Station 2019, from the cool North Coastal region, with lots of sweet vanillin oakiness and buttery yeast contact. This is a big rich Chardonnay.
Duckhorn Vineyards in Napa is a classic, £29.98. and one of the first to make really classy Chardonnay using French oak and wine making techniques but with the ripeness of a warmer climate. This is a voluptuous , rich, generous wine.
Then Majestic reach the top of the tree with Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 2018. This wine in 1976 beat all the top French Chardonnays, including Corton Charlemagne and Montrachet, in the famous Judgement of Paris tasting. It is a true classic, a superb wine and well worth the £47.22 price tag for a special occasion.
For meat, it is probably the turn of red wine. If it is turkey or chicken, partridge or pheasant, or even duck, probably a lighter juicier bright red , mimicking gastronomically the effect of cranberry sauce. I tend to favour a good Pinot Noir.
Again, top Burgundy can be very expensive these days, so I have searched out top Pinots from other parts of the World where they may offer something special.
Majestic also have a good range from the USA. Oregon State make some wonderful Pinot, with Erath 2019 one of the best from the Willamette Valley and the Dundee Hills where the best Pinot is grown. Wonderful berry fruit, lovely balance and good intensity, Majestic sell this for £17.99.
Majestic also have a good range from Napa. Try Saintsbury 2018, £21.74, from the cooler Carneros Hills at the bottom of Napa, near the bay. I am very fond of the Pinots from further south in Santa Barbara, and I was down there at Au Bon Climat in 2019, and had lunch with the amazing wine maker Jim Clendenen who was also a wonderful cook. Very sadly Jim died this year. But his beloved Pinot Noir lives on in his memory. Majestic have Au Bon Climat Isabelle (named after his daughter) 2018 for £41.23. Great wine.
New Zealand's cooler climate is also making some very elegant Pinot Noir, and Tescos Finest Central Otago Pinot Noir is a fine example with lovely bright juicy red berry fruit at £13.00.
Naked Wines also have a serious Central Otago Pinot called Grasshopper Rock, 2017. Top class wine to rival good Burgundy, at £18.99 well worth trying.
For other roasts like beef or lamb, perhaps a gutsier red, with a bite of tannin to clean the palate. Bordeaux (Claret) must be one of the top choices.
Tesco's Finest range have an excellent 2018 Saint Emilion Grand Cru , made by Chateau du Val D'Or at £17. This is full bodied with nice dark berry fruit and a touch of oak and starting to develop secondary and tertiary complex flavours. Best if decanted.
Laithwaites have a very excellent Bordeaux from the makers of First Growth Haut Brion. Clarendelle Bordeaux 2015. This is very good and exceptional value at £17.49 for a mixed case. A top vintage now becoming lovely to enjoy, with complex berry fruit and spicy oak and leathery aromas. Good wine, and perfect for a roast.
Cheese and Christmas Pudding deserve a great sweet wine. This is also a perfect way to finish a Christmas feast. The great fortified wines of Port , Madeira, and Sherry should certainly not be overlooked.
I will start with the wonderful sweet luscious sherry called Pedro Ximinez, known as PX. Forget the days of Granny's sweet sherry, try the amazing 30-year-old Noe PX from Gonzalez Byass at £24.99 per half bottle in Majestic. The perfect match for a blue Stilton cheese and a rich fruity Christmas Pudding. This is like drinking a liquid Christmas Pudding, sweet, figgy, complex, luscious. fabulous.
Port also works very well. and you don't need to go to the lengths of decanting old vintage Port when there are so many superb fine Rubys and Tawnies around. Fonseca is one of the top three houses for quality, and they have an organic rich intense fine reserve ruby called Terra Prima, which is as good as it gets for a barrel aged Port. Waitrose have this on special for £14.69.
When it comes to Madeira, an historic favourite at Christmas, with aged Madeira being brought back from the Canaries in the days of Britain's great navy sailing ship days.
Interestingly, one of the best selections is offered by Amazon, and from their wide selection going right back to a 1977 vintage wine from Blandy's for £192 a bottle, I have selected a rich mature 15 year old Blandy's Malmsey at £27.64 for a 50cl bottle. Rich, raisiny sweet, but with bright acidity to balance the sweetness. Again, great with blue cheese and Christmas Pudding.
For something equally sweet but lighter and less alcoholic. I would have no hesitation in recommending the Spanish Moscatel from Torres, Floralis Moscatel d'Oro. Also, this wine is in the most gorgeous Christmassy bottle covered in painted golden flowers. Lovely, luscious, sweet honeyed wine. Ocado have it for £8.99 for 50cl, as do Waitrose.
Of course, there are many, many more wines I could suggest, but hopefully there is something here which everyone can enjoy.
Christopher Burr, MW,
7th December 2021