Our very own wine buff Neil Bennett quizzes the City glitterati about their Christmas wine plans
AMID the piles of Christmas wrapping paper and credit card bills, there is one gift wine lovers can give themselves on Christmas Day – setting aside a special something to share with the family. Personally, I spend far too time deciding what to open on December 25. Will it be at its best? Will it need decanting? Will friends and family appreciate it?
This year, though, I have decided to conduct a survey to check that our nation’s business leaders are serving decent wine to their guests.
I am pleased to report they have excellent taste when it comes to wine and I would love to be invited to any one of their Christmas dinners. Claret is the hands down winner in the survey and, just as it used to be said that if you want to get ahead, get a hat, now it seems if you want to be a boss, buy a Bordeaux.
First prize for style goes to Michael Spencer, chief executive of ICAP (as one of the City’s best-known wine collectors and connoisseurs, one would hardly expect him to be glugging Blue Nun). Spencer will be on holiday in Kenya on Christmas Day but he will be tucking a few special somethings in his overnight bag.
“To start I’ll be drinking a bit of Pol Roger Cuvee Winston Churchill, then a nice white burgundy – probably a Domaine Leflaive Puligny Montrachet. Then some 1985 Lynch Bages; an old favourite and still drinking magnificently.”
It turns out Lynch Bages is a particular business favourite, with Sir Nigel Rudd, chairman of Heathrow, also opting for it. He’s chosen the 1996: “I buy a case every year en primeur – I love it.”
Both of them, however, are outshone by Garry Jones, chief executive of the London Metal Exchange and another noted oenophile. He too will be away on the day but says his choice would be a 1982 Chateau Latour; in my opinion one of the greatest wines of all time.
Elsewhere the Claret lovers include Martin Gilbert, chief executive of Aberdeen Asset Management, who says his family will be opening a magnum of Chateau Pichon Longueville 1996; again a smart choice. The 1996s are drinking well now and this second growth Pauillac is a deep and muscular wine that will stand up well with a rich Christmas dinner (and a magnum is always worth opting for if you’ve invited the extended family).
Rupert Soames, chief executive of Aggreko, says he would opt for a Chateau Cantemerle. This is a value choice – Cantemerle is an Haut Medoc and many would say underrated due to its appellation. You can today buy a case of the fine 2005 vintage for £260, and that would bring a tear to my eye if I found it under the Christmas tree. Hats off though to Gerald Corbett, chairman of Britvic, who is flying a lonely flag in our little survey for Burgundy. Naturally he is brand loyal and says he will start the festivities with a Tanqueray G&T with Britivc tonic. But after that it is onto a 2009 Chassagne Montrachet and then a 2005 Nuit St Georges, finishing off with a 1983 Dow Port, which, all told, should see him well into the New Year. I think we can detect a certain suave elegance in the Corbett household.
The strangest reply came from Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP, who said: “I will be drinking a good Uruguayan red or white.” This is made rather less odd when you take into account that he and his glamorous wife Cristiana will no doubt be relaxing on the white beaches of Montevideo on Christmas Day. I therefore suggest a Bodega Stagnari or the wonderfully named Bodega Bouza. Both are from tannat grapes, which produce huge, powerful wines that need about a decade to breathe and are a speciality of this little South American country.
And finally, I suppose I have to confess what my own plans are for Christmas Day. Since Christmas is a time for giving and receiving, I like to open wines that have been presents and share them with friends. I also tend to go for older wines to mark the passing of the years.
So, my plan is thus: a 1990 Bollinger Grande Annee (a gift from a great friend), on Christmas Eve. On the big day I have set aside a single bottle of Chateau Plaisance St Emilion 1970, which I bought at auction a few weeks ago. Who knows what it will be like – it could be a disaster, so I will need back-up. But the very first bottle of wine I owned was a 1970 claret (won at a school tombola before my father quickly lifted it from me unopened), so I thought it was worth a punt. Finally I have a bottle of 1963 Borges Port, which is just dying to be opened.
Thank you for reading Bottle Opener this year, and for all your suggestions and comments. I hope your Christmas drinking choices will be as enjoyable as those of our panel of business leaders. I look forward to continuing our tour of the world of wine together in 2014.