City A.M.’s wine expert spends a fantasy Christmas budget
And so, dear reader, the season of goodwill and merriment is upon us once again.
Offices are full of elves distributing secret Santa details to colleagues, and restaurants are rammed with office workers guzzling warm chardonnay and leaden reds from obscure parts of the planet.
The days shorten as our hangovers lengthen and the high street is no doubt already starting to gear up for Easter.
A few weeks ago I was enjoying a very acceptable Albarino (Leira Reyero, Pascual 2018) with the editor over lunch at J Sheekey in the West End when he casually lobbed the conversational hand grenade that he was giving me £1,000 to spend on wines for Christmas. Once I’d picked myself up off the floor I was effusive and instant with my thanks for such unsought generosity.
However, with crushing and deliberate speed he went on to confirm that I had misheard and that this was to be a fictional amount to be “spent” on recommending wines for the big day. Ah well, maybe next year…
Undaunted by my trip on this emotional roller coaster I decided to focus on the task he had set me. I’m assuming that these recommendations need to be sufficient for a table of people rather than just one or two so I’m thinking in terms of cases rather than single bottles.
Christmas day itself can be tricky for many reasons. Just spending a whole day with one’s relatives can
be potentially problematic. GK Chesterton said the “family is a good institution because it is uncongenial” – and he was a huge fan of families!
Adding alcohol in significant quantity to such an event generally raises the stakes.
Indeed, I confess to having had one or two disastrous Christmas days where we adults may have overdone it slightly too early in the day and had pretty much passed out by lunchtime.
It is, therefore, important to ensure that the drinks consumed on the big day are all about quality rather than quantity.
To my mind, no Christmas lunch is complete without some fizz.
We generally have ours with some wild, smoked salmon or sea trout (caught with a rod and line by my own fare hands) and some home-made brown bread.
The obvious route here is to the Champagne region, and I confess that I have a fondness for the buttery loveliness of Gosset Grande Reserve Brut.
I do though think that there is quite a lot of inferior champagne out there. Whenever I’m served extremely cold champagne in a very tight flute my assumption is that both steps have been taken to disguise the quality of the liquid — and more often than not I’m proven right.
Much champagne is far too acidic for my taste which I think in part explains the explosion in Prosecco sales in recent years. My advice is to stick with quality and serve it at just below room temperature in a tulip shaped glass.
So as a gallic alternative why not try a Saumur or a Cremant? I’m an enthusiastic member of the Wine
Society and their Saumur Brut is a crisp, top-notch option.
Meanwhile when it comes to Cremant, I
thoroughly recommend the Cremant de Bourgogne Blanc de Noirs Marsigny Brut.
I’m sure that many (perhaps even most) people would fail to pick these out as not being champagnes in a blind taste test.
If you prefer a white wine, I urge you to try Puligny-Montrachet Olivier Leflaive 2017. I’ve researched this one particularly thoroughly and can pronounce it excellent. As with the Gosset, it’s buttery and as is typical of white burgundies it’s subtly complex, too.
On to the main course, which for most of us will of course be turkey. I’m a fan of this fowl — as indeed I am of sprouts — but I couldn’t have either of them too many times a year.
Of course, you could easily stick with the Puligny-Montrachet, but I’d rather switch to a red at this point. Turkey’s not suited to anything heavy, so I’d suggest erring on the side of caution and going for a light one.
Perhaps a red burgundy — or a pinot noir from elsewhere outside of France.
For the burgundy I suggest Vieilles Vignes Volnay 2008. This is at the more intense end of the red burgundy taste spectrum — but will work perfectly with turkey.
Importantly it’s not too fruity. Some burgundies can taste a little bit too much like Ribena for my palate.
In terms of a decent pinot you can’t go wrong with Main Divide Pinot Noir from Canterbury, New Zealand. It’s similarly complex in its own way and not too fruity.
It’s at this stage that many of us take a break from gorging. But I’m sure that most of us will tuck into a sweet course — probably Christmas pudding — during the late afternoon.
Here I’m going to suggest that you try a sweet sherry — a Pedro Ximenez — or PX as it is often referred to. The one I like in particular is Salto al Cielo Estate Aged Pedro Ximenez.
This stuff is a bit like a Christmas pudding in a glass so it’s definitely not a contrast in flavours. It is though dark, treacly and absolutely delicious.
On to costs. All for a case of six unless otherwise stated.
The Gosset Grande Reserve Brut is about £240, the Saumur Brut £65 and the Cremant de Bourgogne is about £78. A case of the Puligny-Montrachet Olivier Leflaive 2017 will set you back about £375. Vieilles Vignes Volnay 2008 seems to be available for about £210 and the Main Divide Pinot £135. A case of PX will cost about £390.
Hopefully that line up gives you plenty of options around the £1,000 target.
Whatever drinks you go with, may I wish you all a wonderful Christmas break with some delicious wine waiting, nicely wrapped up for you, underneath the tree.
Steffan Williams is a partner at Portland