Yes, Yes, Christmas is a time for giving. But it is also a time for a decent glass of wine or two and sharing them with friends and family. One of the greatest pleasures in collecting and appreciating wine is choosing the wines that will work just right with the occasion and the planned menu and will go down a treat with the guests.
There is something almost theatrical about it, even though all you’re doing is pulling a cork on someone else’s hard work. As the American writer Clifton Fadiman said: “wine is to be shared. I have never met a miserly wine lover”.
Christmas lunch is the biggest stage of all – the one meal of the year for which you should save that special bottle. Of course it is prone to pitfalls; last year I had held back two bottles of what I expected to be a divine 2008 Mercurey, which turned out to be searing vinegar and prompted me scurrying back downstairs to find something less acrid.
Despite that blunder, this year City A.M.’s editor has handed me an (imaginary) £300 and asked me to furnish your table with the finest wines known to humanity – from aperitif to port and stilton.
This is a tough challenge. By my reckoning you need to serve five wines on Christmas Day to do things properly; Champagne or sparkling wine as an aperitif, then a wine to go with the starter, one with the main course (turkey or goose), then a pudding wine, and finally a traditional port to round off the whole event.
It is complicated by the fact that it is tough to pair wines easily with turkey and all the trimmings and with the Christmas pud. But with that fictional £300 burning a hole in my keyboard and assuming I am serving refreshments for eight, here goes.
Where possible I have done my best to choose wines you’ll be able to buy right up until Christmas Eve.
Otherwise what’s the point?
I served up my champagne choices two weeks ago and I won’t repeat those. But to start things off I have gone for a bit of unabashed Christmas bling, the Vom Fass Gold Cuvee (Selfridges, £31). This is an unexceptional Germany sparkling wine made from Pinot Blanc grapes.
What makes it a crowd pleaser are the flakes of gold leaf fizzing around in every glass. Just the ticket when everyone is ripping open their presents.
What’s it going to be? If you start with a terrine I unhesitatingly suggest Sauternes, and a 2003 Chateau Suduiraut (Berry Bros £22 h/bottle, £36.75 bottle) would be a stunner, powerful without cloying sweetness. If fish, salmon say, have a decent Chablis, perhaps the Premier Cru
Butteaux, Domaine Louis Michel 2014 (Fortnum’s £24.50). This is a lovely Chablis, with all the apricot chalkiness you expect and just the right amount of oak.
The main event
This is the toughest choice. Let’s face it, turkey can be a dry and flavourless meat, and should be paired with a full bodied white, such as a Viognier. But all the trimmings make this a rich meal so you need something with more oomph.
Also, as a traditionalist I always feel you should serve claret on Christmas Day, but the purist would tell me I’m quite wrong.
Finally, something in my soul tells me you should be serving a magnum on Christmas Day for that added panache. Time though is short and stocks are low. So what can we find?
If you opt for white, get moving and order a magnum of the rich and buttery 2009 Meursault from Vincent Girardin (Waitrose, £70). Absolutely at its best and an excellent price too.
If red, then I would go for a magnum of the 2002 Chateau Giscours, which Berry Bros claims to have in stock at £133. Giscours produces elegant balanced Margaux wines that I often feel are underrated.
Lovely blackberry and cherry flavours, uncork when you wake up and double decant it to ensure it’s at its best. The Giscours would be tremendous with goose as well.
Christmas pudding is another tough one to pair with wine since its flavours are so strong, dark and powerful. For me it is time for another sweet wine but one with some cut to it so I have plumped for the Vin de Constance 2012 from Klein Constantia (Lea & Sandeman £51.95). This South African beauty brims with ginger and fruit and spice and will more than hold its own against all those flambee flavours and brandy butter.
Cheese and nuts
And now, if you are still sitting comfortably, the stilton makes its grand appearance. And at least this one is easy. Port. Vintage port, from a good vintage, even if this is the only time in the year it still makes an appearance.
If you can somehow beg The Vintage Port Shop to deliver before Sunday, I would opt for their 1970 Warre’s (£119).
If not, fall back on Waitrose to sell you a bottle of Taylor’s 40-year-old Tawny Port for £110.
Tot that up with the Meursault and it comes to £294, with enough money left for a few assorted Brazils.
I have noticed, though, that I have bust the budget rather horribly if you opt for the Giscours. So economies need to be made elsewhere. I only have £60 for the port.
Fortunately Berry Bros can come to the rescue here with a William Pickering 20-year-old Tawny that will more than do the job for just £28.95 – and you don’t have the fiddly bit of decanting it through muslin either.
Now for Boxing Day…