Chriiiiiistmas time! Mistletoe and Wine! Here’s my ultimate guide to matching wines to all those Christmas occasions, featuring a few of my favourite London independent wine retailers!
1. The Friend’s Christmas Lunch
You made it through the year. You actually managed to find a date you could all get together. This calls for bubbles. Why not be extra classy and go English? Your host has taken one for the team, slaved in the kitchen, meal planning, table planning, worrying about how many chairs they can fit around the dinner table; the least you can do is treat them to a bottle of England’s finest.
There are so many exciting English producers at the moment, but in the interests of expediency I shall just give you the name of one producer, Exton Park, from Hampshire which has really stood out every time I’ve tried it: Their Exton Park Rosé is a seriously stunning English sparkling with the most beautifully defined fruit, available from Friarwood Fine Wines for £32.
2. The Friend’s Christmas Lunch - The Aftermath
Of course you need a gluggable, crowd-pleasing red to polish off while you’re all flopped on the sofa after an over-competitive game of charades. Soft, juicy reds are a good option here when everyone's biffed, nothing that’s too highly tannic, nor too high in alcohol.
A Juicy Spanish Garnacha (Grenache) like this Bodega y Vinedos Mofil £8.50 or a classic strawberry-scented Beaujolais Villages like this Domaine Rochette, 2016 £7.50 both from Lea & Sandeman, would fit the bill. Or, if you weren’t organised and you need to call for reinforcements, this is the moment when the on-demand wine-delivery service Vinterest really comes into its own. Sourcing from local independents near you, they will deliver wine to you within the hour. What could be more wonderful?! Why not impress your friends with something unusual like this Burgundy-beating Bulgarian Pinot Noir Soli Eduardo Miroglio, Thracian Valley for £14.50.
3. Christmas Eve
In my family it’s always been a tradition to have something fish based for dinner on Christmas Eve. Well, lately my other half has seriously upped the game, implementing a traditional lobster feast - I think it's the Australian side of him calling out for seafood. 'God dammit if we can’t have prawns on the beach on Christmas Day then we’ll have to have lobsters on Christmas Eve!' Collecting the lobsters from the local fishmonger and the whole rigmarole of cooking them (which Mitch does because the rest of us are too pathetic!) has become a whole new Christmas tradition of its own.
Lobster in all of its guises calls for a rich white wine. The classic go-to may be an oaky Chardonnay (like a white Burgundy or Carneros Chardonnay), but may I suggest an alternative. In my view lobster goes down a dream with aged Hunter Valley Semillon. You want that rich, honeyed softness, but the advantage of Hunter Valley Semillon over another style of rich white, is it also has a lime and passionfruit zinginess and a general lightness of touch that is wonderful with the rich seafood.
4. Christmas Morning
You’ve made your annual appearance at Church. You’re feeling very old thanks to the cruel revelation that all the babies you used to babysit are now tax-paying members of society. You’ve walked home, hopefully in some beautifully crisp wintry weather. Now the fire is roaring and it’s time to open some presents with a bottle of Champagne, and at our house, some absolutely obligatory smoked salmon blinis.
This is the moment when some seriously fine Champagne will not go to waste. Earlier in the day our palates are sharper, we’re not yet jaded from too much food and we’re in an anticipatory, celebratory mood with all the family gathered around. There is literally no better moment to open something extra special. That vintage bottle you were gifted and have been holding onto, awaiting an occasion special enough. This is it. And in an hour or so, it will have passed. Celebrate the ephemerality of this precious moment, who knows how much more of them there'll be. Don’t be one of those people that dies owning a lake of unopened wine. Sorry, got a bit heavy for moment there.
If you don’t have anything, Tuggy of Huntsworth Wine always seems to have a fine selection of vintage Champagnes like this 2002 Gosset Celebris Extra Brut £96. The Extra Brut - extra dry - will be just perfect for getting your appetite going for all the delights to come!
5. The Starter
Go easy here. Pace yourself. A Griffiths-family household classic is a single ripe pear, cored and stuffed with a little bit of Stilton cheese, and a balsamic vinaigrette.
Get started with a crisp yet rich white like this Pinot Grigio Ramato Azienda Agricola Visintini £14.50 from Lea & Sandeman. The word Ramato in the name signifies it will be slightly coppery in colour and much more interesting an complex than your average Pinot Grigio.
6. The Main Event
I think this calls for something pretty serious, like a very grown up Bordeaux. Whoever is hosting has more than likely pulled out all the stops for the Christmas lunch, their back is aching and they had to stick their hand up a turkey’s bum, so the LEAST you can do is pull the stops out with the wine. One year we were treated to a 1985 Chateau Margaux Premier Grand Cru Classé which is still one of the most memorable wines I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking. We left the finished bottle on the dining room table overnight and the room was still scented with its perfume the next day. I’m not exaggerating.
If you don’t feel like making it rain like Mr Gatsby on a First Growth Bordeaux, then here’s a hack. Chateau Rauzan-Segla is another very grand producer of the Margaux region. They are classed as a “second growth” but are considered by some to be second only to the Chateau Margaux itself. Like most top Bordeaux Chateaux, they also produce a second wine. What doesn’t quite make the cut for their first, grandest wine, goes into the second wine, and so on and so forth. These second wines are earlier maturing and less costly but are still mostly exceptional wines made by exceptional winemaking teams from exceptional estates. So, you get a lot of the magic, for a lot less of the price.
Chateau Rauzan-Segla are owned by the House of Chanel and the property does have an incredibly stylish feel (Karl Lagerfeld designed some of their labels) which seems to perfectly gel with the vibe of this appellation: I always think of Margaux as being the feminine one out of the left-bank heavyweight appellations - St Estephe, Pauillac and St Julian. (Perhaps there’s some unconscious associations going on here with the names themselves (Margot, vs Stephen, Paul and Julian!) But even so, the wines of Margaux are often praised for their feminine elegance: floral, fragranced, perfumed.
So there you go, if you can’t afford the Premier Cru Classé Chateau Margaux, go for the second wine of the second best producer. You’re welcome!
7. The Dessert Wine
It’s no secret I have a real sweet tooth; sometime I think if I could only drink one wine the rest of my life it would have to be Sauternes. At our wedding we ditched the favours and instead treated our guests to a glass of 2005 Chateau Rieussec Sauternes to have with our croquembouche (which also had the effect of getting everyone well and truly jolly for the dancing which was definitely not unintentional).
But, a rich stodgy pud like a traditional Christmas Pudding, especially after such a big meal, needs careful pairing. Luckily, there’s a Sicilian dessert wine called Passito di Pantelleria, the tasting notes of which read like the ingredients list for a Christmas pudding recipe, (dried figs, raisins, sultanas, orange peel, nuts) yet it’s known for retaining its freshness in spite of its lusciousness. You can pick up a half bottle of Passito di Pantelleria Donnafugata Ben Rye from Hedonism for £40.
8. The Witching Hour
Ok. You’re probably judging me by this point. I’m kind of judging myself. But I just really find at around 8 or 9 o'clock, after having collapsed on the sofa and watched some excellent Christmas TV I am ready for another little plate of deliciousness. Maybe some stilton with some lovely chutney. And of course you can’t have Stilton on Christmas Day without a little snifter of Port, that would be some kind of sacrilege. So I urge you to make sure you’re stocked up with some vintage Port - allow Tuggy of Huntsworth wine to sort you out with a still youthful 1991 Churchill’s Vintage Port; your future self will thank you.
9. Boxing Day I know I’m not alone in thinking the Boxing Day lunch is almost as good, if not better than the Christmas Day lunch. All of the deliciousness, none of the pressure for whoever is hosting. The cold cuts of turkey and ham, leftover pigs-in-blanket, brussel sprout bubble and squeak, plus all the wonderful sauces and accompaniments: bread sauce, cranberry sauce, chutneys, pickles, preserves. Have you ever tried a pickled walnut? I used to ridicule my father in disgust for his love of a pickled walnut, that is, until I tried one. In a nutshell (sorry) they were simply MADE for Boxing Day lunch. Get yours at Fortnum's.
At this stage, after all the rich food you might fancy something that will liven up your palate - a zingy white as opposed to another red that might seem the more natural pairing with the food.
Why not go totally rogue with a minerally fresh Grüner Veltliner like this excellent value example from Roberson Gruner Veltliner 2017 Ebner-Ebenauer for £16. Elegant, but with enough intensity and body from a little bit of lees aging to impress your surfeited palate.
10. Turkey Curry
What to do with all that left-over Turkey? You’ve run out of pickled walnuts so it’s time for another idea. The Turkey Curry is a British classic. This is the one I would make, from Spruce Eats; a lovely fruity, creamy concoction (also mango-y, pineapple-y sauces are delicious with pheasant that has a tendency to be dry, and has a tendency to be filling up freezers around this time of year). I’d serve it with a vibrant Riesling like this off-dry, high-acidity tropical fruity number from Handford Wines - Dr Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese 2015 for £26.99.
11. The Dead Zone
Don’t you just love the no-man’s land between Christmas and New Year? That time where all civilised places of work shut down and no one really knows what day it is.
These days are about late starts, chocolate for breakfast, nice little wintry walks (just to make you feel a bit more like a respectable person), then coming back and putting your feet up in front of the fire. A nice red wine to savour and a Christmas movie or two is just the ticket.
How about a new world Pinot Noir for a little up-and-coming producer like this Peter Max Crystallum Pinot Noir 2016 for £24.99 from South Africa.
12. New Year’s Eve
This calls for sparkling wine in copious amounts. It’s the only way to get through and for god’s sake don’t mix unless you really want to start your new year off on the wrong foot.
Eschew 'Les Grand Marques', the luxury brand names (we’re all feeling poor by this point) and go for a ‘grower producer’ - one of many smaller, lesser known Champagne producers making perfectly delicious Champagne, with the same grapes and same method as the big guys but at a fraction of the price.
Huntsworth Wine has some excellent Grower-Producer Champagnes and my pick would be this Magnum of Beaumont des Crayères Champagne, Grande Réserve Brut at £60, meaning this works out at excellent value but with the added bonus of serious wow factor. Because who doesn’t love large format Champagne!
And with that my friends, we come to the end.
What do you think? Do you agree? What are your Christmas rituals? Whatever you do, be sure to take a moment to soak it all in. Bottoms up!