Giles provides some enlightening information on wines for Christmas.
Ah its that time of year again, the time when both the wine trade and the wine buying public throw cautionary concerns regarding cash and kidneys, livers and lucre to the prevailing storm force wind as they merrily seek to make merry in this merriest of seasons. However with a deluge of seemingly too good to be true offers winging their way to a shelf or wine catalogue near you (the vast majority of which really are too good to be true) and with a plethora of unusual food and wine matches to be tackled, I've thought a few pointers might be in order to save festive flushes and Christmas catastrophes. So here in no particular order are my top six (CCCC) tips to get you through.
Present opening chaos out of the way you want (deserve, NEED) a drink and something with bubbles winging their way up the side of the glass seems to be the only reasonable thing to do. Sparkling wines, in all their multifarious guises, can be broken down into three basic categories: the good, the bad and the silver cleaner. Alas price invariably has little to do with deciding in which area they fall. For instance what would you say the following were: Moet & Chandon Rose (£29.95 widely available), Hardy's Crest (£4.99 at Tesco (special offer down from £9.99))? Answer, these are bad, bad as they are simply duff or offer bad value for money. Now consider Lanson Black Label (£18.50 each when you but three, Majestic) Nicolas Feuillate £14.24 (Tesco special offer down from...to much!)? These are expensive bottles of silver polish. Mean, green, over sweetened bottles of nastiness that trade on the sole defence of being 'cheap' and as everyone in the trade will tell you, a poor wine is always costly! So by a process of elimination Lindauer white and rose (£5.99 Tesco and Majestic special offer down from £7.99), Bollinger Non-Vintage (£32.00 but expect reductions) and Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs 2001 (Waitrose £11.99) are good, except they're not, they're brilliant. These last three wines, from New Zealand, France and South Africa respectively, are glorious and guaranteed to raise a smile.
Let's talk turkey. During my many centuries, least that's how it felt around Christmas, of working in trade I was amazed by how many people I encountered, normally knowledgeable, wine loving people who would ask me to recommend 'a really good claret to go with the bird'. Now even given the British attachment to red Bordeaux I find it hard to understand why anyone would want to attempt this particular combination at home. The rule in food and wine matching is look for contrasting compliments. Fish for example is generally delicate and low in acid so takes to fresh, tangy whites or a piece of rump steak goes well with big Rhone wines as they are weighty and the tannins help cleanse the palate. Claret though is dry, of often-lowish acidity and has a mellow, reserve character...just like turkey. Claret and turkey are about as clever a combination as garlic and Green & Blacks, unless of course you want a mouth that feels like its been pebble dashed. Put the red Bordeaux (preferably the amazing Tour St Bonnet 2003 - Majestic £7.99) on the side for the cheese and instead grab a bottle of the Peter Lehman Riesling 2005 - Sainsbury's, The Wine Society, Oddbins£5.95) wonderfully fresh tasting melon and red apple suffused wine that will enliven even the most desiccated of birds, or if you feel like splashing out try the truly impressive.
Mince pies, Christmas pudding, Christmas cake and associated dried fruit and lard nuttiness. Partnering wines, particularly desert wines, with these flavour behemoths is about as pointless as expensive and pointless as placing a bet on a local white Christmas in the Tripoli branch of Ladbrokes. Desert wines, Sauternes, Tokaji or the plethora of Muscats and the like from further afield are not built to take on such sweet confections. If, like me, you want to wash down a mince pie or two with something invigorating, then try a good dry Oloroso or Amontillado Sherry, they have similar flavour profiles, but with their weight of alcohol and bright, zesty acidity they go together like New Year's day and hangovers. Try one of the following and you'll see what I mean: La Concha Amontillado (£6.16) Waitrose Palo Cortado (£6.46)
Party time. 'Party wine' used to be short hand for 'just the one for me I'm driving', but in this wonderful world of global warming where harvests run practically twenty four seven, 365 days a year there are now a wash of good wines at very reasonable prices. For cheery fizz try the Tesco Cava (£2.83 special offer), for a tasteful, decidedly acceptable glass of white take a look at the Peter Lehman Semillon (£5.49 Sainsbury's, Waitrose, Oddbins) and on the reds, my old friends the Spanish, Durius 2004 (£3.99 - Tesco bin-end offer) and the Argento Malbec 2005 (£4.99 Majestic, Oddbins, Thresher et al!)
Well whichever wines you see the end of this Christmas, I hope it is happy and peaceful.
Here' to a boozy 2007!