The best drinks for Christmas will keep you festive this season, we've found the finest wines
I tasted the perfect Christmas wine while staying with my chum of 40 years, Andrew Ross, in Corfu in September. My socks were fair knocked off by a gorgeous white burgundy – a 2010 Santenay (see Six of the Best) – a couple of cases of which he’d had sent out for the hols. With beautifully defined fruit, ripe, yet restrained, plenty of warm butter and vanilla, a touch of citrus and a long, succulent finish, it made a fine Corfiote aperitif.
This being my last break of the year, my thoughts were already turning to dread Christmas and I realised in a trice that the Santenay would be pretty darn perfect with the Yuletide smoked salmon terrine, a dozen oysters or even the drear festive bird itself. I resolved to give the stockists, Jascots, a call.
I thereupon discovered that Jascots also stocks a ridiculously well-priced California pinot noir – The Crusher (£11) – with plenty of red and dark berry fruit, a sultry smokiness and touch of chocolate. It’ll be great for those who prefer red with the fowl, so I grabbed some of that, too.
Beaujolais also makes for easy red drinking during Christmas. Light’n’fruity and low in tannin, good examples are a true joy and remarkably versatile. I always have a few bottles lying around on Boxing Day, cellar cool, in case of impromptu guests or simply to go at until it’s drinks time.
Claret is a festive must, of course, and now that the big beasts of Bordeaux are all but unaffordable, I’d recommend going for the second wines of the great estates. Made from the same grapes, by the same team, such wines often offer excellent value. My pick of the moment is the 2007 Les Tourelles de Longueville (see Six of the Best). The second wine of Château Pichon-Baron, from a really not at all bad year, it is soft and amenable, thanks to a large percentage of merlot in the blend, and really rather classy. Bottle looks chic, too.
But if you suffer, as I do, from budgetary constraints and need to lower your sights, you’ll find both 2009 Diane de Belgrave (£15.25, Oddbins) and 2010 Château du Gazin (£9, Waitrose) are excellent, approachable clarets. And although ready for this Christmas they’ll be even better next, so buy a bit more than you need and be quids in 12 months hence.
And just as second wines of top Bordeaux estates are often cracking value, so, too, are the single quinta ports of the Douro Valley. Full-blown vintages are declared roughly three years out of every 10, but sometimes a single estate will have made a wine of such good quality that it deems it worth releasing anyway.
On a recent tasting in Porto, the stand-out wine for me was the 1996 Fonseca Guimaraens. Crammed with rich, dark, plummy fruit and hints of liquorice and spicy raisins, it’s a belter and half the price of a “proper” vintage.
It’ll be my port of choice this Christmas, although I’ll make sure Ikeep a decent tawny handy, too, which won’t need decanting and will keep for several days once opened. The delightfully nutty and raisiny Taylor’s 10-Year-Old (£22, Morrisons) will do the trick.
We’ll all need plenty of fizz as well. Majestic always has great deals on champagne come Christmas, such as the ever-reliable, co-operative-produced Nicolas Feuillatte (£20 if you buy two or more), the best-selling champagne in France. It also has Canard-Duchêne at £19, if you buy two or more, not to mention all the big names and many smaller ones.
And, as always, I’ll be buying British – or rather English – this year, stocking up on the exquisite Herbert Hall Traditional Method Brut organic sparkler (£24.50, Rodney Fletcher Vintners) from Marden in Kent, as served at Le Caprice, Le Gavroche, Harvey Nicks and Tate Britain, to name a few of the enlightened spots to stock it. Try it, it’s a peach.
And talking of Kent – God’s chosen county – my Christmas Day digestif will be the scrumptious almond-rich, bitter-sweet Grant’s Morella Cherry Brandy (£23, Corks Out) now in its 239th year of production. It’s lovely stuff ice cold on its own or as the base for a hastily flung-together cocktail.
Well, that and a nip of Hine Homage (£65.50, Master of Malt), a remarkable, velvety-smooth cognac blended from the 1984, 1986 and 1987 vintages. Or the hot-off-the-press Balblair 2003 Single Malt (see Six of the Best), loaded with toffee, butterscotch and candied orange peel. Or that essential standby from Berrys, the spicy and warming King’s Ginger Liqueur (£22, Berry Bros & Rudd).
So much to drink and so little time to drink it in. I might just have to bring Christmas forward a bit this year.