Christmas Food & Drink: Buying by numbers

Why rush around trying to find the perfect wines when Richard Ehrlich has done it for you?
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Welcome to the third annual exercise in Buying by Numbers. We're seeking wine for the Christmas dinner, setting ourselves a budget for drinks to go with every stage in the festive meal. The exercise assumes that most people want to buy their Yuletide alcohol at one supplier. Life's too busy at this time of year for dashing about from shop to shop. It assumes, also, that most people have a budget for this famously wallet- draining holiday. So once again, I have aimed to answer the question: "What can I afford to drink, and where can I buy it?"

Figuring that wine buyers know their lists inside out, I got them to do the picking for me. I asked them to assemble a set of lists with very basic requirements: three or four bottles to drink with the traditional meal, in three price ranges. The Budget range was up to pounds 20, the Mid-Price from pounds 20 to pounds 30, and the Top-End could indulge in fantasy at pounds 30 and up.

Here are the results, with a few comments and notations of my own where appropriate. There's no question that the real fun starts in the Mid-Price lists, but of those bottles I have tasted (a good proportion) I can't see anything that would make me turn away in contempt while carving the turkey or goose. But this year, as last, I urge you to buy early. A few wines had disappeared from shelves by the time some readers did their shopping in years one and two. Don't take a chance on being disappointed.


The Rosemount Pinot Noir is a light Australian, not at all Burgundian in style but very attractive. The Valdepenas is good. The Pauillac is eminently respectable.


n Asda Vintage Cava 1996, pounds 6.49

n Vina Albali Gran Reserva 1991, Valdepenas, pounds 5.99

n Muscat de Frontignan 1998, pounds 4.99


n Feuillatte Blanc de Blancs NV, pounds 15.99

n Rosemount Pinot Noir 1997, pounds 7.49

n Vouvray Denis Marchais 1997, pounds 4.99


n Charles Laffite NV, pounds 14.99

n Pauillac Bellechasse 1995, pounds 11.99

n Rutherglen Muscat NV, pounds 5.49/37.5cl


This list has a high proportion of interesting and unusual wines, as one might expect. I'm pleased to see several of the Greek wines they've been acquiring over the last year, and a good number of wines from the New World - just to prove that Christmas is not just about Champagne and claret and port. NB: Oddbins says that the Landmark Overlook Chardonnay is "delicious, and could hold up to the turkey as well". NB also: the Cava Amethystos is available only from Oddbins Fine Wine shops.


n Schaetzel Pinot Blanc 1997, Alsace, pounds 5.99

n Sentinal Shiraz 1997, Paarl, pounds 5.99

n James Halliday Botrytis Semillon 1996, Griffith, pounds 6.99


n Landmark Overlook Chardonnay 1996, Sonoma, pounds 12.99

n d'Arenberg Custodian Grenache 1996, McLaren Vale, pounds 7.99

n Nyx Mavrodaphne, Spiliopoulos, Greece, pounds 6.99/50cl


n Condrieu la Cote 1996, Cuilleron, pounds 19.99

n Cava Amethystos 1994, Greece, pounds 14.99

n Torcolato 1995, Macaulan, Italy, pounds 18.99


There are some fantastic wine in here, especially in the big-bucks list. Noble One is one of the few New World sweeties that can hold its own against the best of France and Germany. There are also some pretty cool reductions on offer: coolest of all, Dom P is pounds 49.99 each if you buy two bottles.


n Cava Verano NV, Freixenet, pounds 4.99

n Sauvignon Lot 279 1997, Calvet, Bordeaux, pounds 3.49

n Fortant de France Grenache 1997, Vin de Pays d'Oc, pounds 3.79

n Kirchheimer Schwarzerde Beerenauslese 1997, pounds 4.39


n Angas Brut, pounds 5.99

n Santa Rita Medalla Real Chardonnay 1997, Chile, pounds 5.99

n Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache 1995, Australia, pounds 8.99

n Clos l'Abeilley Sauternes 1995, pounds 6.99/37.5cl


n Dom Perignon 1990, pounds 60.59

n Chablis 1er cru 1997, Cote de Lechet, La Chablisienne, pounds 9.99 and/or Nuits-St-Georges 1996, Jaffelin, pounds 14.49

n Noble One Botrytis Semillon 1993, de Bortoli, pounds 12.99/37.5cl


Different vintages of the Chateau la Vieille Cure and Chateau de Cerons appeared in last year's list. I am a long-time fan of Vieille Cure, a solid mid-priced claret, even if the 94 is on the light side, and the Noval LBV is a real corker. If you'll pardon the expression.


n Sainsbury's Cava, pounds 4.99

n Casablanca Chardonnay, White Label, 1997, pounds 5.49 or La Palma Cabernet/Merlot Reserva 1997, pounds 5.49

n Sainsbury's Muscat de St Jean de Minervois, pounds 3.49/37.5cl


n Sainsbury's Champagne Blanc de Noirs Brut NV, pounds 11.99

n Macon Chardonnay Domaine les Ecuyers 1996, pounds 6.99

n Chateau de Cerons 1990, Cerons, pounds 9.99/37.5cl


n Sainsbury's Champagne Extra Dry NV, pounds 13.99

n Chassagne-Montrachet 1er cru "Grand Montagne" 1995, Rodet, pounds 24.95 or Chateau la Vieille Cure 1994, Fronsac, pounds 10.99

n Noval Traditional LBV Port, pounds 9.99


Another interesting selection. The Pinotage and Fonseca LBV are impeccable examples of their type. Pando is one of the best finos around (and fino is one of the best aperitifs). The Hugel is as close as you can get to heaven without shuffling off this mortal coil. Joe Wadsack of Waitrose, who made this choice, recognises that beginning with sweet wine and ending with dry Champagne (Top-End) is unorthodox, but he insists that it will fit well with a rich Christmas meal. The second selection for the main course is my choice from the Waitrose Direct range (mail order only).


n Ockfener Bockstein Riesling QbA 1997, Heinz Wagner, pounds 5.55

n Clos Malverne Pinotage 1997/8, Devon Valley, Stellenbosch, pounds 6.49

n Moscato d'Asti DOC Villa Lanata 1997, pounds 14.99


n Pando Fino, Williams and Humbert, pounds 5.49

n St Joseph Cuvee Medaille d'Or 1995, Cave St Desirat, pounds 8.99

n Fonseca Traditional LBV 1983, pounds 14.55


n Tokay Pinot Gris Vendange Tardive 1990, Hugel, pounds 28.95

n Hermitage "Pied de la Cote" 1996, Paul Jaboulet, pounds 16.95 or Puligny- Montrachet 1er cru les Referts 1995, Etienne Sauzet, pounds 45

n Waitrose "Cuvee 2000", Blanc de Blancs 1990, pounds 25


This is an interesting and solid list. I love the Marsanne, and the Champagnes all come from the lesser-known but high- quality house of Palmer. NB: There are 20 per cent discounts on offer on several of these wines from 2 to 15 December.


n Somerfield Cava Rosado, pounds 4.99

n Les Marionettes Marsanne 1997, Vin de Pays d'Oc, pounds 3.99

n Terralle Primitivo di Puglia, pounds 3.99 or Somerfield Chilean Merlot 1997, pounds 4.29

n Somerfield Christmas Pudding Wine, pounds 3.99/50cl


n Somerfield Prince William Champagne NV, pounds 12.95

n Bright Bros San Juan Reserve Chardonnay, pounds 4.99

n Gigondas St Andre 1996, pounds 5.99, or Terra Noble Merlot 1996, Chile, pounds 4.29

n Somerfield Asti Spumante, pounds 4.99


n Somerfield Prince William Vintage Champagne, 1991, pounds 19.99

n Chablis 1er cru Grande Cuvee 1988, pounds 11.19

n Chateauneuf-du-Pape la Solitude 1995, pounds 9.49, or Kumala Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1997, pounds 7.99

n Lindemans Botrytis Riesling, pounds 5.99/37.5cl


Another solid list, if short on surprises. Muscadet is an unusual choice for the first course, though eminently sensible as it's a good aperitif. The same can be said for Villa Maria's 1998 Sauvignon Blanc. And I like the idea of having a Rioja with the main course rather than the customary claret.


n Muscadet 1997, Cote de Grandlieu, pounds 4.69

n Conde de Valdemar Reserva 1993, pounds 7.99

n Chateau Suau 1997, 1er Cotes de Bordeaux, pounds 4.99


n Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc 1998, New Zealand, pounds 6.99

n Chateau Ramage la Batisse 1994, pounds 9.95

n Brown Bros Orange Muscat and Flora, Victoria, pounds 5.99/37.5cl


n De Praisac Champagne NV, pounds 12.99

n Chorey les Beaune 1995, Tollot Beaut, pounds 11.49

Sauternes 1996, Sichel, pounds 11.99