An informal survey of what friends overseas are going to be drinking at Christmas turns up some interesting takes on the Big Day. Essi from Finland says, "The Finnish Christmas table is just about the toughest challenge you can give to a wine, because of the copious quantities of Baltic herring in vinaigrette and mustard sauce, gravadlax, cold smoked salmon and fish roes with chopped onion and sour cream." Sounds like heaven to me.
While she's washing that down with an Austrian grner veltliner from Prager or Hirtzberger, she might also be knocking back an "obligatory glög", a sort of a spiced glhwein, served with almonds and raisins. Rosi, my Estonian hairdresser, has roast pork washed down by red bordeaux, liquorice-flavoured vodka and cognac or would if she weren't pregnant. With the statutory goose, Becky, from New York, but an honorary burgundian, will be enjoying a white burgundy from Jean-Noël Gagnard, followed by a Fred Mugnier Chambolle Musigny, Les Amoureuses. Mouth, stop watering.
It has. At the prospect of Ravi and Nadia's Bhutan adventure. Normally it's a bucks fizz for breakfast, white wine and champagne for lunch and mulled wine in the evening, but they are heading for the mountains of Bhutan, where they'll be indulging in chang, which apparently is the local spirit made from wheat, millet, corn or rice. Rie returns to her home in Japan, where she'll drink sake. And because New Year is a more important time for the family, the first thing to pass her lips on New Year's Day will be omiki, the holy sake which is said to purify spirit and body.
I will be taking a Gekkeikan junmai daiginjo sake to Australia with me, and speaking of holy wine, a 1999 Fontodi vinsanto. The liquorous 1990 Vin Santo del Chianti Rufina, is available from Marks & Spencer, 15. Alessandro meanwhile, from Venice, will be knocking back novello with fish on Christmas Eve (no meat for the Italians), and then wash down an enormous table of bollito misto (mixed boiled meats) next day with copious quantities of strong Amarone della Valpolicella.
Most of my friends in the wine trade can't wait for an excuse for a guilt-free raid of their painstakingly accumulated cellars. Karen, her sister and mother manage to avoid unseemly family rows in the kitchen by having plenty of Austrian riesling to hand, plus sparkling vouvray, champagne and mature claret for Christmas Day, not forgetting Madeira for Boxing Day. Her father loves southern Rhône.
It's a big decision working out what wine goes with what at Christmas, even for those in the trade. And let's face it, it can be hard work keeping tempers from fraying by ensuring the whites are chilled, the reds not too warm but just so, and the sparkling wines opened without putting an eye out.
Friends outside the wine trade are probably more typical. Annie and the family enjoy a special bottle or two. They don't know a huge amount about wine and don't have a cellar, but because they're all prepared to spend a bit more, she troops off to her local wine merchant and will happily pay the extra for good advice on wines she feels confident they'll all enjoy.
Three more shopping days could still be enough for your own drinking needs and, of course, presents of wine are always gratefully received at this time of year. And if you've been really clever you will have held on to my 50 Best wines in last Saturday's Independent for last-minute ideas.
If you have any spare cash left after the blow-dry, the new party shoes, the stockpile of food, the presents for spouse issue, parents, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts and grandparents (and that doesn't even deal with the pets), the under and over 10 red and whites sections should suit your Christmas drinking and partying, while if you're stumped for an idea for gifts, the sections on sweet wines, sparkling and fortified should help.
I think we've finally cracked it. We've persuaded our parents-in-law to dispense with the traditional Christmas lunch of roast turkey and Christmas pudding in 35C, I ask you and go with a seafood barbie with all the red shiraz bubbles, Aussie riesling and semillon we can lay our hands on. Father Christmas sweating profusely in a kangaroo-drawn sleigh may not be quite the same as back home, but I think I can get the hang of it.