Fine writing? Keen insights? You cannot be serious, as John McEnroe used to say. It's Christmastime, so I offer my semi-regular Yuletide shopping list: a handful of wines from most of the major national retailers. This exercise is based on the assumption that you just want to buy wine wherever you're buying your mince pies, crackers and other festive essentials - or at least in one stop. This year's lists show a notable lack of respect for certain Christmas traditions. Does it have to be champagne to start, claret to continue, and Port to finish? Sometimes, but not always. Happy shopping.
JS has an ample selection of the usual champagnes, but if you want an apéritif with a difference - and with real distinction - why not go German? Ruppertsberger Riesling 2002 (£5.99), a modern-style dry wine from the Pfalz, is a perfect whetter of appetites that would also go well with smoked salmon. Continuing the unorthodox selection, move to South Africa for the nicely restrained Graham Beck Viognier 2003 (£6.99), and the really sweetly oaked Excelsior Estate Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2001, Robert-son (£8.99). Or, if it must be claret, then Sainsbury's Classic Selection Margaux 2000 (£12.99), is ready-to-drink elegance from the Château d'Angludet. And to finish, back to the Pfalz with an outstanding sweetie, Ruppertsberger Riesling Eiswein (£14.99).
Waitrose's own-label champagnes continue to reign supreme among UK supermarkets. The full but exquisitely fresh black-grape flavours of its Blanc de Noirs NV (£13.99) offer high quality at a great price. Smoked salmon would welcome a bottle of Vouvray Haut-Lieu Sec 2000 (£10.99), from the great Loire house of Huet. Lovely Chenin Blanc fruit and big acidity. Afterwards, there's plenty of pleasure in Vina La Rosa Don Reca Merlot 2002 (£9.99), a nicely oaked wine from one of Chile's best producers. If it must be claret, Château Cambon La Pelouse 2001 (£11.99) is a well-structured wine with hefty tannins. To finish, instead of port, how about a syrupy-rich sherry: Lustau East India Solera Rich Oloroso (£10.99)? Or the fantastically rich Henriques & Henriques 15-Year-Old Verdelho (£16.99)? You don't have to finish with port, you know.
There's a pair of Burgundies here to suit all budgets: the Blason de Bourgogne Macon Villages (£4.98), a solid example with clean fruit and good acidity; and a Michel Laroche Chablis Premier Cru 2001 (£12.81) with a touch of oak underlying its lemony-fresh fruit. That's if you can resist the temptation of Veuve Clicquot 1995, with a selling price (£36.87) that, though a lot, buys loads of quality. If you feel like pushing the boat out, the Château Lacoste-Borie 2000 (£14.98) is a big Pauillac from a consistently out-performing estate. If the boat's staying moored, the Gigondas 2001 from Louis Bernard (£8.97) is a good Rhône alternative, with fine spice and soft tannins. Asda doesn't do much in the way of sweet wines but Dow's Crusted 1998 port (£13.48) is a splendid way to get through the rigours of Christmas pudding.
You'll find all the usual champagnes at Oddbins, plus a few extras, but at apéritif time, take a lateral step into Viognier 2002, Vin de Pays de la Drome, from the house of Delas (£6.49). Hallmark Viognier peachiness with a steely backbone and mineral qualities. Among white Burgundies, best value comes from one of the cheaper bottles: Macon-Bussieres Le Clos 2002, Verget (£11.99), with lovely texture and some tropical, un-Burgundian flavours. When it's time for turkey, two unorthodox, claret-free suggestions. One: Quinta do Crasto Reserva 2000 (£10.99), one of the Douro's best table wines, guaranteed to bring smiles all round. Number two: the well-structured Brookland Verse 1 Cabernet/Merlot 2000 (£8.99), from a tiptop producer in Margaret River. Claret-lovers and curiosity-seekers: seek out Heartland Wirrega Petit Verdot 2002, Limestone Coast (£7.99). Among sweeties, the Stella Bella Pink Muscat 2003 (£6.99), also from Margaret River, is a charming bottle at a friendly price.
Marks & Spencer
M&S's champagne offer is hard to beat: its excellent Oudinot Brut NV, made solely with Chardonnay, is down from £14.99 to £9.99 until the end of the year. To accompany a first course or oysters, its Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume 2000 (£12.99) is softly oaked and has classic Chablis steeliness. Pirque Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2003 (£6.99), an elegant Chilean, would make a good alternative if you like this grape with a touch of oak. Among several good clarets, Margaux 2000 (£12.99, or two for £20), aged at Château Brane Cantenac, and Château Haut-Carmaillet 2000, Haut Médoc (£9.99), are both winners. Though if you don't need claret, I'd urge you to consider a kiwi claret substitute: Kaituna Hills Reserve Cabernet/ Merlot 2000 (£7.99), a good juicy example of user-friendly New Zealand winemaking. And its own-label Twenty-Year-Old Tawny (£19.99) is a textbook tawny with loads of sleek almond-and-raisin fruit.
Safeway's Albert Etienne Brut Champagne (£11.99) has always been a reliable performer at a low price, though splurging tendencies should guide you to Lanson Gold Label 1996 at £27.99, a good price for vintage champagne of this quality. Further splurging can take place with a pair of terrific Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume, William Fevre 2000 (£19.99) and Jean Dauvissat 1998 (£21.99). Or venture into the Antipodes with Jim Barry the Lodge Riesling 2002, Clare Valley (£8.99). For reds, take another step off the beaten path and look at Chile. First of all, at Casa Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Merlot 1999 (£12.99), a mature vintage ready to drink now. And second of all, and even better, at Caballo Loco No 6 (£14.99), one of Chile's best wines when it's on form - as it is in this incarnation. To finish, one of two ports from Taylor's: its unimpeachable 10-Year-Old Tawny (£16.99) or the 1998 LBV (£10.99) for lovers of the richer vintage style.
A magnum of Tesco's Premier Cru Brut Champagne (£29.99) would make an impressive start to any Christmas meal. But to help with the smoked salmon, I'd be tempted by Vouvray Demi-Sec Gaston Dorleans (£5.99), lovely honeyed wine with nice cutting acidity. Moving into claret, Château Grange Neuve 2000, Pomerol (£21.99) has all you'd expect from a blend dominated by Merlot on its finest territory. But a Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages might serve just as well, Perrin's gorgeously peppery Vacqueyras Les Christins 2001 (£9.99), for instance. Tim Adams Shiraz 2001 (£8.99) is the Antipodean alternative, dense and well balanced. Port required? Dows Quinta do Bomfim 1995 (£20.04) is a beauty.
Always good for champagne offers, and this year I'd pick up Jacquart Brut Mosaique, made from black grapes and selling at £14.99 (from £19.99) if you buy two. But if you want an apéritif that's really different and distinctive, try Bourgogne Aligoté 2002, Cave de Genouilly (£5.99), the "other" white wine of Burgundy, or the impeccably steely, floral Knappstein Hand Picked Riesling 2002 (£6.99), from Australia's best Riesling territory. For reds, the Crozes-Hermitage 2000, Domaine de Thalabert, from the house of Paul Jaboulet (£12.99), is on fine form this year. For claret diehards, Chateau Caronne St-Gemme 2000, a cru bourgeois from the Haut-Médoc (£9.99 special offer) is performing nearly as well as some bottles costing 50 per cent more.Reuse content