The 12 wines of Christmas

Don't leave anything to chance! The key to a successful festive season is military planning, says our wine expert.

Let us imagine the scene: the table is resplendent with candles, the best cutlery, the crispest linen. Cooking smells waft from the kitchen. You have all enjoyed nibbling canapés and sipping one of the less ostentatious, but more sophisticated, champagnes you prided yourself on sourcing. And now, as the organic goose is carved, you select the moderately expensive, elegant claret airing on the sideboard. A sparkling crystal glass in your hand, you take a casual sniff before pouring. Instantly, your benevolent smile freezes. The musty smell and a discreet sip confirm your fears: it's corked, undrinkable. But you don't panic – another bottle is ready. Phew. Until it's knocked over by your daughter as she reaches for red cabbage.

Never mind the mess; your mind is spinning, making frantic, ruthless calculations – you have approximately three-quarters of a bottle for six people. Not enough. Maybe someone will continue with the champagne? No – all gone. What about that leftover half-bottle of supermarket plonk? Nope, most went into the jus. It wasn't that good anyway.

In desperation, your food congealing, you head for your dusty garage-cum-wine-cellar, cursing for thinking two would suffice. Argh. Just one bottle of the decent stuff left; the consequence of a particularly enjoyable eve-of-Christmas Eve. This bottle is also very cold and by the time it has warmed up, you will all be on to the port and Stilton...

Aghast, you remember again: the 20-year-old vintage port was polished off during your most recent dinner party. You forgot to buy any more. Slinking back into your seat – a cobwebby wreck – you witness the last claret being poured into someone else's glass and your father-in-law seeking a refill. Shuddering, you grasp your garage-chilled claret and head for the microwave...

All of this shows that the secret of successful Christmas drinking is military-style planning, because this is no time to leave anything to chance. Ensure, as you hunker down for the season, that you have enough supplies in-house to cater for all eventualities over several days and for meals involving several different types of alcohol – from a half-decent bottle on Christmas Eve, some mid-priced but respectable gluggers for unexpected guests and lunchtime leftovers, to something for suddenly thirsty relatives and all the ingredients for a restorative Bloody Mary – what, no celery salt? And that extra special bottle for a special meal.

Consult a good wine dealer, avoid last-minute, tears-before-bedtime trips to off-licences. Uncork, decant and taste reds and ports well in advance so they are warm, aired and to ascertain that they are precisely what you have paid for. Do not assume that all cheeses need red wines – smelly Vacherin demands a brisk, minerally white to cut through farmyard flavours, while roast beef will overwhelm a light red. Do not over-chill fine whites. Rosé is never a winter drink – unless it sparkles. Use cheap brandy to flame Christmas pudding, not your aged Armagnac.

Shrink from experimentation – do not risk opening that juicy red brought from Croatia in the summer – and shun the Hungarian sparkler on supermarket special offer or the half-drunk bottle of port sitting in the cupboard since last year. The former will rarely deserve its billing – that discount will have a reason – and the latter will have gone off.

So much for the secret of seasonal drinking. What about the secret pleasures? Enough for several pages, undeniably, but here are some: drinking champagne on Christmas morning, surrounded by happy children and wrapping paper mountains; and the many perfect marriages of food and drink – that tingling, briny, mouthful of oyster and Chablis, the sensually satisfying, once-a-year combinations of robust red wines and rich meats, warm mince pies and chilled sherry, Christmas pudding and port...

For me, these are a given. It is the accidental, incidental treats that offer most satisfaction – the guilty pleasure of Buck's Fizz and scrambled eggs in bed, the unexpected mulled wine after a Boxing Day walk, the last glass – always the best – of a really fine red with random lunchtime assemblies of cold meats and pickles. And the joy of sitting, at least once, in front of a late-night fire, in good company, with a bowl of walnuts and a bottle of aged tawny. Assuming you remembered to buy some, of course.

SPARKLING

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Yellow Label NV

One of the great names of champagne, Madame Clicquot's Yellow Label is a sophisticated aperitif for any festive celebration. A very fine mousse, delicately brioche-like on the palate, and a nice lingering finish. Ideal for canapés and crostini, but maybe also best supped, pyjama-clad, opening presents on Christmas morning. £29 (as part of a minimum purchase of six mixed bottles; normally £39), majestic.co.uk; £34.99, most major supermarkets

Jean-Paul Morel Reserve

Authentic, individual, artisanal champagne from Jean-Paul Morel, head of the co-operative in the Grand Cru village of Verzenay, most of whose grapes go to the big names. This is what he does with the remainder: aged for four years to allow the mellow, yeasty flavours to develop, this has real depth and the body to stand up to strong-flavoured nibbles or first courses. £23.99, champagnewarehouse.com

Philippe Michel, Cremant Du Jura

Stunningly good-value, award-winning wine, made in the Jura from 100 per cent Chardonnay grapes using the méthode champenoise. Bubbles that explode in the mouth, fresh tastes of apples and pears and a zingy touch of citrus make this an ideal sparkler for parties, as a base for Bellinis or Buck's Fizz or as an excellent aperitif. Then make your guests guess the price. £6.99, Aldi

WHITES

Sequillo 2008

A fabulously full-bodied blend from Eben Sadie, one of South Africa's most interesting producers. A mix of mainly Chenin Blanc with white Grenache, Viognier and Rousanne delivers an intense mouthful that develops on the palate with masses of tropical citrus fruits and notes of straw, nuts and honey, but finishes dry and fresh. Drink with richer foods, prime fish or pungent, soft cheeses. £14.95, thewinesociety.com; £16.65, slurp.co.uk

Les Domaines Brocard Chablis 2007

A classic steely, mineral Chablis from one of Burgundy's top wine-makers makes a refined partner for smoked salmon, tuna carpaccio, oysters or similar starters. Clean, white-fruit flavours are balanced by some light, earthy touches – deriving from the organic production methods – which together produce a long, satisfying finish. £14.99, Marks & Spencer

Rioja Muga Blanca 2010

A very modern wine from one of Rioja's oldest houses, based in Haro, where there is a bodega on almost every corner. Barrel fermentation in new oak gives a spicy, vanilla edge to very fresh and appealing flavours of lemons and limes, which together make this a good accompaniment for, say, a Christmas Eve carp, vegetable dishes or a tapas selection. £8.99 (each, when two are purchased as part of a minimum of six mixed bottles; normally £10.99), majestic.co.uk

REDS

Lirac Clos de Sixte 2006

Almost wild; massive flavours of spices, dark chocolate and black fruits characterise this rustic, brooding beast of a wine from the southern Rhône, created by the highly rated producer Alain Jaume from a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre grown close to Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Perfect for a Christmas Day goose or blue cheeses. Decant, but beware the 15 per cent alcohol content! £15.99, ewwines.co.uk; £16.99, lastdropwines.com

La Croix des Rameaux Brouilly 2009

It may hail from one of the Beaujolais villages but this is more like a Burgundy or Rhône bottle, the normally lightweight gamey grape deriving real finesse and understated power from 80-year-old vines. With succulent black- and blueberry flavours, a fresh texture and a fantastic earthy, mineral finish, it is an excellent match for roast turkey or chicken. £20.70, exelwines.co.uk; £21.79, agwines.com (minimum purchase six bottles); £21.99, lescaves.co.uk (2010 vintage)

Los Molles Carménère 2009

A lip-smackingly smooth and succulent Carménère from Chile, where the grape is performing some wondrous feats. It is well-balanced, with oaky, smoky, base notes countering the upfront juicy fruit flavours. A terrific all-purpose, very approachable wine that is good with Mediterranean-style dishes, great with cold meats or simply ideal as a party wine. £9.49, Marks & Spencer

FORTIFIED

Taylor's 10-Year-Old Tawny

Different to vintage port, tawnys come from careful blending of different wines kept in cask for an average of 10 years (or up to 40, depending on the size of your wallet) and the result is layers of satisfyingly mellow nutty and figgy flavours, becoming more acutely sherry- or even brandy- like with age. The port to drink fireside, with a plate of strong cheeses, fruit and a bowl of walnuts. £19.99, Waitrose; £20.29, Sainsburys; £17.99 (as part of a minimum purchase of six mixed bottles; normally £21), majestic.co.uk

Graham's Late Bottled Vintage 2006

Rich, concentrated liquorice and ripe jammy, red-fruit flavours abound in this accessible port, matured in oak for five years to give it a vintage style, yet still relatively youthful and drinkable. Give it plenty of time to breathe, but once opened port must be drunk within a week or so. For the richest and sweetest desserts as well as the Cropwell Bishop Stilton. £12.99, most major supermarkets

Campbell's Rutherglen Muscat

An Aussie "sticky" that sums up the season in a glass – fabulous floral aromas giving way to luscious and honeyed flavours, full of sweet dried fruits such as raisins, dates and apricots, but with a surprisingly clean edge that prevents it from being too cloying, and a taste that lingers forever. Drink lightly chilled with Christmas pudding or cake, mincemeat tart and blue cheeses. £10.99, Waitrose, Ocado, adnams.co.uk

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    ICE ICT: Lead Business Consultant

    £39,000: ICE ICT: Specific and detailed knowledge and experience of travel sys...

    Day In a Page

    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

    Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map