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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
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

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London