• Simon Reilly

Wineloon's wines for Christmas

I have had a few requests from wineloon readers (yes people actually read this shit) for some Christmas wine recommendations. Specifically wines that are under £20 and under £10. I can confirm that all the requests came from tight arsed Scots (note, I am Scottish so this is not offensive). The irony being that their government has banned all bulk discounting on booze so finding wine gold under £10 is even more difficult for them. Gotta love the SNP.

Anyway, enough politics. Back to the task in hand. How could I refuse. It's not exactly a trial. I am a geek. I like nothing better than trawling through wine retailer website searching for lumps of wine gold.

I have tried to focus on friendly merchants who will sell you a few bottles rather than a case and don't cripple you with delivery charges. And of course the supermarkets.

Let's start with the fizz.

Now there is a lot of cheap champagne out there but it's generally pretty crap. You're better buying fizz from elsewhere or trade up a bit. If you must buy cheap champagne, and both Aldi and Lidl are selling bottles for £9.99, I'd go for the Aldi one. I've tried both and the Lidl one is horrible. It tastes like cider made in a soda stream. The Aldi one is drinkable. It's called Veuve Monsigny. I still wouldn't buy it though.

If you are quick, Sainsbury's are doing 25% of all wine this week so go and buy some Piper Heidseick Brut for £19 down from £30 and if you buy 6 bottles of any wine you'll get another 25% off. That's only £4.26 more than the soda stream cider. Come on it's Christmas!

Of course, you won't get the 25% off in Scotland (devolved government is great isn't it?), so if £19 is a bit rich, you need to look beyond champagne.

My go to fizz is Cremant de Loire, made from Chenin Blanc instead of Chardonnay. Try Langlois Chateau's Cremant de Loire, at £12.75 from ND John. I was drinking this when I proposed to my wife so I may be a bit biased. But trust me it's good. If you don't believe me consider that Langlois is owned by Bollinger, who are no slouches in the fizzy wine department. Nuff said. ND John allow you to buy just a few bottles and their delivery charge is reasonable. They also have a few other wines you may want to add to your order (more later).

If you prefer pink fizz, Majestic also have a Langlois Chateau rose fizz for £12.99, or £9.99 if you buy any six bottles. Its called L’Extra Par Langlois and is a much better way to spend £9.99 than buying the Lidl or Aldi champagnes. There is also a white version for the same price.

If you want to really splash out (I'm talking £30 a bottle) the best fizz I've had this year is Canadian. In a recent blind tasting I ranked all three of Benjamin Bridge's sparkling wines higher than 2006 Cristal which costs Puff Daddy and Rio Ferdinand more than £150 a bottle. Benjamin Bridge wines available from Friarwood.

The cooking wine

Being the one who cooks the Christmas dinner in our house, I have created my own little tradition of drinking a full bottle of wine to myself as I prepare the meal. To enable me to function for the rest of the day this obviously needs to be low in alcohol. It also needs to be sweet and delicious.

German Riesling, of the “fruity” variety, ticks all of these boxes. Fruity is used to describe German wines which are off-dry or sweet, as opposed to “trocken” which means dry. Fruity Rieslings are generally about 7-8% alcohol and taste of tropical fruits, minerals and citrus. Absolutely delicious to sip at over a long spell in the kitchen on Christmas Day.

If you’d like to join me in this wonderful Christmas tradition, you could do little better than buy a bottle of JJ Prum’s Kabinett, 2011 from Corney & Barrow for £15.95. If you think this is a bit steep and just want to dip your toe into the wonderful world of German Riesling then pick up a bottle of Dr Loosen’s “L” Riesling from Sainsbury’s for £7, or £5.25 if you buy any six wines from Sainsbury’s this weekend.

The whites

I tend to stay quite traditionalist at Christmas and like to drink white Burgundy with my starter (which is usually prawn cocktail or iberico ham and melon), normally a Chablis Premier Cru by Christain Moreau or JP Droin. These are generally more than £20, but given that 2014 was one of the best white Burgundy vintages in recent memory, a village Chablis from a good producer in 2014 is not far off Premier Cru quality. JP Droin’s 2014 Chablis is available from Uncorked for £17.50 or £15.50 if you buy 6.

An interesting alternative to white Burgundy would be an Assyrtiko from the Greek island of Santorini. One of my favourite white wines, these are delicious minerally wines which work really well with a range of foods, including the turkey. My favourite Assyrtiko is Gaia’s “Wild Ferment”. The 2015 vintage is available from Winetrust for £19. A cheaper alternative, which is also excellent is the Hatzidakis Assyrtiko, available from Waitrose for £12.99.

If you don’t fancy drinking a wine you can’t spell, an Australian Riesling might be worth a try. Unlike the German ones I mentioned earlier these are not sweet, but bone-dry with flavours of lime and straw and go well with a lot of different foods. A good one worth trying is the Peter Lehman Wigan Riesling 2010, at £12.49 from Slurp. I enjoyed a bottle of the 2009 last week.

If you want to drink white wine with your turkey, white Burgundy is the way to go, but rather than the more steely wines from Chablis, I’d head further south to the Macon region of Burgundy. The wines here are fuller and richer than those from Chablis and are better suited to the richer flavours in your turkey trimmings. My favourite Macon producer is Domaine Bongran. They make a sensational Vire Clesse, but it is quite pricey at £28 from Lea & Sandeman. A cheaper option is their Macon Villages 2013, which is not as rich, but still a very good wine. It is £18.99 from Adnams.

Another great Burgundy worth considering is Gerard Thomas’s Les Murgers Des Dents Du Chien Premier Cru St-Aubin 2014. A fantastic wine from the stellar 2014 vintage, it is a bit over £20 at £21.49 from Waitrose. St-Aubin is the appellation next to the posh and expensive Puligny-Montrachet, and it has come on leaps and bounds in recent years.

If you want a cheaper alternative to white Burgundy, I have a couple of options. The first is a white Rioja. Rioja is better known for its reds but there are some excellent barrel fermented wines in Burgundy which are a similar weight to white burgundy. The Cune barrel fermented Rioja blanco, is a good example and is currently available for only £8.79 from Waitrose. Another excellent example is Muga’s Rioja blanco, 2014, only £9.99 from Uncorked.

The other option is an aged Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley. Vouvray is the most renowned appellation for Chenin Blanc in the Loire Valley. The wines of Domaine Huet are world class and well worth seeking out, but are expensive. A cheaper option is the Saumur Champigny Vielle Vignes 2005 from the Langlois Chateau. Like the Langlois fizz I mentioned earlier, this is available from ND John. At 13.95 for a wine that is more than ten years old, I think this is fantastic value. This will be rich and unctuous and would go very well with your turkey.

Fancy an orange?

If you really want to impress (or possibly scare off) your family this Christmas you could crack open an orange wine. Orange wine is effectively a white wine made like a red wine. Normally a white wine is made just from the juice of the grapes, whereas red wines are made with the skins left in the tank for a period of several days or weeks. Orange wines are made in the same way as red but with white grapes, and the skins of the grapes give the wines an orange tinge. These are also referred to as “skin contact” wines in reference to the technique of leaving the juice in contact with the skins for an extended period. It gives the wine more tannins and weight. It would certainly be an interesting experiment to serve this with the turkey.

A good orange wine I have had recently is a South African one from Marks & Spencer (£14) called Fides, made from Grenache Blanc. Give it a go, I dare you. Don’t serve it too cold, maybe just put it in the fridge for about half an hour before serving it. You want it to be about halfway between red and white wine serving temperature.

Come on you reds

I like to drink red wine with my turkey, but not one that is too heavy. Ideally it has a touch of sweetness, but good acidity to keep the palate fresh and to cut through the greasy chipolatas. If you are looking for good value, look no further than Portugal. I love Portugese wines. They are generally really interesting as they are typically made from indigenous grapes not grown much outside Portugal like Touriga Nacional. Niepoort is one of my favourite Portugese producers and their Dao Rotulo 2013, at £11.50 from the Wine Society, is fruity and spicy and would be great with turkey and other roast meats.

Red wines with sweetness and spice work well at Christmas. Two grapes I’d recommend which offer this are Syrah and Nebbiolo. The best Syrah, in my opinion comes from the Northern Rhone, but it can be expensive. A good option that sneaks under the £20 barrier is La Rosine 2014 by Stephane Ogier, available for £19.95 from Berry Brothers and Rudd. If this is too much for you a Rhone Valley staple of mine for years has been Guigal’s Cotes du Rhone. It is consistently good and offers value for money. The 2012 is available from Majestic for £11.49 and sneaks under a tenner at £9.99 if you buy any six bottles.

If you fancy trying something a bit different I’d heartily recommend a Nebbiolo. Hailing from Piedmont in Northern Italy, the most famous Nebbiolo is from Barolo and Barbaresco. But these are expensive, so I have a couple of alternatives. A Langhe Nebbiolo from a good Barolo or Barbaresco producer is an excellent introduction to the grape. An good example is the Langhe Nebbiolo from the Produttori del Barbaresco, available from Tannico for £15.99 for either the 2014 or 2015 vintage. I’d go for 2014.

Incidentally they also have the 2013 Barbaresco from the same producer reduced from £30 to £20.90. I’d be tempted to buy a bottle or two at that price and stash them away for a few years. The 2007 and 2008 versions in my cellar are drinking very well just now.

An even better Nebbiolo is the Carema Classico 2013 from the Produttori dei Carema, available from Astrum for £18. I visited this estate earlier this year and this is one of my favourite wines. It is absolutely delicious now and will keep for ten years and more if you can keep your hands off it.

If you want to keep it more traditionalist you can always stick with Bordeaux. My go to value Bordeaux is from Chateau Tour St Bonnet. The 2011 is £11 from wine society and is available from a range of other merchants if you are not a member. Incidentally, I haven’t tried it but Aldi have a classed growth Bordeaux called Chateau Saint-Pierre for £19.99, which is about half the price it is being sold by some London merchants. If you like a bargain, this is worth a pop. If you drink it now, decant it for an hour or two before serving.

A good value alternative to Bordeaux is Rioja. I think Rioja is one of the world’s under-priced regions. There is great value at the Riserva level and many of the best producers are stocked by the supermarkets so are easy to get hold of. Waitrose has 20% of Rioja just now so its even better value. Try the Cune Riserva 2012 for £9.99 or trade up to La Rioja Alta Vina Arana Riserva 2008 for £15.99 which will have much more complexity.

Pass the Port

Its Christmas, you need to drink port. It’s the law. There’s nothing better than settling into your armchair once the kids are finally bed and drinking a whole bottle of port to yourself is there? Oh, just me then..

If you are going to indulge, I’d recommend you go for a 10 year old tawny. You should get one for about £20 just now and the supermarkets stock the major shippers who all produce good versions. Look out for Graham, Taylor, Croft, Dow’s, Usbourne, Niepoort. You can’t go far wrong.

If £20 is a bit too much, Waitrose have an excellent tawny port (not quite 10 years old, but 7 apparently) by Kopke, the oldest port producer around. Give that a go.

If you fancy being a bit adventurous, a good alternative to port is Banyuls, from the South of France. I have enjoyed the Cuvée Leon Parce by Domaine de la Rectorie this year. The 2013 is available for £16 from the Wine Society.

Party wine

Aside from the main event you will need some wine to serve to guests who pop in over the festive period. The only way to go this year is to bag some Bagnums.

Bagnums are £1.5 litre (i.e two bottles or a magnum worth) bags of wine. A magnum of wine in a bag, Bagnum, get it? Not just any wine, these are handcrafted by Andrew Nielsen of Le Grappin. Andrew is an Aussie who splits his time between Forest Hill in South-East London and Beaune in Burgundy where he makes his wines.

The wines are made from Gamay from Beaujolais (Rouge), Pinot Noir from Burgundy (Rose) and Chardonnay from the Macon in Burgundy (Blanc). You can leave them in the fridge, hang them from your belt or wherever you like. The beauty is the wine will stay fresh for about three weeks so you can drink one glass or the whole bag depending on the occasion. Bagnums are £26 and are available from Prohibition Wines or direct from Le Grappin.

Anyway, that’s enough from me. Have a great Christmas, enjoy your wine, and don't be a tight-arse. Trade up where you can, it's Christmas!