Christmas is the season to be jolly and to help you make the most of the festive months I’ve selected five of my favourite Christmas classics from Oz Clarke 250 Best Wines 2012. From exciting champagnes to sumptuous sweets, there is something on this list for every occasion. Enjoy!
What’s your favourite Christmas song? ‘Ding Dong Merrily’? Sir Cliff’s ‘Mistletoe and Wine’? Well there’s a new one this year. I’m going to be singing ‘Rule Britannia’. Rule Britannia?! Why? Because Christmas time is fizz time – there’s a special affinity between Christmas and fizz – it sets any party rocketing into life, adds magic to Christmas Day and boosts flagging spirits on the comedown. And right now English fizz is among the best in the business – right up there with Champagne and its finest new world imitators, but also thrillingly different.
Waitrose, Averys (01275 812230 www.averys.com), D Byrne (01200 423152 www.dbyrne-finewines.co.uk), Oxford Wine Co (01865 301144 www.oxfordwine.co.uk), £28.99-29.99
It was Nyetimber who started the whole idea of English fizz being able to take on – and beat – the world. There’s some very ripe, almost raisined, fruit in there as well as the traditional deep flavours of loft apples, months old but still good to eat, and some syrupy yeasty roundness to soothe the customary Nyetimber acidity.
Sherry is going through a period of rediscovery, a confidence-boosting realization that its brilliant traditions and the legion of different flavours the old methods can create are the future as well as the past. Now, here’s a glass for Santa, just one, you understand. Cherish the rest for yourself. For high days and holidays, and especially Christmas, an incredibly concentrated dry sherry is just the ticket.
Manzanilla San León, Bodegas Argüeso, Spain, 15% abv
You want dry sherry? It doesn’t come much drier than this. Manzanilla is the palest and, often, the most delicate of sherries, but don’t come here for delicacy. Come here for a shocking, brilliant haughtiness, an almost arrogant disregard for dumbing down and smoothing out. This has a high cheek-boned serenity that you’ll love or hate, a dryness like old banisters, like house dust settling on ancient floorboards scrubbed clean a thousand times; the fruit is like a pale unripe apple peering nervously into watery sunlight, and whatever softness it has is that of bread dough before it’s baked. Don’t ask me why, but it reminded me of the Bates Motel in Psycho. The banisters, perhaps.
Now, everyone thinks a smart red wine is the top drop – and it is, if you’re feasting on beef or lamb. But if you’re talking turkey white goes just as well as reds. A mealtime white has to juggle the richness to accompany the food with a streak of acidity to refresh your palate.
M&S Wine Direct, £10.99
This is just what I want Kiwi Sauvignon to be – bursting with the freshness of crisp, juicy cooking apples, zinging with the tart resinous delight of lemon zest, scented with blackcurrant leaf greenness and fresh-ground coffee beans, and dabbed with soft summer earth to temper the banner-waving, palate-cleansing acidity.
Now for the Christmas pudding. Fine sweet wine is uplifting stuff, and a lot of it is available in half bottles – and therefore at half the price.
Majestic, Morrisons, Waitrose, £7.99/50 cl
Torres is best known for dry table wines – red, pink and white – and as anyone who has gone on holiday in Spain knows, they’re everywhere, they seem to follow you around, bar to bar, restaurant to restaurant. This is a newer venture – sweet Muscat – and it’s got a very attractive, slightly floral perfume that sets you up for a soft, fresh wine, full of the sweet juiciness of the Muscat grape mingling with crystallized honey, dates and a twist of orange peel.
After all that festivity on Christmas Day I love to crack open a refreshing rosé with the cold leftovers.
Very pale salmon colour, then a delightful, soft, mellow texture, so it comes as no surprise when the fruit is also mellow, smooth, the apple taste all soft and fluffy and the freshness helped by the merest chew of apple peel. What will surprise you is that this nicely balanced mouthful is only 9% alcohol. Slurp on!