By Maurice Lee, Cellar Master
IT’S HARD to avoid the Christmas spirit with the shops gaily decorated and their windows displaying a homely Yuletide appearance. Wine shops attract customers with ‘special’ offers, but you have to ask yourself the question: Will these offers help decide which wine will bring Christmas cheer to the table? Unless you know the wines, I suggest you take extreme care. They may be offers, but they are seldom ‘special’.
A Castelão (Periquita) varietal was on offer at an exceptionally good price. That’s great if you like the Periquita grape, but not so great if you don’t. Be sure you know what you’re buying.
Another offer was for six for two red wines. Included was a non vintage Spanish Vino de Mesa which, the leaflet said, could rival many Riojas! There was a French Vin de Pays, an unclassified Chilean, a nondescript Argentinean, (no wine region) and an Italian Indicazione Geographica Tipica, presumably from Veneto as the name ‘Soave’ appears. Finally, an Australian wine from Wiseman’s crossing, wherever that is. There’s a saying in Ireland: “Never buy a rabbit without a head for fear it’s a cat.” So, why buy a wine that you don’t know anything about? I’m not telling you to avoid these offers, just be careful.
Advice for Christmas
I am not going to recommend a wine to accompany your Christmas lunch. Masters of Wine will suggest one of the following to go with turkey: dry or medium white, old red Burgundies, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or a South African one. Chilean or Argentinean reds, or the best reds you can afford.
A friend of mine only drinks Liebfraumilch, no matter what she’s eating, I say good luck to you Angela. Wine buffs and snobs might giggle when they hear that, but at least Angela knows what she likes.
Buffs and snobs read wine guides and buy the author’s favourites, convincing themselves that they like them. Interestingly, Liebfraumilch is still the biggest selling German wine in the UK. It is classified as a medium white, having 18g of residual sugar and, seeing that a medium white is suggested by these Masters of Wine, what’s their problem? The range of wines they suggest is so great, that in reality they agree with me when I say … drink what you like.
My suggestion for Christmas, or other special occasions is this: whatever wine you know you like, push the boat out and upgrade it.
In Portugal, find the wine you like, and ask for a Reserva, which will have been aged for two, three or more years. The year of harvest (vintage) will be on the label. A Garrafeira is wine from an exceptional harvest. The reds spend at least two years in cask and another year in bottle before going on the market. A white Garrafeira has to age for six months before bottling, followed by a further six months in bottle.
If your tipple is Italian Chianti, try Classico, or Classico Reserva.
Go up a level from Beaujolais AC to Cru Beaujolais, like Morgon, Fleurie, or Brouilly. Maybe you fancy Chablis, which is 100 per cent Chardonnay. For this occasion, go for a Chablis Premier Cru, or a Grand Cru.
A bit of sparkle
Cava is a very good Spanish sparkler, but buy a brand name, Freixenet or Codorníu, and not a supermarket brand. Brut is dry. Don’t over chill it though, like Oz Clarke, Master of Wine suggests. According to him, you serve it as cold as possible and to do that you add cooking salt to the iced water and put the bottle in it. Do that and you might just as well serve sparkling water.
If you want a Rioja, drink Reserva or Gran Reserva, the Gran Reserva reds spending two years in cask and three in bottle before hitting the market.
Another white you might like to try is Alsace Riesling or Sylvaner. Made from 100 per cent of the named grape, the wine is fermented dry, but you’ll get the true flavour of the grape. Diabetics note that there isn’t any residual sugar in the wine.
If you’re going to finish your meal with Port, don’t spend a lot of money on Vintage Port. A Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) Port is also from a single harvest, about a quarter of the price and you won’t have to decant it. Ten-year-old Port is more than acceptable, with its slight mahogany colour and a hint of nuts. A nice alternative is Madeira Doce.
I’ll quote from an article as an example of ‘what not to do’. Tom Parker Bowles writes: “Hold the chilled Chablis, drink Hot Krupnik instead.” He writes on food and drink and, while he may know something about food, he knows nothing about drink. I wonder has he ever tasted Chablis, chilled or otherwise? How can anyone tell you to ‘hold’ one of the best Chardonnays in the world and drink a honey flavoured vodka instead? It beggars belief. Maybe another white Burgundy, but certainly not a flavoured vodka.
I’d like to wish all readers and the team at The Resident, a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.
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