Another (Festive) Glass, Please! Wines for Christmas 2018

 

I make no apology for my love of rare and unusual wines. It is, after all, what I do for a living. There are, however, some real finds to be had on the shelves of supermarkets and chain wine merchants and, at this – let’s face it – expensive time of year, what a coup to put something on the table that is both delicious AND affordable.

Here are some of my top seasonal picks, all of which can be found on the High Street. All but two (champagne and port) are under £20, with the majority under a tenner, all punching well above their weight and providing quite extraordinary value for money. Have a wonderful Festive Season – eat, drink, be very, very merry - and cheers to you all!

 

Richard Dudley Craig, Wine Consultant and Importer

 


Here are my top 10 High Street picks for Christmas 2018:


Guigal Cotes du Rhone 2015Guigal Côtes du Rhône 2015 £11.99 now £8.99, available from Waitrose

The red wine of choice during my rookie years in the wine trade was Guigal Côtes du Rhône. Loved wine, no money – what a find it was!

This is by no means the product of a small, single-grower vineyard, situated on a steep slope and surrounded by flocks of goats straight out of Central Casting, but a high-quality blend made from outsourced grapes. Tonnes of (mainly) Syrah and Grenache grapes arrive from the many prestigious growers in the Côtes du Rhône, resulting in a staggering 4m bottles produced each year. In general, wine will reflect the quality of the specific vintage, although one has to marvel at Guigal’s consistency.

Serendipitously, the 2015 vintage was pretty awesome for the whole of the region and that stroke of luck is amply demonstrated here. It is a little fuller and richer than in recent years, with ripe bramble fruit, peppery spice and a balance, freshness and sheer drinkability that makes one eager for second glass.

It is quite widely available at around £12.00, but Waitrose currently has it on offer at £8.99 – 25% off, a steal! Buy a dozen and enjoy now, but it will remain in top-notch condition for the next three years.

 

Tesco Finest Alsace Gewurztraminer 2016Tesco Finest Alsace Gewürztraminer 2016 £9.00, available from Tesco

Alsace is one of those French regions whose wines struggle to sell in the UK. Bottle shape, terminology and deep-seated prejudice regarding wines with a ‘Germanic’ appearance all work against it. However, when you do see a bottle on a supermarket shelf it will, more often than not, usually over-deliver on flavour, quality and value.

Tesco’s Finest Alsace Gewürztraminer is made by Arthur Metz in the village of Marlenheim, the northern part of viticultural Alsace. I’m not going to pretend that this wine is from a tiny independent organic producer, on marl soil, east of the Vosges mountains - because it isn’t. Instead, it comes from a large, modern cooperative, east of the Vosges Mountains, that is supplied by 560 traditional grape-growers from nineteen local villages. (Arthur Metz also supplies several of the larger UK retailers with high-quality varietals, that are technically correct, classic and eminently affordable.)

This wine has everything you’d want from a Gewürtz: classic rose petal and tropical lychee aromas, a rich, velvety texture and a sensationally pleasing balance of acidity and sweetness on the finish. Perhaps at its best paired with chicken liver pâté and toast (brioche, if you can manage it), it also makes a delightful accompaniment to tangy blue cheese, smoked fish, cured ham and other salty nibbles.

 

 

Kopke Colheita 2Kopke Colheita Tawny Port 2000 Vintage, was £30.00, now £24.00, available from Marks & Spencer

Kopke is the world’s oldest port house, founded in 1638 and, although it makes a wide variety of styles, it is for Colheita that it is renowned.

Kopke’s Colheita vintage tawny port is aged in 550 litre barrels for a minimum of seven years and (rather handily) does not contain any sediment or need decanting. It has lost the primary dark berry fruit found in ruby, vintage and Late Bottle Vintage port but has traded it for a barrel-load of nuttily rich, figgy-raisiny dried fruit flavours. Perfect for leisurely sipping and savouring with a Boxing Day bad film bonanza, but also splendid with a mince pie or sliver of Christmas cake - even drizzled over vanilla ice cream. A cracking port and such great value - pour extravagantly!

 

 

Porta 6 2016 Vinho Tinto LisboaPorta 6 2016 Vinho Tinto Lisboa £7.99 (as part of a mixed six) available from Majestic

Another wine story that won’t stop the presses – nevertheless, Porta 6 is a truly terrific blend of indigenous local grapes (Aragonês, Castelão and Touriga Nacional), with stainless steel fermentation, pumping-over (yes, that is the technical term) to extract the colour and flavour, settling, light filtration and bottling. All very modern, all desperately unromantic! 

But… hold that thought. In the glass, it’s a vibrant, crunchy, fresh-fruit-bomb of a wine, rejoicing in glorious cherry and plum flavours with a beautiful balance of fruit, depth, acidity and elegant, round, soft and velvety tannins. By no means the most complex of wines (and purists might possibly complain about its sweet fruitiness), but it’s a joy to drink and oh-so juicy and gluggable. Served slightly chilled, I could not help but recommend it.

 

 

 


Grenaschista Cotes Catalanes 2016Grenaschista Côtes Catalanes 2016 £16.50, available from Oddbins

Whether French, Australian or Spanish, I just love Grenache Noir. A very versatile grape, capable of producing convincing rosés, light and big reds, it’s also a significant participant in most Châteauneuf du Pape and – obviously - GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre). My true love is French Grenache and, although not as famous as Châteauneuf du Pape and the wines of the Southern Rhone, Roussillon and the French Catalanes are special places for this variety.

Grenaschista is 100% Grenache grown, as the name suggests, on schist soil. (Schist is soil rich in mica, quartz and feldspar and has a peculiar flaky, sheet-like structure – think graphite.) Made by an English Master of Wine, Justin Howard-Sneyd and his French business partner and winemaker, Jean-Marc Lafarge – a duo I like to think of as the Hyphen Brothers. 

Full, rich, ripe and quite ‘dense’, despite hailing from such a southerly vineyard it manages to retain a terrific freshness and elegance, making it easy to want another glass. It’s terrific with robust dishes, anything beefy or gamey, and - of course - the wonderful goat and sheep milk cheeses of the region.

 

 

 

Gaillac Perles 2016 Tesco Finest Gaillac Perle 2016 £7.00, available from Tesco

For those of you who do not particularly care for high-acidity, high-fizz champagne, yet seek an alternative to yawn-inducing Prosecco and Cava, Gaillac Perles might be just the ticket.

This is a wine that you really wouldn’t expect to find in a supermarket. An unfashionable region of south-western France close to Toulouse, Gaillac is most noted for its unpronounceable indigenous grape varieties such as Mauzac, Loin de l’Oeil and Muscadelle. ‘Perle’ refers to ancient, gently sparkling wine (in this instance made from Muscadelle and Mauzac), sold in a peculiar tulip-shaped bottle.

Coming from the South of France, the grapes ripen fully, so whilst fully dry there is much less acidity than you’d find in champagne - but still enough to keep it lively and interesting. Ripe stone fruit flavours predominate, and the natural fermentation that takes place in the bottle produces soft, gentle bubbles. The bubbles don’t last for ever, but the wine slips down so easily that it hardly matters.

 

 

Beaujolais Villages Coteaux GranitiquesSainsbury’s Taste the Difference Beaujolais Villages Coteaux Granitiques 2017 £9 a bottle (25% discount for 6 or more), available from Sainsbury's

Beaujolais Villages: pure, juicy red fruit from the luscious Gamay grape, uncomplicated and lovely to drink. Beaujolais Villages ‘Coteaux Granitiques’? What’s that all about? Never heard of it!

The truth is that Coteaux Granitiques has no official status or designation within Beaujolais Villages. It means ‘hills’ or ‘slopes’ formed from granite, and it is no lie that Gamay grows exceptionally well on granite soils. Producer Mommessin’s head winemaker, Florent Georger, has selected some very fine parcels of granite-based Gamay from Mommessin’s large vineyard holdings in Beaujolais Villages for this wine.

With ripe, juicy, redcurrant and cassis fruit and a fresh and lively mineral finish (thanks to the granitic soils) it marries incredibly well with rich Christmas dishes, refreshing the palate during and after the feast. This is real crowd-pleaser that is soft on the wallet, particularly if you buy six or more.

 

Louis Moreau Petit Chablis 2017Louis Moreau Petit Chablis 2017 £12.99, available from Waitrose

There is nothing ‘petit’ about Louis Moreau’s Petit Chablis. In the hierarchy of the region, Petit Chablis lags behind Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru and Chablis Grand Cru. Petit Chablis was synonymous with thin, sharp and not especially pleasant wines. (I certainly used to top mine up with sweet cassis, to make Kir.)
 
Climates and winemaking techniques have changed. Previously marginal, less renowned vineyards are now able to produce wine of excellent quality and, in the hands of fine young producers such as Louis Moreau, really super bottles can be made at much more affordable prices. Petit Chablis is one such appellation.

Louis Moreau is the fifth generation to run the family business. (His cousin, Christian, is also a brilliant winemaker.) Louis studied oenology in France and California and the Californian influence is clearly apparent in the ripeness of the grapes used for this wine. It’s also true to its roots, as it remains unoaked, zesty and fresh, with a long persistent finish. Perfect with fish dishes (with the notable exception of oysters) and lighter meats such as chicken, turkey and guinea fowl - even pork.

 


Pillitteri Riesling Canadian Icewine 2017Pillitteri Riesling Canadian Icewine 2017 [37.5cl] £14.99, available from Lidl

A family-owned Canadian wine producer with extensive vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Pillitteri produces a wide range of table and sparkling wines. They are, however, most renowned for their icewine, a sweet wine produced from frozen grapes (harvested when the temperature in the vineyards reaches minus 8 degrees for a minimum of at least 4 days) and pressed while still frozen, to exclude the watery ice and leave a small quantity of intensely sweet and aromatic juice. In Canada, achieving those temperatures is not an issue but in Germany and Austria (the original homes of icewine) climate change has rendered this occurrence increasingly rare.

Riesling grapes, with their high acidity and complex apple and lime aromas, produce the very greatest icewines. Exceptionally sweet, but balanced by mouthwatering acidity and great length, it is one of the most glorious of dessert wines. Like all Rieslings, it has an amazing ability to age and, due to the miniscule yields, is very expensive to produce.

Lidl are offering this truly outstanding Riesling icewine for a (frankly) mind-boggling £14.99. I recommend that you buy several, some to enjoy now and some to keep; it will drink beautifully for a decade, perhaps more.

 

 

 

Champagne Taittinger NV Les Folies de Marquetterie Champagne Taittinger NV ‘Les Folies de Marquetterie’ £49.99 available from Waitrose

Of the Grande Marque champagnes, Taittinger NV has always been one of my favourites and I will almost certainly share a bottle or two over the festive season. However, for something truly special, try Taittinger’s first release of their single-vineyard ‘Les Folies de Marquetterie’, the product of an 8 hectare plot situated just to the south of Épernay, where Champagne Taittinger commenced production in 1734.

Unlike most of Taittinger’s cuvées, Pinot Noir is dominant here (in this case, 55%) with the remaining percentage consisting of Chardonnay. Only wines from the first pressing are used. Both varieties are late-picked to achieve full ripeness and richness and the blend is further enriched by the addition of a small portion of Chardonnay aged in small oak barrels (sitting on its lees for five years) to provide additional complexity.

With its delicate yeasty brioche and toasted hazelnut aroma, Les Folies is properly dry, with full, ripe stone fruit flavours and Chardonnay’s classic creaminess on the long and pronounced finish. This is a champagne ideally suited for drinking with food and would be perfect accompanying creamily-sauced dishes, or rich, bloomy-rinded cheeses such as Chaource or Brillat Savarin.

 

 

 

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