May your days be merry…
About to contemplate the festive booze shop? Give the supermarket aisles a wide berth this year and hit up your local wine merchant for great buying tips and tipples.
What should be one of the fun chores of Christmas, has actually become quite stressful at Camp Muddy over the past few years. Stocking up the wine rack and drinks cupboard with a selection that’ll please all palates is no mean feat. Plus, the other thing I’ve learned is that those “unmissable” supermarket deals that might seem like a savvy idea at the time, don’t always feel like one when it comes to popping the cork (or the next morning either, for that matter).
This year, I’m having one of those coming of age experiences: I’ve been all grown-up, visited a wine store and consulted a total pro. And, do you know what, it’s given me the confidence to strike out, be all maverick and make a few different choices this year. I highly recommend it – the experts love sharing all they know with you and they want you to feel relaxed, happy and confident with your selection.
Here’s just some of what I learned after making a nuisance of myself with the very patient Ian Renwick of Jaded Palates in Chagford (And Ashburton), when I popped in to his lovely store recently. Have a read, get inspired and then go shop – and do share your fave tipples with me in the comments box below. I love a good recommendation!
You probably think your only available options are red or white, because a rose is for summer, right? Wrong. If this is your kind of wine, don’t disregard rose at yuletide, because it’s actually one of the best choices to complement the Christmas dinner. Rose is a good mid-range wine that goes brilliantly with turkey, ham and fruit flavours, like cranberry sauce, so it makes sense to consider it, if you like it.
But if you’re not a fan of rose then you should pick a red and a white to please everybody at the table. There’s little point in forcing a particular colour on your guests and it’s Christmas, so why not push the boat out.
Colour sorted, now what?
When it comes to Christmas dinner, we all tend to feel it’s an occasion that demands one or two of the big classics. Almost on autopilot, you find yourself reaching for the Sancerre, the Poille Fume, or the Claret, regardless of whether you actually like it or not. But big, bold, full-flavoured wines are not the best accompaniment to turkey, or duck, because they’re just too punchy and overbearing.
If you want to get the best from your meal (I know I do, because I’m flipping cooking it), consider that most European wines are meant to be had with food. Go for a more lighter style of red, like a pinot noir, which is fresher. With whites, try a chardonnay, or a viognier, or even a white rioja – they’ll all work brilliantly.
The only exception to this rule? Goose. Because of its punchier flavour, it can handle something bigger and stronger like a nice Rhone or Bordeaux.
Pop, fizz, bubble
Two traps not to fall in here: 1) don’t necessarily think that Christmas is all about champagne and 2) give your year-round prosecco habit a rest.
Don’t be lured by the big-name Champagne houses – even if the supermarkets are offering discounts. Instead, opt for one of the many brilliant varieties of English sparkling wine, because they not only taste as good, you’ll get more bang for your buck. A particular favourite of Ian’s is Lyme Bay sparkling, priced at just £21, so a bargain next to the Moet, or Veuve Cliquot.
Another lower-priced option for Christmas is Cava, because it’s made in the same way as champagne (unlike prosecco) and has that same fresh, crisp and biscuity style.
And prosecco, while we’re on the subject is not a smart option for the Christmas meal, because it’s so full of sugar. Who wants sugar at the start of a big meal? Save it as an aperitif, or if you’re just having friends around for drinks over the festive period.
If you really do want champagne for the big day, then buy a bottle from a smaller producer as you’ll get better value for your money. If you buy a grower champagne, for example, this means that everything is done in one place and the producer has control of the process from start to finish. They can’t afford to charge the same prices as the big houses, but what they produce has had more care taken over it and the result is an interesting-tasting champagne.
And what about tucking into the cheese board by the fire?
The good news is that most red wine goes with cheese and that’s down to the science. There’s lots of fat and protein in cheese and the tannins in red wine naturally combine well with protein, so when you pair the two, you get the fruity flavours of the wine, mixed with the creaminess of the cheese. Mouth is actually watering at the thought…
Why bother with dessert wine?
So Ian reckons it’s a shame that more dessert wines aren’t drunk throughout the year because there are some cracking ones out there for between £10 – £15. These sweet wines don’t actually have to be drunk with dessert, either; they go really well with nuts and cheese, too. The French tend to have dessert wines with pate and foie gras, so they pair well with strong flavours. If you are going to have them with Christmas dessert, always make the wine slightly sweeter than the pud you’re having. If that’s the traditional Christmas pudding, for example, you want a really sticky, sweet wine to go with it. Ian’s tip? Riesling’s are something different in sweet wines and well worth exploring.
Don’t forget to stock up on a decent bottle of port to accompany mince pies and cheese, either. But if this isn’t your thing, then Madeira is a good alternative all-rounder and, bonus, it’ll never go off.
And finally, how to avoid a raging hangover?
Two simple rules: drink lots of water (one glass of water after each glass of wine); and don’t buy a cheap wine! If you’re buying at the £4-£5 mark, you’re risking a hangover. You don’t actually have to make much of a leap to be in safer territory; a £7 bottle will be a much better wine.
Check out the awesome selection of hampers, cases and gift ideas available at Jaded Palates: jadedpalates.com