Red, white, sparkling and dessert – Terry Kirby ensures you have the perfect option for whatever festive feasts are planned
A proper champagne
Champagne Devaux Ultra D NV (£35.99 simplywinesdirect.uk; £44.95 thewhiskyexchange.com)
Devaux is an old established house, based in the previously overlooked Cote des Bar area of southern Champagne, where most of the grapes grown went to the big names further north. But they are now reinventing themselves as an individual grower champagne, housed in modish bottles and capitalising on the fact the pinot noir grapes grown here, not far from Chablis, are of high quality. This is therefore 60 per cent pinot noir, 40 per cent chardonnay, extremely dry, with a very fine mousse and a distinct salinity – probably from the ancient sea bed fossils in the soil – delivering poised elegance and a long finish.
An English sparkling
Harrow and Hope Brut Reserve NV (£26.50 laithwaites.com)
A quality English sparkler from yet another unexplored area, the chalky south Chilterns’ slopes. Unlike more speculative ventures, this has a pedigree – owner/ winemaker Henry Laithwaite comes from the Laithwaites wine merchant family and having made wine in Australia and France, planted family and the classic champagne vines near Marlow in 2010, took advice from some key figures in the sparkling business and this one of their first vintages. Refined, floral, biscuity, pure English sparkling gorgeousness; what better way to celebrate the festive season?
And a fizz from far away
The Haywire Bub (£40 redsquirrelwine)
Anyone for a biodynamic Canadian sparkling? And why not. This is quite unlike any sparkling you might have tasted before: these are chardonnay and pinot grapes largely grown on volcanic soils, sure, but this is nothing floral, citric or bready here and it’s a million miles from your average party prosecco, with its generous dosage. Well, the Oakanagan Valley in British Colombia is a long way from most places. And it’s got a beer bottle style cap, not a cork. There’s a slight yellowy-orange tinge, it’s very, very dry and austere, drily toasty rather than brioche and it’s fabulous as an aperitif but also with any fishy canapes. Mad, but in a good way.
Three white wines…
A classic white for fish and white meats
Pouilly Fuissé ‘Aux Chailloux’ 2015 Domaine Sève (£23.95 davywine.co.uk)
A full-bodied, substantial white is needed for big baked fish seasonal dishes, such as a carp, salmon or as an alternative to red for poultry, so you need something like this classic white Burgundy from the reliable village of Solutre in the Maconnais region. The wine has had a bit of careful oak and sometime in the barrel, deepening the nutty, slightly broad fruit flavours with a gentle hint of spices like ginger and nutmeg, but still retaining freshness and precise acidity.
An all-purpose white for parties or gatherings
Domaine Cauhape Chant des Vignes Jurancon Sec (£9.95 winesociety.com)
This is a gorgeous, zingy little wine from the small Jurancon wine area in southwest France in the foothills of the Pyrenees, which has hitherto been most well known for its sweet white wines. Made from the regional gros manseng grape, this, however, is bone dry, bracing and refreshing, with a mountain air freshness cutting through the light tropical fruit flavours. It is perfect for party quaffing or anything fishy, such as salted anchovies.
And an unexpected white
Laurenz V and Sophie Singing Gruner Veltliner 2016 (£13.99 ocado.com)
It’s always nice to offer your guests something different at festive gatherings and while many wine buffs are up to speed on gruner, Austrian’s native grape has not yet achieved the wider recognition it deserves, possibly because the fresh, citrus and white pepper with a tinge of earth and smoke flavours are hard to pin down. But they are a really intriguing alternative to classic whites like chardonnay for fish dishes and the grape, to my mind, also has a particularly good affinity with pork dishes, such as a joint of pork belly. And Laurenz V is one of the masters of gruner, so this is a great introduction to the grape.
Three red wines…
An all-purpose red for everyday drinking (and those plates of leftovers)
Les Grands Chemins Old Vines Carignan 2017 (£9.99 Virgin)
It is one of the ad hoc pleasures of Christmas: a leisurely late lunch or fireside supper consisting of a plate of leftovers: some cold meats and pickles… perhaps a slice of pork pie or just some turkey sandwiches. And you don’t want to open one of your best bottle just for one glass to go with it, do you? But you do need something worthy of the occasion. Which is why you need this little beauty from the Herault region of the Languedoc in the south of France. It’s a fine example of the reliable, good value table wine the area does best – smooth, rich, ripe red fruit flavours, a hint of spice and immensely drinkable, with or without food.
A red for poultry and duck
Karl H Johner, Enselberg, 2015-16 (£20.99 waitrosecellar.com)
Forget pricey Burgundy and head to Baden in Germany for this utterly fabulous pinot noir. And forget any preconceptions about German reds being a bit on the light and ethereal side: there is a real depth of flavour here which belies its light colour and fragrant mouthfeel. It’s rich, silky, elegant, with sumptuous red fruits and really spicy, peppery edge with enough body to match game dishes as well as poultry. And every bit as beguiling as Burgundy.
Something different for roast red meats and turkey
Poggio al Tesoro Il Seggio Bolgheri 2015 (£23 robersonwine.com; £23.05 exelwines.co.uk)
You can pay a lot of money for a claret at Christmas or you can buy a Tuscan Bordeaux blend and get far more bang for your bucks. From a coastal estate, this combines merlot and cabernet franc (grown on a vineyard next to the legendary Ornellaia concern), with some cabernet sauvignon. The result is balanced, rich, silky smooth and well structured, with red berries, cassis and a little tar and woody notes. Still relatively youthful and fruity, if you have the self-control, a case would repay the investment in future years.
Three dessert wines...
A sweet wine for trifles, sweeter puddings and blue cheeses
Chateau Suduiraut, 1er Cru Classe, 2013 (£49.10 for 75cl armitwines.co.uk; £23.80 for 33.75cl laywheeler.com)
An absolutely pitch perfect, benchmark Sauternes from a highly reputable chateau: supremely luscious yet somehow bracingly fresh and citric, with flavours of melons, nectarines and pineapples and a whiff of spice from the noble rot – botrytis – this will linger on the palate for ages. A gorgeous match for sweeter dessert, but also a supreme companion to Stilton and Roquefort, where the benevolent moulds of wine and cheese mingle enticingly on the palate.
A port for Christmas puddings
Kopke Colheita 1999 (£32.99 waitrose.com; £38.34 portugalvineyards.com)
A single vineyard tawny port from the Douro’s oldest port house, founded in 1638. While the wine has only matured in seasoned oak barrels for a mere 18 or so years in the bottle, its pedigree is not in doubt. Intense, aromatic and tangy, with flavours of caramel, sweet spices and some dried fruits, the flavours are deep, complex and last forever. The perfect complement to the Christmas pudding, Stollen cake, as well as hard cheeses like aged cheddar and nuts.
And a rare sherry for all occasions
Gonzalez Byass Leonor Palo Cortado, 12 years old (£13.13 thedrinkshop.com; £14.15 thewhiskyexchange.com)
Not sure about sweet, sticky wines? A bit bored with port? If you want something different for your pudding wine this year, try this versatile rare sherry in the palo cortado style, which is a light to medium bodied, dry, aged wine, somewhere between an oloroso and an amontillado. That might be all Spanish to you, but just try the layered, complex, predominately nutty flavours, with a completely dry finish and you might be converted. Not only will this serve you well with all festive puddings and cakes, particularly mince pies, as well as cheeses, you can even serve it with charcuterie and red meats or even the turkey. And that would be a Christmas cracker…