This is especially true around Christmas, my students often ask me what I am going to drink over the holidays and seem to expect a list of famous wines by way of reply.
It is true that with Christmas approaching my thoughts often turn to the great wines in my collection and I usually start to plan which bottles to dig out. I did it this year, I brought the reds into relative warmth ready to be drunk and planned which wine partnered each dish.
In all truth though, I always do this and it never quite works out – and this is why. Specific great wines need the correct meal and the right mood to shine. It is a specific combination at a specific time – an event if you will.
Christmas is not a single event really, it is a drawn out cycle of festivities where there is a great deal of the socialising rather than focussing on one meal. Therefore each year, I quickly realise that I need things that can be drunk over a long period of time without food as well as with a meal. To me that calls for a very different type of wine, wines that offer quality, are enjoyable and drinkable: QED – the kind of wine I actually drink as opposed to think about and long for.
Strangely enough, although I think about red wine the most, such QED wine is more often white – I just find that I can drink more white wine without food than red.
There is real pressure to indulge in a drink at Christmas, so much so that I find myself cracking something open quite early in the day, so sparkling wine and Champagne is a perfect choice – that I can really enjoy without food.
So, usually the number of prize bottles from my collection that I excavate for the festive season remains low in favour of more simple, but still enjoyable stuff. I did manage a few star wines this Christmas though:
Nyetimber Classic Cuvée Brut 2000
West Sussex, England
A superb, very mineral, nervy and elegant sparkling that was still tasting very youthful – it is so lovely to be able to have something so very good from England. 90 points.
Berncasteler Doctor Riesling Auslese 1990
Weingut Lauerburg, Mosel, Germany
This was a joy, stunningly balanced with rich honeyed appley fruit, slatey minerality and a tight acidic backbone giving it structure. This barely showed its age with almost no petrol-like aromas at all, still very clean and fresh. 91 points.
I had this with foie gras and it went really well. My logic was that I find Sauternes etc too much with the richness of the liver, while this had sweetness, but would be quite light and have lots of acidity – it worked!
And yes, I know that Bernkastel is spelt with a ‘K’, but Lauerburg appear not to!
Cardinal Zin Zinfandel 1995
Bonny Doon Vineyard, Santa Cruz, California
I have been eyeing this bottle for years and I finally thought that I should take it for a spin. Well, the wine had a lovely supple smoothness that it would have lacked in its youth as huge tannin deposits had adhered to the inside of the bottle. It still showed plenty of fruit and that dry, dusty fragility had not yet set in – a really good Zinfandel that went very well with pasta. 90 points.
Grigic Plavac Mali 1999
Polozaj Dingac, Croatia
Croatian born Mike Grigich returned home, from California where he made his name, some years ago to grow Zinfandel’s near relative the Primitivo/Plavac Mali a little way north of Dubrovnik. The results are good, rustic, earthy and Italianate, but really tasty, with good balance. I enjoyed trying this – 89 points.
Bodegas Alion, D.O. Ribera del Duero, Castilla y León, Spain
Still young and so hardly one of the buried treasures of my collection, but it was certainly one of my favourite red wines of 2009. 91 points
Some of the more everyday wines that I turned to for fun drinking were:
Palacio de Bornos Verdejo 2008
D.O. Rueda, Castilla y León, Spain
One of my favourite everyday wines, this is fresh and zesty in an almost Sauvignon-like way and has a touch of soft herbal character about it. A lovely very drinkable general purpose dry white. Waitrose £7.49 – 87 points.
I also like Gavi very much and think that the Araldica Vini Piemontesi Co-op produces very good examples indeed. Over Christmas I supped a few bottles of:
La Monetta 2008
Gavi del Comune di Gavi (Gavi di Gavi)
A nicely concentrated, fresh example of the Cortese grape, with a touch of creamy ripeness as well as the taught mineral quality and nutty character – a very good wine. Waitroise £8.99 – 87 points.
Chile is such a great wine producing country nowadays and one of my standby red wines is:
Errazuriz Estate Carmènere 2008
Aconcagua Valley, Chile
A very good example of Chile’s speciality grape, at a good price too – I love the balance of rich fruit and the leafy, spicy balsamic quality that makes it a more elegant and savoury wine than you would expect. Really delicious and drinkable. Majestic £7.99 – 87 points.
In predictably hedonistic style I also indulged in the most perfect food and wine pairing on the planet:
Campbells Rutherglen Liqueur Muscat
Rutherglen, Victoria, Australia
An astonishingly wonderful sweet wine that is rich, raisiny and viscous with concentrated flavours of toffee, creamy buttered caramel, chopped nuts and candied citrus peel. Oddbins £8.99 37.5 cl – 93 points.
If you have never had this, try it with a Panforte, the flavours blend seamlessly together in the most perfect match since Fry and Laurie.
Now, I really do have to come clean, at Christmas I cannot only drink wine, so I did resort to the odd Gin and Tonic and quite a few ice cold bottles of Warsteiner Premium Verum, my favourite German beer – they slipped down a treat.
So, now you know – it is quite difficult to drink lots of fine wine at Christmas time, but I have fun trying.