Have a Grand Cru Christmas!


Have you noticed that wherever you are in the world, the Christmas lunch menu is set in stone? In England smoked salmon followed by a traditional turkey roast and Christmas pudding has produced broad smiles around the festive table for decades … I’m a big fan but the part that I don’t really get is when the same wines are rolled out year on year to accompany our beloved dishes. Come on Snoothers, ring the changes this year! As well as bringing new taste sensations to the table, introducing new labels can also help your festive finances in these tight times.
Champagne (Deutz NV., Taittinger NV., £36, US$55) and English Sparkling Wine (Exton Park NV, Hambledon NV., £30, $45) may be king of aperitifs but if the price tag’s too royal pour a princely New Zealand sparkler (Lindauer, £14, $22) or Spanish Cava Rose (Cordorniu, £6, $10) to get the party buzzing. Be trendy and serve your bubble from normal wine glasses - flutes are so yesterday!

Chablis, the crisp, steely Burgundian (William Fevre 2015, £17, $25) is a classic match with smoked salmon but if your budget won’t stretch that far and it still has to be Chardonnay look to Chile’s cool Casablanca Valley (Errazuriz Wild Ferment 2015, £12, $20); the ripe citrus apple flavours make for an exotic combination.

Grassy, citrus Sancerre will be as popular as ever but if £15 (US$25) isn’t, try Touraine Sauvignon Blanc (Domaine Guenault 2016), from just up the road in France’s Loire Valley. It may lack the uummph of top Sancerre but it’s the same grape and it’s six ‘quid’ cheaper. Staying with Sauvignon Blanc, both Bordeaux (Dourthe 2016, £9, $15) and New Zealand (Villa Maria Private Bin, £9, $15) offer super value. A taste-off between Touraine and Marlborough will make great sport around the table!

By now you can smell the turkey. “Crack open the red” is the call from the kitchen. Grenache-charged Gigondas and Vacqueyras from the southern Rhone come to mind but at £16 ($25) they don’t come cheap. Fear not, under rated neighbour Cotes du Rhone (M. Chapoutier, £9, $15) offers a tasty alternative. Syrah fans who crave the spicy, black fruit beauties of the northern Rhone will be pulling the cork on Crozes-Hermitage (Caves de Tain 2014, £12, $20).
Cru Classe Bordeaux requires a second mortgage so look to the lesser known regions of Bourg, Blaye and Castillon for a very decent bottle of Claret for less than ten pounds.  

Burgundy is generally expensive but a peep into the village vineyards of Rully, Montagny and Givry for Pinot Noir lovers will bring a pleasant surprise. Oh, and don’t forget that although Beaujolais is made from Gamay it’s still ‘Burgundy’ and is often a bargain, (Morgon 2016, Chateau de Pizay, £10, $15). Chilean Pinot Noir (Cono Sur 2016, £7, $12) will also hit the spot.   

Rioja needs no introduction but for Christmas trade up to ‘Reserva’ (Cune 2010. £14, $20); that extra boost of toasty, soft red fruit is the result of  12 months barrel ageing in cool Spanish cellars. ‘Talking about Rioja, don’t forget White Rioja - several of my friends prefer white wine with the turkey, (Vina Real Barrel Fermented Blanco 2015, £12, US$20). Popping across the border into Portugal will also bring rich rewards - there are some cracking, top value reds from the Douro Valley and Alentejo that will give you change from a ten pound note.

Or, will it be a big up-front New World red with goose or duck? Go for Aussie Shiraz from the baking vineyards of Barossa Valley, (Jacob’s Creek Reserve 2013, £9, $15). Shiraz is the same grape as Syrah from the Rhone Valley by the way. Talking big, a cassis-packed Californian Cabernet Sauvignon, (Frei Brothers 2014, £18, $30), will also make for happy faces.      

Argentinean Malbec has taken the world by storm and gets the best out of turkey, goose or duck - its crisp dense black fruit is a steal at £10, $15, (Viñalba Reservado 2015). If you have a spare £35, ($50) treat your guests to Salentien’s intense Primus Malbec 2013; from low-yield grapes grown at 1150 metres above sea level in Mendoza’s Uco Valley. Guests will also have fun comparing an Argentinean Malbec with a traditional yet lesser known Malbec from Cahors in south-west France (Cahors 2015, £8, $15).   

To hearty singing the flaming Christmas pudding appears from the darkness. The wine match is tricky but little beats the warm, nutty raisin flavours of Tawny Port from Portugal’s Douro Valley, (Noval 10 year old). At £22 (US$35) it’s not cheap but it will keep its charms in the bottle until New Year’s Eve – the Dutch serve Port as an aperitif … ‘just a thought as your friends arrive on the 31st.    

If you prefer a sweetie with the pud head to Spain, (Torres Moscatel Oro, £9, $15), ‘Down Under’ for an Orange Muscat and Flora (Brown Brothers, £9, $15) or, if you’re feeling flush, to Sauternes in Bordeaux where a half bottle of Castelnau de Suduiraut, the second label of Cru Classe Chateau Suduiraut no less, will deliver honeyed heaven for £12 (US$20).     

All of a sudden it’s late afternoon. The table’s strewn with half empty bottles, discarded glasses, paper hats and crackers. Now’s the time relax, reflect on some wonderful wines, applaud the newcomers, sip your favourites and …… feel smug at the money you’ve saved.  

A Grand Cru Christmas and Vintage New Year to all my Snooth readers.

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