There are only a few days left before we’ll have to bring the curtain down on another Christmas shopping season online, and with the tree glowing in the corner of the room, a roasted bird freshly demolished and, er, some rubbish TV on, I feel positively festive. So I thought I’d set down for all to see my top Christmas wines…
Château de Pennautier Chardonnay ‘Terroirs d’Altitude’ 2008 Vin de Pays d’Oc, £8.99
Buy 2 save £4 = £6.99
Last night I was driving home from a Santa’s sleigh-type run around south London delivering presents to friends and The Stone Roses’ Love Spreads came on the radio. I was, in milliseconds, a student again. I loudly sang every word; I mumbled the bassline; I screeched almost every guitar run. My wife was left wishing that I would play air guitar silently, like everyone else. Like “normal people”, as if there is a “normal” way to play air guitar in the passenger seat. I was, for 5 minutes and 47 seconds, absolutely, resolutely in the 1990s.
Pennautier’s Chardonnay has a similar effect on me. I’m back in the 1990s, and Chardonnay is the grape. Today it’s Pinot Grigio, or Malbec, or Sauvignon Blanc that the cool kids flock to, but back then it was Chardonnay. Very few of those über-cool Aussie or Californian Chardonnays were as good as this fantastic wine.
Southern French Chardonnay so often disappoints, but this is everything I hope for: the restraint and elegance of a proper old world wine, with just a hint of the opulence and openness that for a while helped new world Chardonnay rule the roost, tempered with the sheer great value that good Vins de Pays continue to offer. It’s fantastic value for money, works well with loads of foods but especially white meats and richer fish dishes, and even looks the part with its smart label. You’d probably expect a wine merchant to opt for something posher with Christmas turkey, but this is a serious contender, and I urge you to try it.
Benegas Malbec, Libertad Vineyards 2007 Mendoza, £17.99
Buy 2 save £8 = £13.99
To be honest, I didn’t really have to think very hard about my white and dessert choices, but the red wine has caused quite a bit of anguish on my part. The problem is that my “favourite” current red depends so much on context – the food I’m partnering it with, the company I’m drinking it with – that it’s difficult to decide which to pick.
With it being Christmas, though, I think we all need a bit of bling, so rather than suggesting my favourite partner for traditional Christmas favourites like turkey or goose, I’ve opted for the wine which I simply think has the most “wow” factor. I wouldn’t, and won’t serve it with Christmas lunch, because it’s simply too big a wine for that sort of meal, but I defy anyone not to taste this fantastic Malbec and not be blown away.
What’s so impressive is that for all it lives up to some Argentinian red clichés (massive, brambly, red meat etc) there’s a really subtle, savoury edge and balanced structure that keeps this wine refreshing. It leans equally on acidity and tannin for its structure in a way that reminds me of good Rhône reds. Make your best ever steak and kidney pie and open this wine and I promise you will forget the sub-zero temperatures in an instant.
The team in Majestic Stratford-upon-Avon have been very busy with their own Twitter feed and spent much of November publishing their experiments on the perfect wine to partner a mince pie. On 16th November they posted the following:
I feel very bad disagreeing with such a scientifically rigorous experiment conducted by my learned colleagues in Stratford, but this glorious dessert wine is such an extraordinarily good match with any of those sticky, spicy, dried-fruity sweet things that seem to define Christmas that I’m prepared to put my neck on the line in its defence.
Proper Victorian Muscats like this balance the fresh grapey flavours of the variety with the nutty complexity and grip of the best sherries in a way that, as you can probably tell, is difficult to describe. You simply have to experience it, and I would suggest that at this price there’s simply no reason not to this Christmas.