Christmas Wine Shopping in a Crunch

The in-laws are almost upon you, the presents wrapped, ham and turkey ordered, stockings hung, but now you turn your attention to the big shop – the drinks list, and it’s all hectic and last-minute. There may be an impulse to impress your family or guests with a little preparation, but your knowledge may be a little flakey when it comes to the crushed grape. Don’t despair! Here’s a quick-buy guide to help you compliment the beast-select of the table and cover some of the other excuses for seasonal imbibing.

A welcoming sparkle. For arriving guests, as a preamble to gift-opening, or the countdown to the new year, you’ll want bubbly. Forget the cliched champagne, be imaginative and reach for a Sekt or Espumante. This year I’ve stocked with Spanish Freixenet Cava. There’s no need to be extravagant when it comes to fizz.

A solid plonk. You’ll not want to break the bank here either, and want something to keep mood pleasantly buzzed. While I tend to be wary of bottom-shelf wines, I’ll not turn my nose up at them, though I do draw the line at cartons. My recommendation this year is the La Pichette Rouge from the Vin de Pays de l’Herault. With a blackcurrant tang, this is a palatable affair that none could find disagreeable, and possibly the best value table wine out there at present.

The Spanish staple. The best thing about rioja is its versatility for the table, being suitable for most meat dishes, or even with the cheese and crackers. Any self-respecting wine rack should always have a rioja in it, in my humble opinion. My recommendation is the Solar Gran Crianza, a good variation from the usual Campo Viejo or Faustino brands. This is a relatively spicy number, and fittingly festive in this regard. At 14% alc. vol. it comes in on the heavy side of the scale, with red forest berries bursting to be let out.

A happy white. Pinot grigios from the Veneto region are the winners here in my estimation, offering a balanced, fresh and fruity bite which can be savoured. Austrian Grüner Veltliners, though perhaps more an autumnal wine, might be suitable for the table, bringing a bright, crisp and citrusy crunch.

A little blush. A light rose for salads or fish should be at the ready. My tastes lean to central European roses, especially those from the Danube valley or Bulgaria. No need to be too picky here, but good to have a blush at hand for your auntie.

The highlight red: Bordeaux is the old reliable when it comes to red meat and game. The current wisdom has been to aim for the odd-number years, particularly 2005 and 2007 which were exceptional. For this Christmas I have a Barons de Rothchild Legende 2005 in a magnum bottle. I’m banking on it being a good fit for the giant roast Polish goose planned for the table.

The seasonal grogg. Not to be excluded is the traditional glühwein or mulled wine. The end of the school year should not pass without a hot mulled wine at the local Christmas market or fair with neighbours. Failing such an event nearby, glühwein or mulled wine can be purchased, sometimes by the gallon, at a local supermarket. A festive get-together with that comforting waft of cinnamon and that warm sensation before heading back home with feet crunching in the snow is what Christmas is all about to me. Here in Germany, a “schuss”, or a shot, is often added, normally of rum, but I prefer it with Amaretto. Here’s an important tip when making mulled wine at home, though… leave a window open while heating or simmering the wine, as the alcohol fumes tend to set off the more sensitive fire alarms which detect gases.

A proper port. For after desert, as digestif. I’m no expert when it comes to port and sherries, but I would suggest searching beyond the supermarket staples for a finer selection and a better appreciation of this very noble drink. This article in the New York Times offers an intriguing insight into the tradition and possibilities.

Please go organic. Think of the organic market this Christmas! If you haven’t before, give it a try. Too many reasons to mention, but let’s stick with the best reason… organic wines can taste very good, and you will be surprised! A good organic wine should necessarily not cost as much as its non-organic counterpart, but may often be a euro or two more… a small price to pay for an alternative. A recent find I have made is the Corbieres – Montmija, which has won a number of prizes. This is a heady Syrah-Greanche-Carignan blend, with the mineral richness of its limestone earth, and a very subtle fig aftertaste. For €6 at the local organic market, you can’t really beat that!