Perhaps my favourite bottle of wine over Christmas is the one opened on Christmas Eve, as I enjoy a few minutes of calm while stacking presents under the tree and listening to the carols from King’s College, Cambridge, on catch-up.
I plan my Christmas wine order meticulously, with bottles to fit all the moments over the period when I might be looking for something to pour into my – or someone else’s – glass. Here are some suggestions to help you figure out yours.
The English Sparkling
Coates & Seely Brut Reserve NV, England
12%; Lea & Sandeman, £32.95 or £30.95 in a case of six
This keenly priced English sparkling wine is excellent – biscuity and alert, a worthy winner of a Best in Show trophy at the 2022 Decanter World Wine Awards, and a great festive aperitif that on value gives a lot of Champagnes a run for their money.
I also love the sparkling wines from the Langham estate in Dorset. Its newly released Langham Pinot Noir Brut 2019 (12%; langhamwine.co.uk, £52.50) is superb, perfumed like black cherries, guaiac wood and the distant smell of smoke across frozen fields.
A glass of Port for Santa (and his helpers)
Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage Port 2017, Douro, Portugal
20%; Waitrose, £10 down from £16.99 until 1 January
The chunky alcohol and rich, dark fruit of a late-bottled vintage (LBV) port feel warming and satisfying in the depths of winter, and 2017 was an excellent vintage for port – even better than the very good 2016 that came before it – which gives the LBVs from that year an extra edge.
EH Booth & Co LBV Port 2017 (19.5%; Booths, £14.50 for 50cl) is another good buy, more elegant, mineral and refined than the Taylor’s.
The House Red
Specially Selected Lebanese Red Bekaa Valley 2020, Lebanon
13.5%; Aldi, £8.99
Lebanese winemakers have to deal with triple-digit inflation, yet still have the resilience required to make crazily good-value wines like this beautiful blend of cabernet sauvignon, cinsault, syrah and carignan. A Mediterranean red with guts as well as finesse, it’s all grilled red fruits, juniper, figs and thyme.
An alternative? La Vieille Ferme Red 2021, France (13%; Waitrose, £6.50 down from £7.50 until 1 January) is a Rhône-style bottle that will go with anything and is extremely handy for the price.
The House White
Marqués de los Zancos Rioja Blanco 2021, Spain
12.5%; Tesco, £5
It’s rare for me to recommend a £5 wine with such enthusiasm, but this white Rioja was better than some of the more expensive wines that I tasted alongside it. Fresh and together, it tastes of preserved lemon, pear and white blossom. There’s no oak, so don’t expect any of the vanilla flavours that you find in some white Rioja.
Another option is the lime sorbet and white pepper of the refreshing, lithe and slightly off-dry Ferdinand Mayr Exklusiv Grüner Veltliner 2021, Austria (12.5%; The Wine Society, £8.25).
A White for Smoked Salmon
La Raia Il Borgo Organic Gavi 2021, Italy
13%; Majestic, £14.99 or £9.99 in a mixed six
The grapes for Il Borgo are grown among chestnut, elder and acacia trees on a biodynamic estate in northern Italy, and they make a beautiful Gavi – a white that is serene yet luminous with notes of lemon, almond, white blossom and bay.
In a similarly refreshing vein, Château Julia Assyrtiko 2021, Drama, Greece (13.5%; Private Cellar, £18.50), is a beauty: a calm, crisp and citrussy assyrtiko from the northern Greek mainland that tastes like a squeeze of lemon against the smoked salmon.
The Night Before Christmas
Waitrose Champagne Rosé Brut NV, France
12.5%; Waitrose, £26.99
A glass of sparkling rosé to ease into Christmas? This pink Champagne, made by Alexandre Bonnet and bottled under Waitrose’s own-label, has a perfume of red berries and a gentle brioche note.
Hosting a party? La Vieille Ferme Réserve Rosé Sparkling NV, France (12.5%; Sainsbury’s, £9 down from £12 until 1 January), is a delightful sparkling pink, tinged with subtle peach and raspberry flavours.
Luxurious Christmas Eve for two? Share a bottle of the beautiful Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé NV, France (12%; Tanners, £66; Cambridge Wine, £59.99).
A Red for your Christmas Lunch or dinner
D’Arenberg The Shepherd’s Clock GSM 2019, McLaren Vale, Australia
14.5%; M&S, £10
If Christmas Day is civilised, you might pull out a pinot noir or another special red. Ours is a clamour, so I match mood more than food with an amiable, sumptuous red. The Shepherd’s Clock GSM is a belter. Mostly grenache (the ‘G’ of the name) with 20 per cent syrah and 18 per cent mourvèdre, it offers powdery layers of red berry flavours, a juicy core and a sprinkle of spice.
An upgrade for Rhône fans is Château de Saint Cosme Les Deux Albion 2020, Côtes du Rhône (15%; The Wine Society, £14.50).
With Turkey, Bread Sauce and Stuffing Sandwiches
Château la Canorgue Blanc 2021, Luberon, France
13%; yapp.co.uk, £17.75
In our family we adore whites from the Luberon and Châteauneuf-du-Pape: textural blends with soft notes of waxy white blossom and apricots, and fresh edges that lift cold turkey and sidle up to the creamy spice of bread sauce. Château La Canorgue’s (the grapes are roussanne, marsanne, clairette and bourboulenc) is heavenly, like light shining through cloud.
For a budget version, try Taste the Difference Côtes du Rhône White 2021 (12.5%; Sainsbury’s, £7 down from £8 until Tuesday).
The Emergency Present
Robert Oatley Signature Series Chardonnay 2020/21, Australia
The first quality any emergency gift must have is that you secretly desire (plan, even) to keep it. For white-Burgundy-
o-philes I buy contemporary Aussie or New Zealand chardonnay like this one.
After a serious red? Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco 2018, Piemonte, Italy (15%; The Wine Society, £29), is gloriously perfumed and approachable, wonderful with rib of beef, and will make a feast of a bowl of pasta al ragù with a side of griddled radicchio and balsamic.
The Smart Claret
EH Booth & Co Saint-Julien 2019, Bordeaux, France
13%; Booths, £22
Edwin Booth, chairman of the family-run northern supermarket chain, has bought ‘quite a lot’ of this characterful, suave Saint-Julien for his own cellar. It’s young and will age well but is also attractive now. Finest* Margaux 2017 (13.5%; Tesco, £23) is made for Tesco by Château Boyd-Cantenac, and it’s impressive and very polished.
Prefer a wine with some maturity? La Raison du Château des Fougères Graves 2012 (13%; Tesco, £16) is a serious find with hints of mushrooms on the nose and a sweet, tobacco-and-berries core of maturing fruit.
With Boxing Day Roast Ham
Domaine Horgelus Gros Manseng & Sauvignon 2021, Côtes de Gascogne, France
12%; swig.co.uk, £11.50; Martinez Wines in Ilkley, £11.99
I love the way a juicy white can enhance the succulence of roast ham, and the combination of gros manseng (think sweet grapefruit and acacia) and sauvignon blanc (refreshing) is a winner.
Prefer red? Try a strawberry-coulis-like garnacha such as the sensational La Garnacha Salvaje del Moncayo 2020, Spain (14.5%; Majestic, £11.49 or £8.99 in a mixed six), or the more budget-friendly Co-op Garnacha 2020, Campo de Borja, Spain (14%; Co-op, £5.75).
The Wild Card
L’Occhiolino Sparkling Red 2021, Emilia Rosso, Italy
7.5%; Laithwaites, £12 or £9 in a mixed case
With notes of cranberry sauce and balsamic, this is good with turkey leftovers and hard cheese.
A more savoury version is Monte delle Vigne Selezione Lambrusco NV, Italy (11.5%; Lea & Sandeman, £15.95 or 14.50 in a case of 6).
Read last week's column: The best low-cost sparkling wine and Champagne to stock up on this Christmas