We are fully aware that this is unlikely to be the only ‘Wines for Christmas’ column that you chance upon this season. And, it’s probably an equally good bet that most other such sources will be urging you to ‘try something different this year’. There’ll be arguments that a rounded chardonnay actually pairs rather well with turkey (it does), or that this is the year to bust out that funky orange wine (it really isn’t). But, let’s be honest, all most of us really want in our glass over Christmas is a rich, warming red – right?
Sure, there’ll be a time for popping corks on a bottle or two of fizz, or settling down in the armchair with a generous pour of Port and the bumper Quiz of the Year. But, fear not, we’ve got these categories covered, too (okay, maybe not the quiz, but keep an eye out for columns dedicated to both sparkling and fortified wines over the coming weeks). This week, though, we’re catering unashamedly for those who just want a good, hearty red to usher in the festivities. So, where best to turn to for such a wine, and what style of red should one be looking for?
Many readers will, with little doubt, have already earmarked a trophy bottle or two as a centrepiece for the big day, possibly by way of an older vintage to savour those complex, mature tones. But, for the rest of the holidays, I would advise steering away from anything too savoury or smokey in character. Most of the food we traditionally graze on at Christmas can be quite sweet (including turkey, for that matter, once you’ve taken into account all the trimmings), and, for me, these are best complemented by young, fullish, fruit-forward reds.
Personally, with most of the assorted festive fare, I prefer the brighter, pinot-noir-driven Burgundy over the more brooding cabernet-sauvignon-based Bordeaux. For a young, vibrant example, look no further than the 2019 Génot Boulanger Mercurey en Sazenay Premier Cru. It’s not a big wine, and has seen only 20 per cent new oak, but it offers, as Julian Campbell of merchant Justerini & Brooks observes, “beautiful pinot qualities of charm, lightness and balance alongside alluring, easy-to-enjoy and soft-textured cherry, plum and raspberry.” Just the ticket if you’re likely to be having more than a glass or two.
Another personal favourite to accompany the never-ending gamut of snacks that tend to punctuate the festivities is Rioja, whose sweet-fruited, vanilla-infused tones make it a supremely versatile partner. Beronia, a relatively young bodega that makes wine in a traditional style, has put together a presentation pack of three wines that you could buy as a gift, or just enjoy over the course of a few days. The trio spans the classic Riojan hierarchy, which is based on the wine’s ageing regime: the young and bright Crianza, which has spent just a year in oak barrels before release; the slightly fuller Reserva, which is aged for three years (of which at least one is in cask); and the stately Gran Reserva, whose creamy, harmonious nature speaks of its extended maturity (five years, including a minimum of two in oak).
If you’re looking for something more full-bodied, cabernet remains a bona fide option – but, I’d advocate the young, fruit-forward style, rather than the more mature, earthy type. I enjoyed Harvey Nichols’s Napa Cabernet 17 (made by the exemplary producer Joseph Phelps) for Thanksgiving, and the Golden State is always a good bet for those looking for something a bit more rounded.
If you want to step things up a little, the 2019 Quintessa is a premium example of the plush, full and structured wine that Napa Valley does best. Its dense core of lush black fruits unfurls over time, meaning this is the kind of wine you could easily decant and keep returning to over the course of a whole day.
For something a bit more modest, in both heft and price, try Yalumba’s Cigar Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is named after the distinctive cigar-shaped strip of terra rossa soil that defines Coonawarra, the heartland of Australian cabernet. Yalumba’s Menzies Vineyard occupies a prime part of it, and is the source for a wine whose rich, dark fruits are adroitly harnessed by velvety tannins, subtle oak and a touch of spice.
Finally, for those determined to veer a little leftfield, Pasqua is a producer that is constantly pushing boundaries. Based in Verona, it has tapped into its Veneto roots by making a wine from partially dried corvina grapes – as harnessed in its signature Amarone – but blending this native variety with the distinctly non-native cabernet sauvignon, before ageing in oak barrels previously used to mature Hennessy Cognac. It all sounds a bit nuts, but the resultant Luí Cabernet lays claim to wonderfully textured – yet surprisingly fresh – sour-cherry notes studded with, appropriately enough, a certain decadent nuttiness.
Want more drinks content? These are the best Champagnes to gift (and drink) this Christmas…
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