“Christmas time,” sang Cliff Richard: “mistletoe and wine.” Good stuff that. And while a bit of cheek-action under some esoteric winter foliage is all well and good, it’s the liquid assets that are really important.
That’s not to say that things are at all straightforward. The supermarkets and the wine-merchants and the critics will try and throw all sorts of names and terms and fads at you in the pre-Christmas glow of consumerism and low-level drunkenness. So we’ve narrowed things down to just the essentials: one red, one champagne, one port, one dessert wine, one whisky. Enjoy them responsibly (or don’t, it’s Christmas, for christ’s sake. And we mean that literally for once.)
Red — 2014 Berry Bros. & Rudd Gevrey-Chambertin by Rossignol-Trapet
Bordeaux is the traditional English Gentleman’s choice for the turkey-centered roast Christmas dinner (after all, it wasn’t so long ago we owned the bloody place.) But often the bold tannins, big acidity and brooding dark fruits of Cabernet-dominated clarets can overpower the white meat, making it feel more insipid than it already is.
Instead, go for a muscular Burgundy from a venerated Cru like Gevrey-Chambertin. It’s pinot noir grape is nimble enough to play with the turkey, but there’s power, depth and gamey notes that can happily dance with all the different accoutrements you might throw at it. Berry Bros’ own 2014 vintage, in a dashing pale ruby colour, is a seductive choice, with modest tannins and a nicely-balance acidity.
2014 Berry Bros. & Rudd Gevrey-Chambertin by Rossignol-Trapet
Champagne — Louis Roederer Cristal 2008
Earlier in the year, for our November/December 2018 issue, we headed to the spiritual home of Champagne, Louis Roederer, to try, in the intended environment, its life-affirming Cristal 2008 vintage.
We have scarcely thought — or talked — about anything else since. Vintages like the 2008 remind us why champagne has become a byword for celebration, good taste and elegance for centuries. This is the right stuff. (“It is my best to date” says Roederer cellar master Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon. And he’s such a lovely man we wouldn’t dream of arguing with him.) When you’re toasting the birth of the big guy (or any other non-secular godhead), accept no substitute.
When to bring it out: First thing in the morning to nip the hangover in the bud, or with some smoked salmon as an elevenses snack, or as a joyous pre-lunch toast, or as a final tipple of the day with some leftover turkey, or as a small-hours treat in the half-light of the larder under the disapproving eyes of the family dog. Basically, whenever you bloody can.
2008 Champagne Louis Roederer Cristal, Brut
Port — Croft Vintage Port 1975
With Port, it’s a case of age before beauty (though this Croft magnum looks pretty bloody handsome, too). This magnum (well, it’s best taken in good company in the the dying hours of the evening) dates back to 1975, and demonstrates how remarkably well ports of this calibre can age. There’s a lighter, tawny colour in the glass, while the nose is soaked in the aromas of old-cigar boxes, rich, wild strawberries and notes of the forest floor. e
When to bring it out: With some heady, serious cheeses. Again, maturity is everything. Plate up a wedge of aged, barnyard-y Roquefort or some punchy, proud Stilton, pop some of this elixir in a little Riedel snifter, and prepare yourself for some gorgeous night terrors.
Croft Vintage Port 1975
Dessert wine — Oreg Kiraly Dulo Sweet Szamorodni Furmint Barta 2013
Sauternes dominates the imagination when it comes to dessert wines. The unchallenged ruler of after-dinner land, it is spoken about in the hushed tones of a stately and unflinching regent. (Just observe the awed hush when a bottle of Château d’Yquem is paraded through a dining room). But there are some young(ish) upstarts who are more than worthy of the crown. One of those is Tokaji, the Hungarian prince.
This Oreg Kiraly Dulo 2013 is an elegant and refined option, with all the indulgent notes of caramelized nuts, dried apricots and dulce de leche that make good dessert wine such a slumber-inducing delight.
When to bring it out: With the Christmas pudding. There’s a nice streak of acidity that runs through the 2013 vintage, which will take the cloying edge off even the richest brandy butter.
Oreg Kiraly Dulo Sweet Szamorodni Furmint Barta 2013
Whisky — Lagavulin Distillers Edition 1999
Lagavulin — the deep, grown up, and exceptionally peaty bulldozer of Whiskyland — has long been a favourite here at Gentleman’s Journal HQ (and has provided solace to our editors in the quiet panic of a print deadline — tasting note: does not necessarily pair well with Deliveroo shawarma.)
This dry sixteen-year-old, bottled in 2015, is a special release dubbed the Lagavulin’s Distillers Edition. It is worthy of even the most decadent Christmas gathering: double-matured with characteristic Islay notes of smoke, sea-spray and candied orange, , this one is finished in the honeyed, treacling depths of Pedro Ximénez sherry casks.
When to bring it out: With beefy, ambitious cigars after supper on Christmas eve. No point bringing out a light Romeo Y Julieta 1875 here. The Lagavulin will only dance with punchy, full-bodied numbers that echo the flit of the winter fireplace and the peat moors of its homeland.
Lagavulin 199 Distillers Edition