Contrary to popular belief, I’ve not been quaffing fine wines from Bordeaux all my adult life. As someone from a council house in a Lancashire suburb, wine wasn’t on my radar until I befriended someone who is half-Italian. Her parents drank some red coloured liquid called “Key-yan-tee” (at least that’s how I heard it) – whilst eating their very exotic sounding “Lazanya”.
Growing up, Christmas was the only time when we had any booze at all, Chez Smithson. My dad turned beer drinking into an Olympic sport – very often ordering a spare pint to guzzle whilst he was getting a round in at the bar.
Despite this, he never drank in the house and left it to my mum to buy Christmas tipples for ‘visiting guests’. These imaginary people didn’t know what they were missing – a half bottle of blended whisky, the 70s classic Warninks Advocaat (I still love a snowball) and some Liebfraumilch. The latter, unfortunately, never saw the inside of a fridge – even after a four-hour sprout-boiling marathon in a very hot kitchen.
But it was a long time ago – no-one on our street drank wine back then and Ena Sharples was still nursing a milk stout at the Rovers Return. Now we are all more wine-savvy, comparatively speaking and there are choices aplenty in supermarkets, independent stores (where you’ll always get the best one-to-one advice) and of course, online.
For me, Christmas always has to involve fizz and goodness, don’t we need some sparkle this year? A quality name with a matching price tag is the delicious Champagne Charles Heidsieck NV Brut at £45 per bottle (cheaper if you buy a case), available at The Wine Society. If you don’t know about The Wine Society, you really should. The organisation, owned by its members, is a very reasonable £40 to join, for life (available as a gift for a wine-loving friend). You even receive a share certificate! They have a mind-blowing range of great quality wines from around the world at reasonable prices.
One of my favourite white grape varieties is Riesling, despite the cold shudder when I see a flute-shaped bottle (à la ghost of Christmas past mentioned above). A fabulous aromatic grape variety, it has amazing acidity and is therefore very refreshing too. Those produced in the Alsace region of France are the most food-friendly wines you could ever imagine and generally not sweet, in case you were wondering. The Schlumberger Grand Cru Searing would be a good match with fishy starters, most festive mains (other than robust red meat dishes) and could even make a re-appearance with the cheese board. Why people don’t drink more Riesling I’ll never know. This is available from The Oxford Wine Company at a very reasonable £24.95, considering the vines are grown on a Grand Cru site and it is a real treat.
For a red, it is so hard to please everyone and I think lots of people have become used to powerful, fruity new-world wines with plenty of alcohol. If this is you, then an old-world alternative to try is a Côtes du Rhône Villages, generally a blend made with Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. If you are feeling flush, then Chateauneuf du Pape (from Southern Rhone, using the same blend of grapes). However, I’m sticking my neck out here and recommending something much lighter in style, which will go with lots of festive food – even the leftovers on Boxing Day. Chiroubles is a Beaujolais Cru village and produces wine from the Gamay grape – not widely grown outside of this area of France. This from the Co-op is fabulous and only £10. It is also great with cheese (I love cheese!)
I really hope you have a lovely time, as much as you can, over the festive period. I’m not normally one for reflection, but this year has been a stinker and it does make you take stock and feel grateful for good friends and family. Looking back, I certainly wouldn’t change a thing about my upbringing, the occasional dry turkey and very soggy sprouts – but I just might have persuaded Mum to put the wine in the fridge!