The festive season is the best wine drinking experience of the calendar year. It represents an opportunity to indulge and a window in which to celebrate with the world's best nectar. I can only really think of raising a glass amongst the vines while bringing in the new crop as a moment that can compete, but even then, it's an all together different thing.
The Christmas period presents a myriad of social encounters and matching them to the right grape and style is all part of the fun. It also offers the enthusiast a chance to show off a little and the encouragement to rise to the occasion and deliver a little flamboyance in their vinous choices.
As a hopeless geek I start work on my festive list in the final week of November. It spans pages of notes and includes tables and charts, food pairings and contingencies, the whole spectrum of what ifs. Gradually it comes together but only with a great deal of posturing and pontificating, much crossing out and all round indecision.
It's a process, not unlike porttery throwing. A large mass of material (both wines I've collected over the years and new purchases) are gradually shaped into something ?. Eventually, and normally just days before the main event, I pronounce the completion of my work of art. I'm just about tolerated by my family, but their patience seems to wear thinner each year.
For most of though, Christmas wine drinking is a ritualistic buildup to the big red, the star bottle if you like. This choice is deliberated over for weeks, if not months and represents the vinous centrepiece of the holidays. While tradition varies from family to family, white meat with all the trappings is typical festive fare and the beauty of such a culinary pillar is that it can hold up almost any wine.
That being said, there is a case for following some g. My own flagship choices are made off the back of weighty thought and as you can imagine there is much to consider. While I'm all in favour of experimentation, this is not the day to do it. I never opt for a wine I don't know and in fact, the pulling of the cork and likely decantering is usually done well in advance - just in case.
Structure is important too. I plumb for something with some grip but that keeps its temper below 13.5% alcohol. This doesn't always suggest an old world choice, but family tradition normally pushes the decision towards Italy or France. I try not to be swayed too much but I've learned not to play the tyrant every year.
I have not yet descended from the fence, but we're getting dangerously close. My heart tells me to live a little, and try some of the stunning natural wines I've come across over the last year or so. Mindful of the occasion though, my head is tossing a coin to separate the finesse and elegance of Margaux from the power and structure of Pauliac.
[For me,] Burgundy is where I invest my mind and energies. Afterall, in selecting such a complex region there is much to consider.
Good Burgundy is of course very expensive. There are few bargains to be had, and with the low yields of recent vintages even average wines carry significant price tags. As a result I generally prefer to follow the work of specific producers over blind faith in appellations; world famous though they are, villages such as Gevrey Chambertin, Volnay and Pommard still throw up their share of disappointments.
Beyond this I'll look at the vintage. In a marginal climate such as Burgundy’s, vintage variation is strong.
[this needs to finish off by linking back to the christmas dinner]
Brodeaux is the next logical alternative. For those that like a bit more structure and perhaps a bit more black fruit can look towards this iconic wine. I find magnums come into their own at this time of year and Bordeaux in particular does an excellent job of delivering well priced wines in a double helping.
youfortunately this only serves to exaggerate prices in the good years and leave a surplus of overpriced in the bad years. This potential pitfall reinforces the need to follow certain producers.
Responsibility not withstanding, my own five day indulgence starts at lunch time on Christmas eve. I deliberately ignore the silly season buildup of work drinks and mince pie evenings with estranged family members. I know others in the trade though. It's touch and go whether what gets consumed here is a a bonus or physical and psychological set back.
As you would expect, the list is built around the central Christmas dinner red.
Port requires a little mention all to itself. The drink is absolutely back in fashion. Years ago the main houses dominated Britain's festive tables, but things are changing. Today the scene in the Douro is far more diverse. A rich tapestry of small producers creating interesting single quinta wines are available and it's time we embraced them. Terroir, the concept of isolating a wine down to the individual influences on its origin, is somewhat redundant in Port making. Its identity is after all entrenched with the both the blending of multiple grape varieties and fortifying the resulting wine with alcohol to leave large quantities of sugar.
Generally there is the demand for both red and white wines. Here Burgundy delivers. The area offers bench mark expressions of both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Of course there are those that use this annual food fest as an excuse to hold a large scale tasting, perhaps a vertical of vintages, or a round robin indulgence of top estates.