This month, Adam Lechmere is in the mood for a celebration. If you’re looking to spend a little more on wine this Christmas, these are the bottles for you
Last Christmas my brother invited us all down to his place in Worcestershire for the festive season (and if you think that sounds a bit PG Wodehouse, you’re right). He asked me to take care of the booze but stipulated – as he’s a conservative chap – that all the wines should be the same. That is, no jumping about between regions and vintages. Naturally, I ignored him, as I think the essence of a big celebratory dinner or lunch should be the variety of wine. I love to see a table spread with half a dozen or more bottles from many regions, with everybody stretching across each other, and clear favourites emerging as the meal progresses.
The selection shouldn’t be entirely random, and of course should be chosen with the food in mind. I try to have four to six reds on the go for the main part of the Christmas meal, with a New World and Old World contrast.You might choose an Australian pinot noir like the gorgeous Lethbridge (below) against a Burgundy (Waitrose has a fine range – try the Volnay Premier Cru from Domaine de la Pousse d’Or), and perhaps a Bordeaux (I would choose from the fine and affordable 2001 vintage which is drinking beautifully now) and a Californian cabernet sauvignon (try Smith-Madrone’s elegant 2010, at robersonwine.com for £44).
If there are a lot of you, remember that nothing says ‘celebration’ better than a big bottle. More and more retailers are doing magnums nowadays. Check out Waitrose’s 2011 Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Clos Saint Michel, or try Moët’s very fine NV Brut in magnum, which is widely available. If you really want to make a splash with the sparkler, go for a jéroboam (four bottles) or the mighty nebuchadnezzar (20 bottles – you’ll have to chill it in the bath).
There are other criteria that make a wine celebratory rather than everyday. The key thing is that it should be in some way unusual, whether this is in terms of style, bottle size, grape, region or cost. One of the advantages of having a variety of bottles on the table is that you can take a risk. I’ve recommended Josko Gravner’s splendid ribolla gialla, one of the most unusual white wines you’ll ever try – and even if some of your guests may find it a bit too interesting for their tastes, it will be a talking point.
Christmas is also an excellent time to bring out the sweet wines you never find an opportunity to open. Of the great sweet whites of the world, Tokaj and Sauternes stand pre-eminent, and both are incredibly versatile. Sauternes, from the south of Bordeaux, has a honeyed salinity that goes well with creamy blue cheese such as Gorgonzola, as well as foie gras, stone fruit like peaches and nectarines and the buttery biscuits langues de chat. Tokaj, the sweet wine from Hungary, is also perfect with foie gras and blue cheese and – if you’re serving an alternative pudding – crème brûlée.
And so to port, the wine that brings a mellow, contemplative finish to a celebratory meal. Taylor’s has just released its 1965 tawny (perfect, incidentally, if you know of anyone whose half-century falls this year). It’s a seductive mouthful – but if you feel that about £150 a bottle is beyond your range, they also do a deliciously nutty, figgy 10-year-old tawny.
Gravner Anfora Ribolla Gialla, Italy, 2006, £66.20
A compelling white wine from northern Italy. Nose of honeysuckle and palate of stone fruit. Drink with truffles.
Available at:Hedonism Wines
Taylor's 10 Year Old Tawny, £22
Fig and fine old-wood nose, palate bright and nutty, laden with figs, raisins and Christmas spice. Drink with roasted almonds or rich blue cheese.
Lethbridge Pinot Noir, Victoria, Australia, 2012, £30
Superb, juicy, open palate with fine structure, sweet black cherry, hints of earth and bursts of sour cherry juice at the end. Serve with the turkey.
Available at:Wine Buffs
Château Coutet, Sauternes 2002, £26.50
Rich gold in colour with intensely sweet aroma of pear and hints of white pepper. Fine acidity and salinity. Drink with tarte tartin or with dolceatte.