Let’s face it - come the time when you’ve finally herded the family round the table to sit down to your Christmas lunch, you’re probably going to be half-pissed. If not, you’ve been doing Christmas Day all wrong. We generally overspend at Christmas. On everything. But particularly on booze. Houses that rarely see more than a bottle of Gordon’s Gin all year are suddenly awash with Crème de Cacao, Slivovitz and Absinthe; most of which is subsequently mixed into hideous radioactive cocktails on New Year’s Eve. We tend to go overboard on the wine too but only on the amount we spend. We stick to familiar names, thinking that adding £15 or £20 on top of our usual spend must guarantee us something good. It might do. It might not.
But let’s be realistic, is it really worth spending that much more on your Christmas wine? It’s the one occasion in our social calendar when binge-drinking (or as we called it when I was a teenager, “drinking”) is actively encouraged. It is, in fact, compulsory. Visiting your relatives on Christmas morning can see you being forced fed whiskies at a frankly frightening pace, even if you’ve got a people-carrier full of toddlers to ferry around. The entire nation rapidly descends from a world of tinsel, paper hats and Noel Edmonds visiting hospitals, into a squalid Hogarthian nightmare: a house full of catatonic, dribbling adult beasts, surrounded by Quality Street wrappers. Meanwhile wailing babies lie in soiled nappies and the kitchen burns down.
Chardonnay and Chablis are always top-sellers at Christmas, primarily because they are easy names to pronounce.
As the man (or lady) of the house, feeding the assembled throng of loved–ones and spongers has fallen into your very capable hands. As Graham Kerr and Keith Floyd always taught us, it’s the chef’s prerogative to down a few slurps whilst stirring the gravy and shouting. It’s what put the ‘Merry’ in ‘Christmas’. It seems a shame therefore that you open anything remotely expensive to wash down the turkey. With your plate awash with roasted, fatty spuds; methane-ridden sprouts; and your nan’s homemade sugary-sour cranberry sauce, it’d be a waste of you hard earned to uncork the Cheval Blanc. But that doesn’t mean you can’t drink well. After all it is a celebration. Shop wisely and you can enjoy some very, very quaffable wine. Supermarkets can’t afford to peddle bad wine anymore and their buying power means you can get very good wine for £15 or less. Yes, you can buy bottles at £3.99 but with half that made up from Customs and Excise duties you are only getting £1.50- £2.00 worth of wine. You’re a Sabotage Times reader – you deserve better.
So, spend less, spend wisely. Drink more.
Forget Champagne. Virtually nobody can tell the good stuff from the mediocre, particularly when already half-cut on WKD. It’s also pretentious and overpriced, a gaudy talisman of opulence. That’s why footballer’s wives ostentatiously drink it and Rappers spray it over birds’ arses. Best avoid. If the family expect some pre-prandial fizz to give the proceedings a sense of occasion then Cava or Prosecco will more than adequately fit the bill. Supermarkets all do good offerings and as Christmas Eve approaches the multi-buy special offers will kick in. Be patient.
Chardonnay and Chablis are always top-sellers at Christmas, primarily because they are easy names to pronounce. Of this I am convinced. After all, you never see anyone in a bar ask for a glass of Gewurztraminer. In the past I’d have added ‘Rioja’ to this list of ‘easy shops’, but not anymore. Rioja was traditionally hit and miss, some of it frankly awful: overly woody and cloyingly vanilla-ish. However modern production methods have replaced variable older local techniques and winemakers are tailoring their vastly-improved output to appeal to the increasingly knowledgeable British palate. Quality has risen sharply across the board and Rioja is now incredibly popular in the UK. Some bottles are very good, some are exceptional. Supermarkets are very reliable sources of this northern Spanish staple. Particularly fine buys this holiday period include:
Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001. Available from Asda & Sainsburys. (Around £15). For this price you’ll struggle to drink better, anywhere. Has all the fresh red fruit you might expect but with supple elegant tannins. Not too heavy – a real crowd pleaser and will only get better. So buy a few extra for 2014. Or Boxing Day, whichever comes first.
Rioja often displays a eucalyptus note on the nose – Xerox paper straight from the school copier. Bodegas Muriel Rioja Reserve, 2008, (A tenner, widely available) has this along with familiar coconut and damsons, allied to subtle wood and coffee tones. A real bargain. Again, buy more than you think you’ll need. As you will need more than you think. Trust me.
If Rioja seems a tad obvious (I could have suggested Chateauneuf de Pape if you wanted clichés at Christmas) then Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz/Cabernet 2011 might be up the wine traditionalist’s alley. Available again for a tenner from Sainsburys and Morrisons amongst others. This has all the expected rich Cabernet and Shiraz flavours: spicy dark red and black fruit galore – truly gluggable and ideal for washing down pigs in blankets, trifle and Pringles.
Lighter styles are – we are told – a better partner for the relative blandness of turkey meat. Asda’s Stonier Pinot Noir 2010, from Mornington Peninsula, Oz.
Could be the answer if the family struggle with tannins and ‘body’. A few quid more (around £15) will get you juicy, perfumed blackcurrants and raspberries galore. You can swill this beauty down whilst berating Merlot (“the Robbie Williams of grapes”) as the family settles down to watch the dvd of ‘Sideways’ that your inner wine-ponce has been saving up to broadcast to your philistine relatives.
Chianti isn’t a name that usually crops up at Christmas, but the Co-op’s luscious and vibrant Classico, Villa Cafaggio from Vendemmia, 2009 is a real winner. Beautifully fruity and supple, this could be the ideal partner for cranberries, gravy and white meat (About £13)
The Co-op really has been flogging some belting wine in 2013. My own favourite, my ‘Bargain of the Year’ (and I’ve squirreled away a dozen bottles for the Yuletide grog-fest), has been the astonishingly good-value Chateau De L’Estang 2009 from Castillon, Cote de Bordeaux. Currently, it’s less than £8 a bottle, and I’d be happy to pay three times that for this. It has a rich, elegant nose of potting sheds and blackcurrants and, for the price, a brilliant dense finish with firm tannins. Really, really delicious.
John Mackin's book 'Redmen' is available now.