With less than 3 weeks to go, it’s time to share my list of essential Christmas drinking wines. Followed next week, with lots of suggestions for Christmas lunch.
Mince pies: These days, Madeira is perhaps best known as the birthplace of hair gel enthusiast Cristiano Ronaldo, but the incredible fortified wines from the island really shouldn’t be overlooked. There are four major styles – Sercial, Verdelho, Boal and Malvasia – named after the grape varieties used to make the wines. All are worth seeking out but it’s the second sweetest of the styles, Boal, that I enjoy the most with mince pies.
CHRISTMAS EVE Roast Chestnuts: Cast aside any thoughts of vicars or maiden aunts sipping sweet Sherry – that’s not what real Sherry is all about at all. The real stuff is dry, delicious and, thanks to top chefs, such as Heston Blumenthal, increasingly popular. Pair roast chestnuts, or walnuts, with Classic Amontillado, Fernando de Castilla and surprise yourself.
Pork Loin: Not really a Christmas classic but with the gastronomic overload of Christmas Day to follow, we keep things simple on Christmas Eve with roast pork loin in cobs. Pork loin is best paired with delicate red wines, from Beaujolais, in France, or Veneto, in Italy. For me, it’s Italy all the way and I usually open up a couple of bottles of juicy, herbaceous Bardolino from the eastern shores of Lake Garda.
Panettone: Dessert comes courtesy of our favourite Italian wine producers, who sends us a hamper of goodies every Christmas. Panettone is best paired with the sweet, sparkling Volpi Moscato from the Piedmont region. And at only 5.5%, you’ll have no problem playing Father Christmas to the sleeping kids later on!
CHRISTMAS MORNING Smoked Salmon: Our Christmas Day breakfast is smoked salmon, scrambled eggs and an accompanying glass of Champagne. Blanc de Blancs Champagne (Champagne made entirely from Chardonnay grapes) pairs beautifully with salmon and my absolute favourite is Champagne Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru.
CHRISTMAS LUNCH (mains in next week’s column) Christmas Pudding: I’ve recommended the Antique Pedro Ximinez, Fernando de Castilla many times before but there really isn’t anything else that comes close to its heady magnificence. It’s a dazzling concoction of coffee, liquorice, sweet tobacco, prunes, figs, raisins, and tea and, for real decadence, can even be poured on your Christmas pudding.
Stilton: We all know that Port and Stilton is a classic combination but which port to choose? The traditional match is a late bottled vintage or vintage port but I’m far more partial to a 10 year old tawny port. I’m happy with most but my favourite is the Niepoort 10 Year Old Tawny which offers amazing aromas of orange and lemon peel, with hints of toffee, caramel and honey. On the palate, it’s full bodied and luscious, with lots of sweet fruit and a long subtle finish that goes on and on.
BOXING DAY Turkey Curry: When the inevitable turkey curry appears, it’s best to stick to whites such as Riesling, Gerwürztraminer and Pinot Gris that have the necessary flamboyance to cope with the curry’s exotic nature.
Christmas Cake: There are times when it’s hard to beat a cup of tea and a slice of Christmas cake. Post walk on Boxing Day isn’t one of them. Then, tired and mellow, only a glass of Stanton & Killen’s Rutherglen Muscat from Victoria, Australia, will do.
NEW YEAR’S EVE Moules Marinière: Mussels are in season whenever there’s an ‘R’ in the month and making moules marinière on New Year’s Eve has become a bit of a family tradition in recent years. It doesn’t get much better than a big pan of moules marinière, a baguette and a well-chilled glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Happy New Year!