Christmas has its origins as a midwinter festival – a time of communal celebration and feasting to mark the half-way point in the winter calendar.
It’s surely no coincidence that both the Gregorian calendar and the Christian church follow pagan customs in marking out mid-winter as a notable time.
In these days of central heating, street lights and global supply chains, the purpose of Christmas has changed beyond all recognition, but it remains a time to be marked with family and food.
If the occasion is special, so should the food be – and the wine, too.
Clos Saint Michel, Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc 2009 – Joseph Barnes Wines (£25)
Chateauneuf du Pape in the Rhone is best known for its spicy southern reds, made from up to 13 grape varieties.
However, it also produces small amounts of white wines from local varieties with demand outstripping supply. This one is a blend of 30% Grenache Blanc, 30% Clairette, 20% Roussanne and 20% Bourboulenc.
Aged in old oak, this Clos St Michel is a sandy yellow in the glass and needs quite a bit of air to come into its own so don’t be afraid to decant at least an hour before the meal.
Once opened up, the nose shows hints of acacia, mint, honey and beeswax – the palate is waxy and fat, yet cut through with ripe melon fruit acidity.
This is something of an Old School wine – balanced and composed rather than showy, the interest here is in the texture, acidity and finish when matched with the right food.
Match with plain roast white meats, especially turkey.
Ballochdale Estate Pinot Noir, 2010, Marlborough, New Zealand – Noel Young Wines (£17.50)
New Zealand is fast becoming a second home for Pinot and a more reliable, if no less cheap, source than Burgundy.
From the Awatere Valley in Marlborough, this Ballochdale Estate Pinot Noir from 2010, sealed under screwcap, is quite dark in the glass for a Pinot and on first opening shows plenty of raspberry and black cherry fruit. It’s thoroughly pleasant, albeit not particularly Burgundian.
With a bit of air, however, the ripe primary fruit fades away and it becomes a whole lot more interesting. The nose becomes more vegetal with toasty spice. On the palate, there is ripe sour cherry fruit, pepperiness and a beautifully soft texture; the finish is grippy, spicy and pleasantly rasping.
Match with a Christmas turkey with all the trimmings or, on another occasion, with slow-roast garlic-and-rosemary lamb.
Clos de Los Siete 2009 Mendoza, Argentina – Cambridge Wine Merchants (£13.99)
This Argentinian wine is made by a partnership of seven producers under the auspices of Bordelais oenologist Michel Rolland.
The winery is based at Vistaflores, an estate covering 847 hectares of vineyards, in the commune of Tunuyan, a desert plain rapidly gaining international acclaim, located 80km south of the city of Mendoza.
Like many Argentinian wines, the grapes are grown at much higher altitudes than oi possible in Europe (around 1,000m here), extending the growing season and giving more colour in the wine, greater development of aromas and higher acidity levels – New World ripeness without the blowsiness.
Made from a blend of Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah, it is typically dark in the glass, with aromas of dark fruit, game and herbs; the palate shows sweet black fruit with good acidity and a dense, smooth texture of perfectly ripe, mouthfilling tannins.
Ripe and fruit-forward but not overblown, this is a grown-up crowd-pleaser, a lovely, sophisticated blend of New World ripeness and European restraint; it will match best with the sweetness of slow roast chicken with parsnips and pigs-in-blankets or lamb.
Bodegas Borsao, Tinto 2011, Campo de Borja, Spain – Bacchanalia (£5.99)
Spain’s Garnacha (aka France’s Grenache) typically makes easy-drinking spicy, juicy wines with lots of crowd-pleasing aromas.
The vineyards for this Garnacha from Bodegas Borsao are located on the northern slopes of the Moncayo mountain range and are cooled by the Cierzo breezes.
A translucent purple in the glass, straight out of the screw-capped bottle there are expressive aromas of morello cherries, plummy fruit, liquorice, leather, vanilla and spice.
The palate is juicy and mouthfilling, with a lovely sour-cherry acidity, more plummy and dark berry fruit with sweet vanilla, spice and roughed-up herbs.
The texture is soft and smooth, with some gentle grip developing on the finish.
This is a really expressive wine with bags of crowd-pleasing character – match with darker game, such as pheasant stuffed with apricots, or spicy sausages.
There is no overall winner this month – just some great wines for Christmas drinking; the choice here depends simply on what you are eating and your budget.
Wine of the Month will be de-toxing in January, but returns in February with a Valentine’s theme.
Other related articles
Bacchanalia – http://www.winegod.co.uk/
Cambridge Wine Merchants – http://www.cambridgewine.co.uk/
Joseph Barnes Wines – http://www.josephbarneswines.com/
Noel Young Wines – http://www.nywines.co.uk/
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