Tom Harrow, wine director of Honest Grapes offers his ‘off piste’ suggestions for festive quaffing
very November the same tired old Christmas booze article get lubed up and inserted into the Sunday supplements and glossies. With very few variations they cover the following:
Which Champagne should kick off the festive repast? The answer is it’s always a crisp Blanc de Blancs from the currently least crap supermarket offering. There is a half-hearted nod towards something Tasmanian and one miserable old goat is bound to suggest cava.
What to pair with turkey? For Country Life and FT readers – an affordable Burgundy; a Kiwi or Oregon alternative will do for The Guardian and Independent; for trendy / foodie titles, something else vaguely Pinot Noir-ish but from Romania or Mallorca or wherever the writer had a late summer break; and for Daily Mail gawkers – cheap Rioja. Then there are the alternatives – for those who eat goose or beef, or fucking capon, or festive tofu – which is just a way of muddying the waters and recommending any old thing as a favour to the PR, or the wine merchant, to whom you most owe a favour.
As sure as the cold turkey and mix of anti-climax and relief that follows on Boxing Day, you can guarantee the article will lurch into What to drink with Christmas Pudding? This is a one horse race – it’s the same wine EVERY year, actually the same bottle, as it never sells – a half of 1972 PX Sherry from an obsolete Bodega (with a pistachio-green label), which nobody buys (that’s why it’s so old) and writers are surprised and delighted to find it’s still available, they recommend it again even though it tastes like Calpol.
Finally, Port bores get their annual moment of relevance, encouraged to bring out a cheap LBV with their M&S Stilton, or something else utterly knackered from the cellar of a dead relative.
So, joining the party and only occasionally steering away from this weary format, Boisdale Life asked me to make some wildly alternative recommendations. Whether dining out or entertaining in, here are some top choices to accompany your festive board.
Seafood: For your shellfish/smoked salmon/caviar starter this year, try pairing with Sercial Madeira, the driest and lightest of all the styles of this magnificent wine, from an otherwise wholly unremarkable island. Anything leftover can ginger up Boxing Day’s Bloody Mary, instead of the traditional Fino. Madeira is the king of fortified wines and a perfectly brilliant Christmas can be just you and a few bottles of old Verdelho in a dark room.
Meanwhile with oysters, shun Muscadet or voguish, enamel-stripping, zero dosage Champagne and choose a light Italian dessert wine – Moscato (not the fizzy stuff though). Counter-intuitive perhaps, but the saltiness of the oyster’s water, like maritime Roquefort is a good foil for the sweetness of the wine and the rich, creamy texture of both marries up well.
Turkey: Oversized, tasteless and dried out, like a menopausal Catford housewife abroad, an exotic stuffing is the best they can look forward to. Instead of a Pinot pairing, plump for Nerello Mascalese, from the foothills of Etna, the current “in” grape and region of choice for nobs. Otherwise try serving a Junmai Daiginjo Sake, or Honjozo for something a touch richer, or simply a really decrepit Rioja from the 70s or 80s. It might work. It will certainly make the bird taste of something and probably get you accused of ruining Christmas earlier than usual. Finally, take the semantic approach and offer guests shots of Wild Turkey.
Christmas pudding: After being marinated for weeks in cheap sherry, Napoleon Brandy, and other household cleaning fluids, this dark, glutinous, virulently alcoholic mess resembles the sticky bombs thrown at Panzers but is more explosive. Pair it with sparkling water, something saline like San Pellegrino to balance the sweetness. Or say, screw it and accompany with a very dry, briny dirty Martini – a surprisingly brilliant choice. Better still throw the horrid gelatinous mess away, like the sweet dog food it is and enjoy a more palatable dessert of light winterberry tart and Rosé or Demi-Sec Champagne, which will lift rather than condemn the palate.
Stilton and Port: Both are as regal bedfellows as Victoria and Albert, Peter Andre and Jordan and Catherine and her horse. However for a more Republican pairing try Italy’s Recioto di Valpolicella – at 6 degrees less alcohol and served chilled – it’s far more energising. To really ruffle the feathers, a sweet sparkling red Brachetto d’Acqui from Piedmont, it’s a superior Lambrusco that skips across the tongue rather than knee-capping it like most ports. It might even refresh you sufficiently to contemplate a sliver of Christmas cake before you stagger from the table and pass out on a wrapping-paper strewn sofa. Another radical option is to abandon the Stilton altogether and try instead a Chevre or Crottin de Chauvignol, with a slightly older Sancerre or Pouilly Fume. They grow up together in the Loire and the smoky tang and chalky, lightly acrid bite common to both the cheese and wine, make them easy companions.
Finally – give Santa a break. There is only so much medium sherry the old chap can swill back in a night before wrapping his sleigh around a telegraph pole and becoming the villain of seasonal drink driving warning adverts. Instead, why not leave a Berocca and some paracetamol on the mantelpiece. It’s probably what you’d prefer after 40-gallons of Tio Pepe and Bristol Cream.