Choosing which wine to serve over the holidays is a task one either relishes or fears. For the wine lover, it is a joyous, indulgent treat that begins weeks before and requires hours of research. Websites, merchant catalogs and wine columnists' tips are all read, choices are circled, calls are made and orders placed. When the day finally arrives, family and friends are in for a thrill as the avid oenophile debates the merits of a Chablis reviewed in the press or a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon recommended by a friend. For the majority, the task can be a complex and overwhelming experience.
Whereas the ingredients for a traditional Christmas lunch have changed very little—turkey, goose, guinea fowl, beef or roast ham—followed by a rich fruit pudding, tart or gingerbread, the landscape for wine has been transformed beyond recognition.
Thirty years ago, our choice was limited to a handful of European wine-producing countries and California. These days, choosing a red wine to pair with your turkey could take you to the foothills of the Andes, the vineyards of Oregon or the sunny valleys of Australia. Such is the swathe of wines on offer that one could be forgiven for asking whether there is a country in the world that doesn't produce wine. From Chilean Merlot to Tasmanian sparkling wine, the unlimited choice is, in reality, confusing and paralyzing. The good news is that in today's fiercely competitive wine market, with savvy buyers, improved winemaking techniques and considerable capital investment, buying a bad bottle of wine is surprisingly difficult. For the modern consumer, the challenge isn't to avoid the undrinkable but to find that interesting bottle that will inspire the taste buds and impress your guests.
This is why this year I have once again done the hard work for you, tasting my way through dozens of wines to create a manageable, bespoke selection containing a tipple for every occasion. Whether it is a small nip of sloe gin after a long afternoon's walk, a glass of lighthearted sparkling wine for a festive party or an altogether richer, more complex red wine for the main meal, my simple list aims to meet your every need.
When choosing my wines, I jotted down a few helpful criteria. Would the wine pair well with most traditional Christmas recipes? Does it offer a positive price-to-quality ratio, and, lastly, what is its alcohol percentage? This last factor is important. Faced with a month of parties, after-work drinks, celebratory lunches and dinners, the onset of palate fatigue is very real.
Where I can, I have tried to find wines that offer purity, freshness and palate-cleansing acidity, while not containing too much alcohol. It is a view shared by two-star Michelin chef Michel Roux Jr. who says: "Something light and refreshing is definitely the way to go."
I'll certainly drink to that.
The Pick of the Christmas Drinks
To the newcomer, wine can be baffling. A subject of infinite complexities, it is little wonder most consumers approach the supermarket wine aisles with trepidation. A look at where to begin.