Reading Twitter in the run up to the festive period, you can’t move for people suggesting what to drink with your Christmas turkey, ham, beef, nut roast, or whatever christens the plate on the 25th. Ultimately, my belief is that no wine on such a day is a bad choice, and if you’re not sure then go with a favourite. By the main course, everyone is either too frazzled or too relaxed to really care. My only reservation with this is that, should you be hosting a large group, a special 30 year old Burgundy should remain in the wine rack – unless you’re a family of connoisseurs, something so precious will ultimately fall on deaf ears while people wonder what a bloody Snowball tastes like.
This year, I hosted a Christmas for two. I love cooking, and I am one if not the most organised people I know. Armed with nothing but a spreadsheet, a Waitrose order, and Nigella’s Christmas, my small kitchen managed to turn out a pretty decent spread. My dad, the recipient of this meal, is more of a beer man these days, and hence the wine choice was for myself alone. I stuck to my key principle of, “What would I enjoy most?”. It’s been a rough December, so the answer was clear: champagne, and Chateauneuf du Pape.
I served the Louis Roederer champagne (Majestic, £44.99) with Nigella’s Parmesan Shortbreads – perfect nibbles for pre-Christmas, and so simple to make that they can be frozen weeks beforehand and cooked without defrosting. The salty savouriness of Parmesan is a perfect compliment to champagne, and this one was a superb choice. It’s toasty, but with a very refined mousse – the next wave is a hit of citrus and apple flavours, all lemons and limes to counteract any heaviness from the cheese. Chilled and enjoyed straight from the fridge, this is light but with serious notes. I also used a Champagne stopper to preserve it until the next day. Despite my skepticism, it worked like a dream. Unfortunately, that may also mean my sparkling wine consumption goes up in 2019.
For the main course, and again taking a leaf out of the Nigella bible, it was the classic turkey and trimmings, plus a slice of ginger-baked ham that I’d made the previous day. For the grand repast, I decanted a bottle of Le Grand Prebois Chateauneuf du Pape (Waitrose, £26.99). While my dad deemed it “too strong”, I forged ahead and was well rewarded. The aromas of raspberry, lightly menthol, and clove meant that they were perfectly matched with the turkey, cranberry sauce, and allspice gravy. There’s an almost meaty taste on the tongue, savoury and chewy with some darker fruits, emerging with some blackberries right at the end. The finish is long, and the tannins are bold yet soft, with vanilla flavours belying a suspicion of oak ageing. I would still pay full price for this (as a treat), however I took advantage of Waitrose’s December offer on six bottles with 25% off to make this a fantastic bargain.
Unfortunately after this feast, my father threw in the towel for the Day. Therefore, on Boxing Day we were joined by old-hand Divya, for a feast of the other half of the Louis Roederer, cold cuts, cheese, homemade sourdough and Parma ham and melon. Given Divya’s enjoyment of good wine and conversation, I decided to get something a little special from storage.
Earlier this year I purchased a few bottles of my very favourite vigneron’s Chateauneuf du Pape, after being entranced by the 2000 vintage while in Avignon. Unfortunately, the labels were discovered to be slightly damaged, so I got these Chateau de Beaucastel’s for a steal at £50 each. Given the age of the wine, I decanted it for an hour and a half before serving, to give it time to gain a little oxygen and open up after 18 years in the bottle. As can so often happen with wines from holidays, I was nervous that I’d made an expensive mistake. However, the memories flew back immediately as soon as the first drops hit the bowl of the glass. Red fruits, cinnamon spice, and cedar wood mingled with aromas of punchy clove and blackberries. It opens up even more on tasting, with meaty savouriness, forest floor and violets. The tannins are smooth and long, perfectly drinking for the next couple of years at least. I’m planning to open another on my birthday.
My Christmas has been relatively quiet. I have a small family (half of which don’t speak to each other anyway), but I can honestly say it was very relaxing. Good food, good wine, and good friends. That’s all you need.
- The Christmas kitchen Bible, Nigella’s Christmas;
- A spreadsheet which started preparations on Christmas Eve;
- Nigella’s website for the Parmesan Shortbreads;
- BBC Good Food for a non-meaty stuffing; and,
- Berry Brothers & Rudd, Waitrose, and House of Townend for wines.