Village drinks? Teenage gatherings? Carol singers? Christmas and Boxing Day lunch? Wine savant Nicola Arcedeckne-Butler MW has a wine for every festive occasion.
Christmas time often comes with an influx of household guests, and as a suitably merry host, you’ll want to be ready with the perfect beverage for whoever appears at your door. Wine expert Nicola has you covered with tipple ideas for every visitor and festive occasion — cheers!
Carol singers: Bubbly and mulled wine
In our (quite remote, even for Hampshire) village, the carol singers are driven around by tractor between three houses at different points along the length of the village. When we host, we have a fizz from The Grange, as the vineyard is literally in the village and it would be heresy to do otherwise.
Alongside this, we’ll have some tasty mulled wine (this is homemade, of course — there are no sachets here) for those who believe that drinks for carols have to feel Christmassy. The secret is to use a red with low tannin and lots of fruit and don’t go too cheap. Find something from southern France or Argentina at about £10 a bottle, if you don’t want to suffer the next day.
Village drinks party: Local fizz, Chenin Blanc and Tempranillo
Here again, we might be tempted to have some fizz and would source from the local wineries. Fortunately, there are a few to choose from including Raimes, Exton Park and Hattingley Valley. Alternatively, we might be more likely to serve a tasty South African Chenin Blanc — rounded and fruity with a definite flavour, which will pull in lovers of both bone-dry and off-dry wines, without the partisan effect of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Look to spend between £8 and £15 a bottle.
We would have red, too, at a similar price level, probably a Spanish one with low tannin, but lots of juicy fruit, because you can’t guarantee that everyone is going to be good at using nibbles as blotting paper. I would be looking at an unoaked Tempranillo from Tierra de la Castilla.
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Christmas lunch: Vintage Champagne, Premier Cru Burgundy and a serious Claret
At Christmas, we go full-on traditional, pushing the boat out with a vintage Champagne (£70 or above will get you something wonderful). Alongside this, we’d have a white Burgundy with some age on it (and preferably a Premier Cru, so look to spend more than £50 per bottle), then a grown-up Claret and, next, something serious from my own cellar at home. This year, that might be a Château Roc de Cambes 2000 or Les Forts de Latour 1999. Obviously, we would offer some Sauternes with the Christmas pudding and some vintage Port with the Stilton — no holds barred!
Boxing Day lunch: Italian selection and alcohol-free Chardonnay
This is where I would go off piste. Again, I’d have a Hampshire fizz to start with, as it gets everything off with a bang. I’d also offer Noughty sparkling Chardonnay for those who need to clear their heads; it has 0% alcohol and bags of taste. For a white wine, I would head towards southern Italy, where there are some amazing, but underappreciated wines, such as Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino. They are bursting with fruit, bone dry and really characterful; as they have no oak, they are incredibly pure and refreshing.
For the red, I might well stick in Italy with something from the Morellino di Scansano DOCG in Maremma. Alternatively, if I was looking to be a bit more classic, I’d offer a young red Burgundy from the 2020 vintage. Boxing Day is always a tad slower than Christmas Day, so the wines need to be racy and fresh without demanding too much intellectual analysis.
A party for thirsty friends: Beaujolais Villages, Fleurie and Crémant de Bourgogne
Here, I would offer a Crémant de Bourgogne for the fizz (available at most supermarkets). By this stage, everyone will have had enough of me serving English, I suspect. Alongside this, I’d offer a fresh white Burgundy, which, at best, is light and zingy, with just enough seriousness to satisfy even the greatest wine buff, but won’t alienate those who simply want to enjoy the conversation without the wine taking over.
For a red, I would head to Beaujolais Villages or even a Fleurie; both are low in tannin and delicious on their own or with food. The risk of a party is that the food is often at the wrong end of the room.
Catering for teens: Hide the spirits, and bring out the rosé and Sauvignon Blanc
Apart from oceans of beer and cider and hiding the spirits so they don’t start experimenting with cocktails, I would be heading for something light and fresh again. At the same time, I would be watching the alcohol levels, as we know that teenagers aren’t so discriminating when it comes to estimating quantities consumed.
You can get some delicious and not hugely expensive lower-alcohol wines, such as The Doctor’s Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, available in many good supermarkets for less than £10, for example, and a rosé — in my experience, teenagers aren’t great red drinkers, preferring beer or cider.
Nicola Arcedeckne-Butler MW (01353 721999; www.privatecellar.co.uk)
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