Food & Wine

I am always aghast at the way normally sensible wine journalists with the capacity to create fine copy on deep and wide subject matters seem to become completely unstuck at Christmas. The subject matter is always what works well with Turkey and Christmas pudding, or what to pour when on a budget or ‘sizzlers by the open fire. I am sure you will be familiar with the prose.

However I am then slightly irritated by myself for not actually being able to come up with anything clever that will act as a foil to these reruns of Christmas past. It is sensible to speak of perfect food matches, as this is a time of year when people actually put some thought into it all and it makes a difference. It is good to know the gems that will delight the guest as much as the bank manager (the later on two accounts if you happen to invite them to your party). And it is certainly sensible to review the offers out there, from the most inexpensive to the very finest. So perhaps the answer is to leave this sort of thing to the nationals and concentrate on other seasonal matters.

First, we are starting to see the new releases already from Europe, with Beaujolais being the obvious example, but also the 2012 vintage wines from the New World, or Southern Hemisphere, as they like to be known.  Wines from New Zealand and South Africa have already landed and the freshness and vitality of these are either due to the terrific harvest or a desire to get out of there travelling clothes and into the glass.

Map Maker new arrivals from Down Under

Mapmaker from Staete Landt, two of Caviste’s Newest Wines for the Fabulous 2012 Vintage

The reds will take a little time but there is a precocious nature to these wines that seems to sit well with the more obvious fruit than their old world counterparts. Look out for some fine Chenin and Sauvignon Blanc, and almost certainly not going to break the bank prices. This is also a good time to look for previous vintage wines that are on offer, much like last year’s model of car.  Haggle with you wine merchant and you will be surprised what you can get always with.

wine cellar full for Christmas

Fine Wines coming in thick and fast

This is also the time of year when the Bordeaux wines of two vintages previous are shipped in.  Suddenly the cellars of merchants up and down the country will be full to the brim with lovely stuff.  It is worth noting that prices have cooled somewhat from the opening prices in 2010 (for the 2009 vintage) and therefore it is worth looking around for some terrific value. Petit Chateau and minor Cru Classé Chateaux provide very rich hunting ground, and the great thing is you can have your wine in your cellar under your control, and someone else has taken the financial burden since it was purchased.  2009 was a fantastic vintage too, as is 2010, so it will be worth laying some of these wines down too, and 2008 offers fabulous value, with some fine drinkers even now.

Autumn has also seen the end of a fabulously testing year for English grape growers. I have visited several vineyards over the past few weeks and found it hard not the share the air of desolation that has descended on all but the most optimistic grower (and let’s face it, you have to be pretty optimistic to grow grapes in England).  Frosts at bud break, hail, snow, rain and cold winds during flowering and a persistent gloom during ripening so crops are between 10 and 30% of the quantity of last year.  On my travels I have tasted some fabulous wines and it should be reiterated that although our weather is not exactly on the side of the grower, quite a few of these English wines and sparkling wines are truly coming of age.

So this time of the year also brings weather and a new palate of seasonal flavours and of course a time for a step change in wine choices.  I see no reason to abandon the delicious whites and reds you have been enjoying during the summer months. Fleurie, Chablis, Sancerre and the like, all touted as ‘Light Summer wines’ are equally enjoyable with mushroom dishes, winter fish dishes, the new shell fish season, game and so on.  But perhaps the extra chill is tempered just a little more effectively by a little more body, a little more tannin, and perhaps even a little more aged nobility.  This a good time to scan the auction houses, particularly those out of the spotlight such as Straker Chadwick in Abergavenny, Monmouthshire.  Terrific parcels of great old vintages can be found for not huge amounts and with invariably fine provenance.  This is another good way of letting someone else bear the cost of ageing wine.

It would be remiss of me to not mention the inevitable Christmas fayre.  I am a simple fellow at heart and find a turkey to be one of the most accommodating birds, dancing with virtually any wine you choose to drink with it.  In fact, choose your favourite wine, go long on it and settle in for the day.  I personally like to drink Northern Rhone wines with age, perhaps a Cote Rotie from 2000, but as I invariably have to share this, then perhaps something a little more modest would be more preferable. So think precocious Syrah from a reputable producer, or perhaps a lovely Bourgogne rouge which will pep the palate too.  I reiterate the point, drink what you enjoy drinking.  For those who choose Beef or Goose, well Claret for the former and Southern Rhone for the later, simple really.


Ben Lllewelyn of Carte Blanche Wines

Ben Llewelyn

Carte Blanche Wines

0044 7738 566880

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012