HAPPILY, the mainstay of our traditional Christmas lunch – turkey – is pretty versatile so our choice of wine to accompany it largely depends on what surrounds the meat. That is literally so with multiple bird roasts like turducken, but is also a factor with sauces and other accompaniments.
If the dish contains nothing too muscular, one of the stylish, food-friendly rosés from, say, Provence can work very well. But do avoid the ‘modern rosé’ style – that usually has way too much residual sugar for this task.
Another light option would be Beaujolais, and I have been much taken with 2010 Brouilly Henry Fessy (£8.79 – down from £10.99 – Waitrose) which offers a great value, fresh red from a good vintage (albeit less beefy than 2009) but with a neat, spicy, herbal framework around its appealing complex and ripe red cherry fruit.
More depth comes with 2010 Villa Maria Private Bin Syrah (£9.99 – down from £12.49 – Majestic) which may suit anyone going beyond straight forward turkey. Demonstrating, perhaps, that syrah from New Zealand’s North Island needs a little time, this wine has improved significantly in the last six months with the Gimblett Gravels complexity (40 per cent of the grapes are from there) now coming nicely to the fore. The wine now adds meaty and mineral touches to its fresh and aromatic cherry fruit and characteristic cinnamon.
Before leaving either the grape variety or that part of the world, hop across the Tasman Sea to enjoy the concentrated and warm flavours of 2009 Wakefield Jaraman Shiraz (£16.95, www.slurp.co.uk). It has dense and minty bramble fruit that rides out on a delightful vanilla, clove and nutmeg finish.
Pinot noir is also a common component of many Christmas selections and, despite many good examples in Burgundy, I am putting the spotlight on a South American version. Just over 15 years ago, Cono Sur selected pinot for its first ultra premium wine and set aside the best 20 barrels from the 1996 vintage to be bottled and sold separately. Since then, the process (and the name) has been extended to other grape varieties but 2008 Cono Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir (£19.99, Waitrose) still illustrates just how good top-level Chilean pinot can be. It provides intense, perfumed raspberry flavours with earthy, spicy undercurrents yet never compromises the freshness that quality versions of the grape seem to embody. The 14 per cent alcohol makes food an absolute necessity, however.
For something significantly more robust, switch to another part of the Concha Y Toro stable and the 2010 Marques de Casa Concha Merlot (£12, Villeneuve Wines). Like the best merlots of Bordeaux, this is grown on clay-based soil but the winemaker (the talented Marcelo Papa) has created something with much more fullness and intensity than European climates usually allow – yet still harmoniously balances the tannin and acidity in the way good, right bank claret does. The flavours are black cherry, vanilla and a warm mocha finish and the wine would be equally at home with game dishes as it is with the more predictable lamb.
The final red is also South American but this time it comes from Argentina. There, bonarda is often used as a light but unspectacular blending grape yet, in the right hands – and especially with older vines – it can produce impressive, big wines. A good example is 2009 Trapiche Broquel Bonarda (£11.29, Tesco) with its concentrated bramble and rich blaeberry fruit and nutmeg finish.
Despite the wine’s robustness, it has relatively light tannins that give the acidity a clear run and allow it to offset any excess richness. If, French style, you like to use up any surplus red wine by serving cheese before dessert, I have good news. This bonarda partners stilton almost as well as port does.
However, in households serving fish as a centrepiece or where red wine is simply less popular, Christmas can be the ideal time for white burgundy. An excellent choice would be 2009 Meursault Château de Blagny Premier Cru Louis Latour (£30, Majestic) from one of the most important domains in the commune. It neatly combines slightly honeyed but clean citrus flavours with a nutty backdrop and a delicate minerality from the limestone terroir on which the vines grow.
Dropping a little way south, to Maconnais, brings us to the delightful 2010 Dominic Hentall Bourgogne St Veran (£15.99, Naked Wines). In this sub-region the chardonnay grape tends to produce less rich wines but this version has appealing (though, admittedly, soft) mandarin fruit beneath the conventional fresh lime and green apple flavours. All the fruit elements are delightfully rounded out with a sophisticated vanilla and mineral- centred finish.
Naturally, we can’t leave Burgundy without finding a chablis to enjoy and my nomination this Christmas would be the classic 2011 Chablis La Collegiale Laroche (£10.99, Majestic) which has all the smooth and light, sharp lemon elements you would expect but adds richness and some charming subtle floral influences. For a more unusual but hugely impressive white, go for something by one of Portugal’s rising stars – and daughter of a famous winemaker – with 2011 FP Branco by Filipa Pato (£11.50, Oddbins).
The wine is made from the local bical and arinto grapes and not only provides the body Christmas lunch demands but also delivers green apple acidity to underpin the complex banana fruit without compromising its seamless move to a savoury, fennel finish.
Leaving Europe altogether but dropping back to chardonnay, I have enjoyed 2011 Iona Chardonnay (£14.99, M&S) which is from the cooler southern tip of South Africa and, hence, provides fresh lemon influences to complement the riper smooth orange flavours. Better still, it demonstrates perfectly how the well-judged use of oak creates a suggestion of creamy vanilla which enhances – but never overpowers – the more subtle flavours on offer.
So, bon appétit everyone.