Festive Season Top Tipple

Not in the mood for champagne?  Try a port! Believe it or not, but not everyone’s crazy about Christmas, or the festive season, or whatever you wish to call it.  I have a friend who’s all breezy during the year but when Christmas time approaches, he begins to grow steadily more morose.

My friend explained he has a phobia about the cracker-cracking season, with its paper hats and there are some Christmas tunes he finds loathsome, especially when played by a succession of tiny bells (on that point I am with him!).  My friend pointedly refuses to buy bubbly, but instead consoles himself with a first class port wine from the Doura region which he carefully nurses while waiting for the season of good cheer to pass.

The point I really want to make is, that bubbly is really not the only drink to enjoy this festive season.  For those who prefer a calm atmosphere, there is the most neglected of all wines, Port.

What else can warm the cockles of the heart and soothe the soul like a glass of tawny port?

I’ll never forget my first Portuguese port which hailed from, of course, the Douro region – although the name ‘Douro’ meant nothing to me at the time.  The taste of this tawny port was unforgettable though and the reason, I discovered later, is because our sense of taste and smell, but more-so our sense of smell, are closely linked to memory.   That’s why, years later smelling a perfume a loved one wore, we are instantly able to recall her, or  certain foods and wines we enjoyed in the past.  But that’s just an aside.

In the Douro region the grapes come from terraces built into the precipitous, rocky hillsides where the grapes bake in the intense heat of summer.  Douro’s tradition of making port is centuries old and the best grapes are still crushed the traditional way – trod by feet in open granite lagares or treading tanks .  After fermentation brandy is added, followed by the maturation period in wood during which time the wood imparts its tawny colour to the wine, and its distinctive nutty taste. (eds note: The ‘Brandy’ added to make port is a clear, neutral grape spirit quite unlike the brandy one might drink)

Berry Bros & Rudd is one of the finest wine merchants in London.  They stock a very good selection of port wines (as well as just about everything else.)  They tend to be bit pricy, so if price is a factor (and when is it not?), then try Oddbins who has some good deals on port wines.

Taylors 10 Year Old Tawny

Price: £11.99 (If you buy 6 you pay only £8.99 which means you save 25%.)

Where: Oddbins

The wine: A superb tawny in a convenient half-bottle size.

Tasting notes: Deep brick colour with amber rim. Rich and elegant nose combining aromas of ripe berry fruit with a delicate nuttiness and subtle mellow notes of chocolate, butterscotch and fine oak wood. Smooth and silky on the palate and full of ripe figgy, jammy flavours which persist on the long finish

Oddbins suggest you serve it slightly chilled but they must be joking! Brrrr.

Food choice: Strong blue cheese

Essentia Ruby Port

Price: £8.99

Where: Oddbins

The Wine: Full-bodied, young.

Tasting notes: A young port, showing freshness and vigour, plummy, with good length, robust, rich and harmonious.

Food choice: Ripe blue cheeses

Churchills Finest Reserve Port

Price: £13.99

Where: Oddbins

The Wine: This Finest Reserve Port is a house blend of premium wines produced from the same top grade A vineyards.

Tasting Notes: A full mature brick red colour, a complex and intense nose, with notes of rich dried fruits combined with hints of green pepper and tea. Rich and focused fruit flavours on the palate combine concentration with structure, finishing with lingering acidity and excellent balance.

Food Choice: A delicious Port served on its own but also excellent with fruit or chocolate desserts and soft cheeses.


Jonathan Ray of the Daily Telegraph recently chose his five best vintage Fizzes. I fully concur and have included two of the five below.

2004 Taste the Difference Vintage Champagne

Price: £19.99

Where: Sainsbury’s

The Wine: A stylish supermarket fizz from Duval Leroy

Tasting Notes: Concentrated chardonnay flavours, elegant.

Food Choice:  Nothing too heavy.  Stick to fish or crayfish or chicken dishes that are not heavily spiced.  Otherwise the lovely delicate flavours will be lost in a furnace of spicy flames.

2004 Tesco Finest Vintage Champagne

Price: £20.98

Where: Tesco

The Wine: 100% chardonnay.

Tasting Notes: Zesty yet soft with a toasty finish

Food Choice:  Light dishes, preferably seafood.

But why stick to champagne?  Other wine-producing countries such as Spain and South Africa, to name but two, follow the same méthode champenoise as do the French in making their sparkling wines.  Only they are prohibited from calling their wines champagne.  In South Africa, this method is called Cap Classique.

This Festive Season, the sparkling wine of choice is from Spain.  And, interestingly enough, they make their sparkling wine not from the traditional champagne grapes, pinot noir and chardonnay, so you are about to taste a sparkling wine with a difference.  And unlike the majority of good champagnes, the price won’t make your eyes water!

Cava Torre Oria Brut Reserve, Spain.

Price: £9.99 (Buy 6 for only £7.49 Save 25%)

Where: Oddbins

The Wine: The Reserve from Torre Oria, delicious and amazing value for money.

Grape Macebeo 90% and Parellada 10%.  Straw yellow colour with golden highlights.

Tasting Notes: “ … finesse and depth of flavour — biscuity nose, caramel notes — that you rarely see in Cavas on sale here…. Plenty of small bubbles forming uniform vertical streams creating a good head. Powerful, clean and persistent aromas. Fresh on the palate with a magnificent presence.”

Andrew Neather – Evening Standard – 01/12/2010

Food Choice: Ideal served with Mediterranean dishes, fish and seafood. Also great as an aperitif.

Of course you cannot drink champagne for weeks on end, (or can you?), here is an  easy-drinking wine from Chile.  And excellent value for money!

Errazuriz Estate Merlot 2009 Chile

Price: £4.99 (reduced from £7.99 until 4 January)

Where: Tesco

The Wine: Merlot, a small fraction of which is matured in French and American vats, creating a good balance between oak and fruit.

Tasting Notes: “So saturated with ripe fruit that it reminds me of standing in a tropical rainstorm and being instantly drenched by the huge drops of water.” Victoria Moore in The Daily Telegraph

Food Choice: An easy drinking wine that’s great for any get-together, cottage pie, chilli con carne (not too heavily spiced) and cold hams or salamis and, of course, pasta!

Five Choice Whiskies to Impress this Festive Season

What to take to parties this festive season to really impress the host and guests!

Bunnahabhain 18-year old. It’s just been voted among the top 4% of Scotch whiskies in the world although very few in the world can actually pronounce its name.  Practise the name and then say it as nonchalantly as possible upon arrival.

Yoichi 20 years old. Most people don’t know they make whisky in Japan, let alone that Whisky Magazine voted it the best whisky in the world in 2008.  You’ll show yourself to be markedly different from the rest.

Karuizawa 1971 Cask No 6878. Your host and guests will be impressed, especially if you are able to pronounce the name.  They will be even more impressed after you remain standing after the first three glasses.  It is 64.10% proof and carries a warning that it must be sipped in small quantities by adults.

Ardbeg Corryvreckan. It’s just been voted the world’s best single malt whisky.  Guests will look at you in a new light.  Don’t even try to pronounce the name!

Macallan 1926 Fine and Rare. Don’t let the price put you off – it’s only $75,000 (£47,879.87).  If that fails to impress your host and guests, go to another party, go home or change your friends.  (Also find a good therapist).

And for something a little different…

Amarula Cream Definitely a universal favourite.  Made from the amarula fruit in southern Africa.

Brandy and Babycham. Hmmm … brings back memories up to the fourth round …

Advocaat as a chaser.

Champerswith a frozen strawberry floating in among the bubbles.

Brandy & Coke will be a hit once more among some expats.

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