A wine for all seasons
You can’t please all of the people all of the time. That is for sure.
But much as I love trying the new and sometimes frankly outrageous wines that exist on the fringes of the wine world, there are times and places where even I will look for something on the safer side. Wines that will give pleasure to as many people as possible and put off as few as I can manage without serving wine that is just, frankly, boring, because there’s no need for that!
If yours is a big family event then Christmas has to be the occasion when you are most likely to get a diverse cross section of tastes in one place at one time. Multiple generations, different experiences, varying palates, all make finding wines everyone will enjoy a challenge, never mind preparing food that will meet everyone’s diets and desires. And there you have another truth, the range of food on offer over the Christmas period makes food and wine pairing a logistical if not financial challenge.
So given that there’s no need to be boring, but this isn’t a time to pushing too hard against the boundaries of taste, what should you be looking for?
If there is one centrepiece dish that for you or your family is a Christmas essential, maybe match your best wine for this. Whether that is the turkey, the pudding your partner’s great aunt has been knocking up for the last 50 years, or the new vegan masterpiece you have bravely decided to attempt this year.
Choose a wine that will match nicely and plan how to serve it. Not too cold after a week in the fridge if it’s a white and equally not too warm if it’s a red - reds almost always taste better cooler than modern day room temperature. Decanting is a nice touch but not essential. Some air often brings wines to life so just pour it in a jug then back into the bottle if you don’t have a decanter. Younger wines will put up with more robust treatment and more air than older wines which will fade more quickly.
What else will you need? Well some fizz for sure. A lot of Prosecco is made sweeter to mask poorer quality fruit and that sweetness coupled with the wine’s natural acidity can make it tough on your digestion, especially when it is being bombarded with more than a few mince pies, so either find one that is a bit drier if Prosecco is your thing (and it is a lot of peoples’ so it could be a good choice) or find a good Cava or Cremant instead. If your budget stretches to Champagne, stretch it far enough to get a good one as the cheaper ones can have a pretty savage acid kick.
You’ll need some white too. Choose something dry but that has ripe fruit flavours which those with a sweet tooth will still enjoy. Good regions to choose from are Southern Europe or South America and grape varieties such as Grenache Blanc, Chenin, or Chardonnay (yes, really - they’re not all like you might remember them!)
And for reds, avoid anything too big or chunky with ‘massive, grippy tannins” as the lingo goes.
Wines made from Gamay grape variety are often winners. You‘ll find them in Beaujolais but also other regions of France and elsewhere. Other grapes such as Cinsault, Monastrell or Garnacha also make wines which are crowd pleasers, not splitters.
A sweet wine will be essential (at least in my house!) and while sherry is not just for Christmas and though I love bone-dry sherry in the summer served cold with a plate of chargrilled prawns, it is a bit of classic at this time of year. Keep a half bottle of fino in the fridge for those solitary moments at the stove perhaps?
While you have everyone gathered together, win yourself some wine-pro points and introduce them to the wonders of orange wine. Otherwise known as amber or skin contact wines, they are appearing on wine flights at top restaurants around the world and creating quite a buzz. Neither red, white nor pink they are made by treating grapes normally used to make white wine as though making a red, by fermenting white grapes on the skins and keeping them in contact for days, weeks or even months. Brilliant paired with food such as umami rich cheese or salumi, some are easier to love on first acquaintance than others but it will create a talking point if nothing else!
Two to try -
Budget - Te Quiero, Field Blend Red, Castilla la Mancha, Spain - Castilla La Mancha is known for its mass production vineyards but in between these are little pockets of ancient old vines that have been kept out of pride or merely forgotten to be re-found at the right moment. This wine and its partner white are made from a blend of these “lost” vines. Te Quiero translates as “love you”, a suitably seasonal sentiment.
Bling - Ximenez Spinola, Muy Viejo Pedro Ximenez, Jerez, Spain - this is a dessert wine that will stop them in their tracks and will stand up to whatever pudding or pie you throw at it. Made in a solera system that dates back to 1918 it is mahogany colour, with intense raisin aromas and notes of figs, roasted coffee and black chocolate.