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31. WINES FOR CHRISTMAS in praise of larger bottles, and other thoughts

Larger bottles – magnums, which are two-bottle (150 cl) size bottles, and even bigger formats – are marvellously festive. They look terrific on the table, and happily the wine in them tastes better, sometimes significantly better, than the same wine in the normal 75cl bottle size. The larger quantity of liquid in the bottle allows the wine to age more gracefully; also, the smaller quantity of air in the bottle in relation to the quantity of liquid contributes to this effect.

For family get-togethers magnums are perfect as long as at least six people are drinking, when you consider that this amounts to one third of a bottle (250 ml), or the equivalent of one large glass in a pub or restaurant, for each drinker. And they make wonderful presents. I started selling magnums in my shop two or three years ago, and was amazed by the demand. And we now stock around twenty different wines in magnum. And we have a double magnum, an exceptional Valpolicella – good for larger families! – and a 6 litre bottle of Rioja – good for big dinner parties!

Now some thoughts about what to drink at different stages of the Christmas meal: to start with, as an aperitif, there is nothing better than champagne, or, if you felt like something lighter, a Malvasia goes down a treat – it is similar to Prosecco, but tastes of grapes, whereas Prosecco tastes of apples – very refreshing and festive. To go with the starter, a bottle of Quincy would go well if you like the Sauvignon grape – this comes from a vineyard area near Sancerre, and is similar in style, 100% Sauvignon; or, if you prefer a richer style, then I recommend a white burgundy such as Saint Romain (from an estate based in Meursault, Pascal Prunier).

For the main course, a magnum! For turkey I recommend a red that is not too rich so that it does not overpower the flavour of the meat, such as a burgundy, mature claret, or an old-fashioned, mellow Rioja. For darker meats such as goose, duck, lamb or beef, a fuller richer wine such as a Rhône, an Australian red, or Chilean Carmenère would fit the bill – though you could also opt for something less weighty like claret or burgundy – darker meats are very accommodating winewise!

For the pudding, there is the traditional choice of Sauternes, but here are a couple of suggestions which are slightly out of the ordinary: Chaume, a sweet wine from Anjou in the Loire, made from the Chenin blanc grape, chosen by Oz Clarke as one of the best wines for 2012 in his recently released guide; and Moscatel Roxo, from the Setúbal Peninsula in Portugal, made from a rare form of the Muscat grape; it is rich, fruitcakey and delicious.