Print this page

8. WINES FOR CHRISTMAS, part one aperitifs and dry whites


Wines for Christmas. Where to start? Let's start, logically, with aperitifs. Champagne is the world's greatest aperitif. We all have our favourites. But, instead of sticking with the big famous names, why not try a grower's champagne? These tend to be slightly quirkier, but have a much more individual character than those from co-operatives or big names. Supermarket own-brand champagnes will come from these two sources, not from growers. How do you spot a grower's champagne? One way is to ask your wine merchant. Or you can look at the label, but you will need your reading glasses: somewhere along the bottom of the label there will be a code starting either "NM", "CM" or "RM" followed by a number. "RM" signifies that the producer is a grower – the initials stand for "récoltant-manipulant" – and that the grapes in the wine were grown by the producer, not bought in and blended as they are with merchants (which includes all the big names) – "NM" – and co-operatives – "CM".


Alternatively, there is a plethora of sparkling wines that make excellent aperitifs. I am all for something light in alcohol, since there will be a big meal with lots more alcohol ahead. Why not try Prosecco, which tends to be around 11% to 11½%?


Two more possibilities: first, spare a thought for sherry, particularly Manzanilla, the lightest, driest style of sherry, even lighter than Fino. It is surprisingly low in alcohol at around 15% (many Australian Chardonnays, for instance, are 14½%), and you will sip it slowly because it has such an assertive flavour; it has much to recommend it – fresh, crisp, good for sharpening up the palate. The second possibility is a still wine, which should be light (can be red, though I prefer white). I recommend, for example a dry Muscat – check out "Le Pot", which comes from the far south of France near Perpignan, £6.75 from Fingal-Rock.


Now some thoughts on white wine to drink with the turkey: it should be full-bodied to cope with all the flavours of the meat and its doings (stuffing, gravy, bread sauce, etc.). The obvious choice is a Chardonnay, and, since it's the festive season, why not splash out on a white burgundy – France's finest expression of the Chardonnay grape. For around £10 you will find a straight Bourgogne, or spend a bit more, for instance a Saint Romain, or really treat yourself with a Meursault or a Puligny-Montrachet!


Next month – reds and dessert wines.