Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, December 7, 2008: Ten Top Wines for Christmas

Wine is always a welcome gift, but even more so in the current climate - and you don’t have to spend a fortune to find something special with a story to tell. Better still, make sure you have some of these to pour at your own celebrations. Each and every one would be an asset over the festive period.

2007 Viognier, Christophe Pichon
£13.95, Vine Trail, 0117 921 1770
Even if you can afford the Rhône Valley’s top white wine, Condrieu at £20 upwards, I’d be tempted to give this Vin de Pays. You can always make it two bottles. It tastes of Condrieu – heady floral perfume, apricot flavour, silky texture - because it’s made from the same grape variety (viognier) grown on the the same granitic east-facing slopes, but just a bit further south. Give it to anyone who loves sensual white wine.

2006 Etienne Sauzet, La Tufera, Bourgogne Chardonnay
£13.80, Tanners, 01743 234500
One for devotees of fine white burgundy, especially Puligny-Montrachet, and for fans of new world chardonnay who want to see why there’s such a fuss about French wine. Sauzet is one of Puligny’s star producers and this comes from two parcels of old vines (age is good for vines) just beyond the Puligny-Montrachet boundaries; hence the simple Bourgogne designation. It’s rich, but elegant, nutty and mineral.

2007 Ken Forrester FMC Chenin Blanc, £16.99-£17.99
Tesco; Waitrose
This is a statement wine. It’s impossible to ignore, so don’t give it to someone whose staple is neutral pinot grigio, unless they’ve expressed a desire for a life change. It’s mouthfillingly rich, nutty and creamy, with flavours of apricot and cocoa, and it’s off-dry: the wine equivalent of a voluptuous, yet majestic blonde. The anorak-fact background is that it’s produced in Stellenbosch from chenin blanc – old vines and the ripest grapes - fermented and aged in French oak barrels.

1998 Alfred Gratien Millésime Champagne, £34.95
Berry Bros & Rudd, 0870 900 4300
If you can still afford Krug or Cristal, give, give, give. If you can’t, you’ll score brownie points with Alfred Gratien, an insider’s champagne from one of the discreetest of houses. This has honeyed crystallised-fruit flavours, hints of toast and steely acidity. If the recipient doesn’t feel there’s anything to celebrate at the moment, there’s no hurry; this will outlast any recession.

2004 Selvapiana Bucerchiale, Chianti Rufina
£20, selected Marks & Spencer
Selvapiana only keeps the wine from the Bucerchiale vineyard separate from the rest of the estate’s wine in the very best years, so that makes this special for a start. It has subtly spicy aromas and lovely, savoury cherry flavours. You could give it to someone who has a cellar, to keep it for up to 12 years, but maybe there’s someone deserving who would share it with you sooner.

2004 Château Lalande-Borie, Saint-Julien
£19.99, Majestic
Lalande-Borie is under the same ownership as the glittering Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, so this is a chance to savour some of the magic of a top Bordeaux at a more affordable price. Supple and cedary with sweet fruit and a velvet finish. Anyone would like the taste, but it’s the men (boyfriend, boss, father-in-law) who are going to be most impressed by the name and the thought of claret.

2006 Yering Station Shiraz Viognier, Yarra Valley
£10.99, Sainsbury’s, Majestic
Stylish, full-bodied Oz shiraz with 5 per cent viognier - à la Côte Rôtie - to give a lift to the perfume. It’s not aged in oak, so the purity of the fruit shows and there alre also touches of dark chocolate and spice. It’s obviously ideal for oak-phobes, as well as fans of shiraz, but you should also consider it if you’re trying to convert an unreconstructed French red drinker to Australia. And if you know anyone who always loses/forgets/breaks the corkscrew, this has a screwcap.

2006 Carinae Malbec Reserva, Mendoza, £8.95
Stone, Vine & Sun, 01962 712351
This comes wrapped in tissue paper as if hinting that it should be given as a gift. Who to? The name Carinae will appeal to astromomers, but that’s a bit limited, so let’s add meat-eaters (malbec goes particularly well with beef) and those who like a stylish-looking but not overdesigned bottle on the table. If the intended recipient is a Francophile, play up the French connections: malbec is the grape in Cahors and the consultant winemaker, Michel Rolland, is from Bordeaux. As for the wine, it’s full-bodied and oaky, but not hefty, with a ripe blackberry and black pepper character.

1995 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904
£25, or £20 when you buy 2 or more, Majestic
Rioja is one of the best known names and most popular red wines, but not everyone has drunk grand old Rioja. Treat someone; perhaps someone too young even to have been drinking when this was made 13 years ago. It’s a gran reserva (top category) from a benchmark traditional bodega and it’s full of autumnal sweetness, sandalwood and cigarbox flavours.

2005 Aurélien Verdet, Gevrey Chambertin
£23.75, A & B Vintners, 01892 724977
You want to make someone feel really special? Give them good red burgundy. You’re giing a gift to a wine fanatic? Good red burgundy from a grower they may not have come across. Aurélien Verdet’s Gevrey is fragrant with cherries and roses and has a palate that is both sweet and savoury, vibrant and pure. It’s delicious now (partrdge would be a good partner), but it will open out over the next four years. Make sure you’re around.