What makes a wine a Christmas wine? Well, priority one is always that it’s a really good of course, but as so many people will stick with the traditional British Christmas meal centred around roast turkey or goose, quite possibly involving smoked salmon or seafood to start, and undoubtedly featuring Christmas pudding to finish (us) off, then I’ve kept half an eye on that too with this selection. Six sparkling, six white, six red, and six sweet and fortified wines will surely offer something for everyone, with prices from £7, to over £50.
My selection covers supermarkets and independent high street merchants, but use the wine-searcher links for each wine to see all stockists. I’ve included online specialists too, and of course most retailers offer online ordering. At time of publication you may still order in time for Christmas, though be quick, as few will guarantee pre-Christmas delivery by the end of this week. Merry Christmas, and here’s to some quality festive bottles.
N.B. until 16th December 2020, Tesco (not Scotland) also has 25% off if you buy any six bottles, and that will apply even to already discounted wines in this feature.
(2020) The new category of pink Prosecco launched a month ago and is already a smash hit. Wines must be vintage dated, and must use Pinot Noir alongside Glera in the blend. This is a very nice example, the mousse frothy and light, the fruit strawberryish and with a certain creamy bob-bon quality, then the palate is basically dry, but there's a strawberry sherbet tang, icing sugar and lemons running into the finish. Note it's down to £8.99 until 3rd January 2021 in Waitrose, and £9.99 on a 'mixed six' in Majestic.
(2020) Made from 100% Chenin Blanc, quite a rich colour to this, with a touch of copper to the green, and plenty of toast, nuttiness and autolytic richness on the nose, Cox's pippin fruit and touches of preserved lemon. The palate has a mouthfilling style, with abundant fruit sweetness and I'd guess a relatively high dosage, lots of apple here - again nutty English apples, a little bit of phenolic grip like lemon peel or melon rind, and a finish where the inherent sweetness is balanced by good acidity. This bottle disgorged July 2020.
(2020) For me one of the absolute 'banker' Grand Marque Champagnes, of excellent quality and yet widely available and often on discount. Shop around to find it for £25 or so, but until 2nd January 2021 it is just £21 in Tesco and that is bargain central. It's a superbly refined blend of mostly black grapes, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, with 15% - 20% of Chardonnay and 9 - 10g/l of dosage. Around 10% -20% reserve wines give depth and a certain biscuity richness, but it is a direct, focused wine with wonderfully clear fresh-cut pear fruit quality and pristine acidity. There is nuttiness and a fine line of smokiness into a long tapering finish that is very elegant, classy, but also fruity and terribly easy to drink.
(2020) Henners was founded in East Sussex in 2007, but has since been bought by its distributor, Boutinot. The young winemaker here has worked in California and South Africa, and makes this wine with a proportion of the base wine (10%) fermented in aged oak barrels. The dosage is a moderate 7g/l. Lovely yeastiness and sweet, ripe fruit in combination. There's a lot of finesse here, the colour pale and straw-gold with aromas the blend light biscuity qualities with succulent orchard fruit.
(2020) Only the second vintage of this 'Small batch' wine from Hampshire, made by Jacob Leadley, ex winemaker at Hattingly Valley from the Champagne grape triumverate of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. This is a serious contender for joining the top echelons of English sparkling wine. Opening with a vivacious citrus blast of keen, clean fruit, there are plenty of autolytic notes of biscuit and freshly picked mushrooms, a refined and lightly earthy - and very Champagne-like - character. In the mouth there is fantastic fruit sweetness and generosity, with 8g/l of residual sugar and 20 months on the lees, but it is dry, the lemony, zesty clarity of the finish flashing through a sweet and ripe mid-palate with terrific style, the finish long and fine. A hugely enjoyable first taste of this producer for me. Available from 9th October 2020.
(2020) Black Reserve is a special cuvée of the three main Champagne grapes (50% Pinot Noir), mostly from Premier and Grand Cru sites. Aged for five years on the lees and bottled with 7g/l dosage, the base vintage is 2014 but there is 45% of reserve wines in the blend. This bottle was disgorged July 2019. It's a beautifully pitched wine, lots of biscuit and brioche, but a refined floral edge and crunch of cool fruit. Walnut and an orange notes too. In the mouth the mousse is rolling and rich, with real intensity of ripe flavour, deeply apricotty and peachy, a little smoky, but terrific citrus acidity etches the finish. Selfridges is the only UK stockist of this at £55, but I note France-based vinatis.co.uk sells for £38.35, with delivery of one to six bottles, in two to four days, for £6.00.
(2020) Terret Blanc is a traditional variety of the Languedoc in the south of France, though largely forgotten throughout the 20th century and seeing a small renaissance currently. With its modest 12% alcohol this is a useful festive season wine, good with smoked salmon and other fish, or perhaps with soft rind cheeses. Delicate, lightly floral aromas sit atop peach and juicy ripe pear, then the palate has more easy drinking, stone fruit flavours, but edged with a fine line of grapefruity citrus to give definition. Deliciously drinkable.
(2020) From the genuinely cooler coastal region of Limarí, this is fermented and aged 12 months in Burgundian oak barriques. Oak aromas, however, are tempered and refined, with delicate hazelnut and honey, just a hint of toast lightly spread with lime marmalade, a more ripe and exotic fruit just hinted at on the nose. On the palate there really is a welter-weight of fruit ripeness and juicy sweetness, again that lightly toasty and spicy creaminess from the barrel, but the acid is precise and mineral, leaving this with a lip-tingling freshness against the still sweet fruit.
(2020) From Alpha Estate's high-altitude vineyards on the Amyndeon plateau, this Malagousia was made in steel, with two months on the lees with regular stirring. Peach and lime, a lick of ozoney saltiness, and a background note of passion fruit and elderflower that is aromatic and a tiny bit reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc. In the mouth there is plenty of sweet, ripe, nectarine and honey fruitiness, but good grapefruit and lime acidity, again, maybe one for those who appreciate the cut of a good Sancerre.
(2020) JJ Prüm is one of Germany’s star names, run today by Katharina Prüm. From the steep, slate covered Himmelrich vineyard, it is made in stainless steel and bottled late to avoid the addition of too much sulphur. It opens with some flint and beeswax and paraffin over greengage and peach, the palate delicate and lacy, a good level of sweetness that is braced by mouth-watering acidity, a touch of pink grapefruit but more of that peachy fruit coming through too. A lovely wine for sipping on its own, finishing with purity and balance.
(2020) There's normally around 7% oak fermented wine in Cloudy Bay, but this year was so good that it was pulled back to 4% to showcase the fruit. There is pea shoot and fresh leafy green herbs, a touch of elderflower, but also peachy, ripe and quite exotic fruit. The palate has beautiful balance, with arguably less 'aggression' than a brand new Marlborough Sauvignon might exhibit, a beautiful purity and focus, grapefruit and orange, and a long, shimmering finish of lime peel and salts. A very good Cloudy Bay this.
(2020) From selected vineyard parcels of Gingin clone, aged 25 years on average, this was whole-bunch pressed to barrel with solids, spending nine months in oak with some batonnage. The aromatics are loaded with flint and oyster shell, a layer of almond and oatmeal, and creamy orchard fruit. The acid line is slightly less aggressive than the pungent Flametree Chardonnay tasted alongside, lots of citrus peel and salts, but that bitter orange edge to the fruit plays against a peachier tone, into a balanced finish that stays fresh and finishes on salts and frut. Superb.
(2020) Aged for 18 months in used oak barrels,this Cabernet has just a smattering of vanilla over direct, ripe, clean blackcurrant fruit. In the mouth a nicely juicy fruit-filled mid-palate has more of that blackcurrant and damson plum, a touch of chocolate, smooth tannins and a balanced, easy-going finish. Great if you are lining up beef or venison for Christmas, or with hard cheeses too and even better, it is reduced to £7 in Tesco until 2nd January 2021.
(2020) Argentina does Cabernet Franc very well as a rule of thumb, this from two vineyards at 950m and 1,120m elevation, fermented with wild yeasts and spending 12 months in oak barrels. Plush, deep and filled with polished black fruit, there's a tug of earthy spices too, then the wine surges across the palate with sweet-edged blueberry, damson and black cherry, smooth and silky with its oak-polished tannins, and the acidity nicely judged. A serious bottle of wine at its £10 offer price in Tesco unil 2nd january 2021, even better if you buy before the 16th December in England with the 25% off six bottles deal. Could take on roasted fowl, game or beef. Maybe decant this one for an hour before serving just to open it up some more.
(2020) From Louis Latour's Provence outpost, these vineyards at 500-metres are on sandy, clay-limestone. There's a pale to medium ruby colour, and an attractive nose of red cherries, a touch of rapberry, and a softer sheen of polished wood and sweet earth. In the mouth this has good fruit, again its that pulpy red berry fruit, soft tannins and an easy-acidity that gives this lots of drinkability. An elegant and fruity Pinot with a supple smoothness. A roast turkey banker for me.
(2020) A really nice, buoyant and bountiful Pinot Noir from the more southerly Pfalz region of Germany, aged in larger barrels for one year, but part of the blend aged in new French oak barriques. There's a real kirsch-like lift of sweet cherry fruit, some elegant Parma violet and a welcome touch of briary, stalky character to add a freshening note. In the mouth it's the fruit gloss and sweetness that impresses, a deliciously moreish rendition of Pinot, but not without elegance and tertiary character: again that herbaceous and twiggy touch, a little rounding of oak, and excellent freshness of tannins and acids into the finish.
(2020) From one of the 'Crus' of the Languedoc region and limestone soils, this is a Châteauneuf-du-Pape-like blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache and Syrah, aged 12 months in barrel. There's real depth and spice-touched glossy black fruit on the nose, meaty yet at the same time touched with floral and garrigue perfume. Sweet, svelte black fruit coats the palate too, with chocolate-rich tannins and black cherry acidity, some smokiness and peppery spice, in a really lovely wine.
(2020) Principally made from Jaen (Mencia) alongside Touriga Nacional, this red wine from the mountainous Dão region of Portugal really is a 2003, aged 18 months in older French oak barrels, but then for well over a decade in bottle by the iconoclastic João Tavares de Pina. The colour is aged and mellow, brick on the rim, with aromas of dried red berries, sweet damp earth and undergrowth truffle and briar. Served quite cool, the fruit on the palate is delicious, sweeter and riper than the nose might suggest, and firmer and more youthful too: there's a creamy richness of black fruits, spicy tannins and cooling acidity into a long finish. It's a treat, and though I have no idea how much longer you could keep this, question is, why would you?
Sweet & Fortified Six
(2020) This is a Manzanilla 'Pasada', so a slightly darker, older style of wine and a little nuttier than a typical Manzanilla. This is also 'en Rama', so bottled unfiltered, basically straight from the cask. It has a light- to medium gold colour and arresting nose of chamomile, shellac, walnut and bruised apple fruit. There's a liniment-like pungency. On the palate it is dry, but richly-textured, with walnut and nutty Cox's pippin fruit, a hint of orange too, and a delicious saline and citrus finish. This would be a terrific festive aperitif with olives or nuts perhaps.
(2020) A late picked wine, Botrytis-affected, made from the uniquely Australian variety, Taminga, bred to retain acidity in hot conditions, and found to be very susceptible to Botrytis, thus suitable for making such inexpensive sweet wines. Honey, glycerine and a wisp of barely sugar on the nose, bold citrus and some floral aromas, are all very inviting. In the mouth it has some weight and lusciousness, the fruit between juicy nectarine and orange, more honey, and while it doesn't have the complexity or finesse of something like the Disznókő Tokaji also reviewed, it is balanced by good lemony acidity and delivers a helluva lot for the modest price. Price for 37.5cl
(2020) The average age of wines in this solera-style blend is five years, with vines 32- 52 years old. Residual sugar runs at 220g/l. Lovely tawny into toffee colour, beautiful nose of intense rum-soaked sultanas and walnuts, just a tantalising hint of briny shellac. On the palate it is thick and viscous, liquidised sultanas and raisins are delicious, a little orange and toffee, and a very smooth finish, the sweetness persisting to the end. A Christmas pudding or mince-pie treat, or with any chocolate dessert.
(2020) Icewine is a realy Canadian speciality, the grapes harvested in sub-zero night-time temperatures so that much of the water content is dispelled when the fruit is pressed, leaving a super-sweet, thick and unctuous dessert wine. This is a very good example, made from Vidal which always gives a warming, golden, honeyed aroma of ripe apricot, here the engine-oil thickness of the wine on the palate sweet and exotic, like the ripest mango and lychee, a burnished toasty background, then very good lime jelly acidity to balance. A great wine in half-bottles, for very sweet desserts or to sip on its own after dinner.
(2020) Noval's Late Bottled Vintage is unflitered and unlike many LBV's will improve in the bottle as it cellars, but is best decanted off of its sediment. Having spent over five years in barrel, it's a glorious wine, crimson-black in colour, with a soaring perfume of cherry and violet, blackcurrant, vanilla and spices. In the mouth there is abundant sweetness, ripe black and red berries, with a chocolaty density, super-smooth tannins and a pert cherry acidity to keep it on its toes. With around 90g/l of residual sugar this is definitely sweet, but retains a lovely freshness too. For mince pies or Christmas pudding, also hard and blue cheeses, a banker.
(2020) Bottled exclusively for Waitrose in a very attractive 50cl format, Disznókő is a master of ensuring elegance and freshness, even in its sweetest wines - this is 5 Puttonyos, so will have at least 120g/l of residual sugar. A light gold in colour, the aromas are of apricot, honey and juicy mango or nectarine, vivacious and bright with a streak of lime, the more subtle creamy and barley sugar notes sit beneath. Apricot and a marmalade orange brightness and yet burnished depth on the palate, the acidity is exemplary in a delightful dessert wine for fruity tarts rather than Christmas pud, or for blue cheeses or indeed, to sip on its own at the end of a meal.