The festive period is when many people splash out on wines they might not normally drink. In this category, Champagne and sparkling wine leaps out as the quintessential Christmas purchase, but also sweet wines and fortified wines like Port and Sherry, that for some people are a once-per-year purchase. This is my personal selection of some interesting wines in these categories that you might consider. It covers a variety of budgets, and a variety of styles. There is already cut-throat competition amongst our supermarkets and wine chains with the usual round of promotions, especially on Champagne: some less familiar labels always appear at this time, and whilst they might well be excellent buys, it does pay to try before buying in quantity. Keeping an eye open for more modest reductions on better-known names is a wise option too.
Champagne and Sparkling
There’s a world of sparkling wine out there, with the frothy delights of Prosecco still storming up the UK charts and abundant on our shelves this Christmas. But this little selection concentrates purely on traditional method sparkling wines, especially Champagne of course.
Heretat El Padruell, Cava Brut NV, Spain
A terrific price currently on a really good Cava from M&S, made from the traditional grapes of Macabeo, Xarel.lo and Parellada, from vines that are 25 years old on average. With a low 7.5g/l dosage it is herbaceous, pungent stuff with plenty of verve and character, and an abundant, mouth-filling mousse and texture. Creamy and full in the mouth it is packed with flavour, creamy richness but dry and long in the finish. 87/100. £8.00, M&S, but buy six from M&S online currently for just £31.96 – that’s £5.33 per bottle.
Veuve Monsigny, Champagne Brut NV, France
This Champagne, an equal parts blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, has been a value fixture of Aldi’s shelves for a while now and it still represents superb value for money. It has an authentic nose, yeasty and brioche-like, with plenty of richness and development. In the mouth it is creamy and again quite delicate, the floral aspect hinted on the nose adding interest as the lemon meringue pie flavours are buttressed by good acidity. Of course there are more complex and sophisticated Champagnes out there, but at the price this remains hard to beat. 89/100. £11.99, but currently on offer at £9.99, Aldi nationwide.
Il Mosnel, Franciacorta Brut NV, Italy
A wine I have recommended in the past, but the price has actually come down so worth another taste and another look at an example of the increasingly popular Franciacorta. A blend is 60% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Blanc and 10% Pinot Noir, with a proportion of the Chardonnay fermented in oak. The nose is fruity and fresh, with bruised orchard fruits and a gentle yeastiness from 18 months on the lees. The mousse is fine and crisp, and the palate elegantly racy, clean and citrussy. It’s a wine of clean lines and appetising freshness.88/100. £17.50 on offer, Vini Italiani. See all stockists on wine-searcher.
Waitrose, Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut NV, France
Fruit for this wine comes from six villages including the Grands Crus Mesnil sur Oger, Cramant and Oger. Made using only Chardonnay juice from the first pressing, it is based on the 2010 vintage. More open than the Waitrose Brut also tasted, more nettle and sour, bruised fruit, more nuttily oxidative and appley. The palate has terrific fruit – such vitality and joie de vivre here, in a very stylish, long and balanced Champagne. 92/100. 24.99, Waitrose.
Pol Roger, Champagne Brut Réserve NV, France
Another equal parts blend of the three main Champagne grapes, the base wine for the current release is 2008 with reserve wine from 2007 and 2006. Gorgeous, contemplative nose, so complex, the oxidised and developed vegetal aromas are lovely, touched with honey and toast, but apple fruit purity. The palate has a rich mousse, but the sweet concentration of fruit powers through. Just lovely stuff, of great style and class. 92/100. £33.31, Majestic on offer until February. See all stockists on wine-searcher.
Moet & Chandon, Grand Vintage 2006, France
A great price for this in various retailers currently. A blend of 42% Chardonnay, 39% Pinot Noir and 19% Meunier it is made with around 30% of reserve wines and a low dosage of just 5g/l. Apples on the nose, fresh and crisp but very ripe and clean with a rounded touch of custard. Subtle salts and yeasty notes and some biscuit come through nicely. Orangey and bright on the palate, with plenty of toasty notes, even a honeyed touch of marmalade and layered texture and acidity. Long and distinguished finish. 93/100. £33.31-£36.00 on offer, Majestic, Asda, Tesco, Virgin Wines. See all stockists on wine-searcher.
Sweet wines run the gamut from medium-sweet and fresh late-harvest styles, to full-on luscious Botrytis-affected and ice wines. Prices for the rarest and sweetest categories tend to be high, but a little does go a long way with these concentrated wines: a half-bottle might comfortably satisfy six.
Rustenberg, Straw Wine 2011, South Africa
This blend of 60% Chenin Blanc, 23% Viognier and 17% Crouchen is made with grapes dried on straw mats, before aging in 300l French oak barrels. With alcohol of 10.5% and 183.3g/l of residual sugar, it shows glycerine-rich, barley sugar and toasty sweetness and richness. Masses of luscious sweetness, an intense and seductive wine that would need the sweetest desserts – maybe Pavlova – to show at its glorious best, or just sip a glass instead of pud. 92/100. Just £8.65 on offer in Majestic, also £10.99 on offer in Waitrose, both for 37.5cl. See all stockists on wine-searcher.
Paul Cluver, Noble Late Harvest Riesling 2013, South Africa
Another South African wine, this time from the Elgin Valley. Botrytised grapes are selected, then 10% only is fermented and matured in third and fourth-fill barrels. It is fully sweet with 163.0g/l, and 10.0% abv. Fabulous Botrytis nose, loaded with honey and barley sugar, figs and sweet, fat confit lemon and lime. The palate has terrific sweetness, totally ripe and succulent, so much sweetness that floods across the palate yet never losing its decisive acid core and shimmering clarity. A fine Beerenauslese style. 92/100. £14.99 for 37.5cl, in 186 M&S stores. See all stockists on wine-searcher.
Schloss Schönborn, Hattenheimer Pfaffenberg Riesling Spätlese 2011, Germany
Gossamer-light stuff with just a nice touch of tertiary development, this 9.0% alcohol screwcapped Riesling shimmers with juicy, spangle fruit, so vivacious and delightfully punchy, the full sweetness making this the most gorgeous aperitif contender for Christmas morning. 92/100. £18.75 for 37.5cl, Corney & Barrow.
Wines that have been fortified by the addition of brandy are made around the globe, both in bone-dry styles like some of the Fino and Manzanilla Sherries, through to powerful but sweet wines like most Ports, Madeiras or Australia’s fabulous liquor Muscats. These wines can be real winter treats.
Taste the Difference 12 Year Old Sweet Pedro Ximenez, Spain
Sainsbury’s own label PX is made by Williams and Humbert, with grapes that were hand-picked and dried on straw mats before ageing in oak casks for a minimum of 12yrs. With residual sugar of 385g/l this is a sweet as you like and well up to any super rich dessert. Liquidised raisins, coffee, chocolate and a touch of Pontefract cake. Thick, rich and deliciously chocolaty and dark, the raisin and fudge, the rum-soaked concentration is gorgeous, the acidity pure and beautifully matched, and another example of a great PX – surely one of the great bargains of the wine word? 93/100. £8.00 for 50cl, Sainsbury’s.
Stanton and Killeen, Classic Rutherglen Muscat, Australia
18.0% abv and made in the style of a Port, this is a glorious Muscat made from an average of 12-year-old wines, with delicious lift and lightness aromatically, quite different from their neighbours, Campbells, with its leafier notes, but fabulous full richness (over 270g/l of residual sugar). Viscous and filled with sweet, dark and chocolaty flavours with that raisin lusciousness and good supporting acidity, this will take Christmas pud in its stride. 93/100. £16.00 for 37.5cl, The Wine Society. See all stockists on wine-searcher.
Maynard’s, 30-Year-Old Tawny Port, Portugal
Bottled in a ship’s decanter, so ready to grace the table immediately, this has a rich tawny colour and a pungent, powerful nose, the walnut and shellac, old polished wood character is authentic and lovely with raisin and coffee intensity and plenty of layered complexity. The palate has a lovely cut of Seville orange bittersweetness, scything through the toffee and mocha of the palate, with very good acidity and the soft brown sugar depth delightful. Balanced, serious and very fine. 93/100. £29.99, Aldi