What makes a classic Christmas wine?


Photograph: Jason Lowe

Photograph: Jason Lowe

Demetri Walters MW from our Private Wine Events team explores some suitable alternatives to the traditional festive wines, many of them classics in their own right

To me a classic wine is one widely acknowledged to be of the highest quality over an extended period of time, but acknowledged by whom? If you were to ask an Italian, an Australian and a Spaniard the same question, I suspect you would receive three distinctly different answers.

A time-honoured religious feast in the bleak mid-winter, Christmas is the perfect opportunity for friends and family to congregate over hearty food and delicious wines in styles and from regions that they know and like. Nonetheless, I once spent an extremely enjoyable Christmas Day in the swimming pool of a friend’s garden in Queensland, sipping something very enjoyable that I don’t quite remember. Anyway, the following suggestions are just that: reflections on what else you might consider when you tuck-in this Christmas.

As well as being a versatile match for a variety of dishes, there’s little doubt that dry Sherries are an excellent apéritif. As such, Berry Bros. & Rudd La Seguidilla Manzanilla, Barbadillo is a brilliant accompaniment to all manner of nibbles, from olives and nuts to seafood and vegetable canapés. Given their towering complexity and affordable price tags, dry Sherries are also among the best-value wines around.

Now for something completely different. Whatever your memories of holiday hell, Retsina does not have to taste like a generous dose of pine pitch in a long-deceased wine. Tetramythos Retsina, made biodynamically in the highlands of Patras overlooking the Gulf of Corinth, shows the very freshness that you would expect of a delicate, food-friendly white wine. Interestingly, the restrained resin aromas and flavours add a savoury dimension to an already charming wine. Use it as you would any elegant white, and serve your friends blind before amusing yourself with the reveal.

The 2012 Wild Carignan Reserve by Recanati puts a unique slant on a red wine for Christmas. Situated high in the Judaean Hills in Israel, this wine is expertly made in the land of Christ’s life and ministry. Boasting notable concentration, herbal notes and spice, this Carignan would complement many a beast or bird at your festive table. As it is young, I would open it up with decanting an hour before the meal.

Time for Christmas pudding, and a hop, skip and jump across the Mediterranean to Cyprus. Its most famous vinous exemplar, once made by the Templar, is Commandaria. This 2005 unfortified example by Kyperounda, the highest winery in Europe at 1,100 metres in the Pitsilia Range of the Troodos Mountains, has undergone at least eight years’ ageing in used barrels and shows remarkable oxidative interest. Once the flames have abated on your pudding, serve it up (less the requisite coinage) with a glass of this unctuous nectar.

I love Port and Madeira equally. Why should one have a preference for two such different but equally wonderful wines? You could enjoy this Madeira, a 10-year-old Verdelho by Barbeito, lightly chilled, as your apéritif. It would enhance the Christmas pudding and work exceptionally well with many a cheese, although you might well find yourself sipping it without any food whatsoever. Personally, I like it with fruit cake, so now you see how Christmas lunch magically meanders into tea time. Here’s wishing you all a very merry Christmas.