Christmas: bigger and better


Photograph: Piers Cunliffe

Photograph: Piers Cunliffe

With Christmas Day looming large our Sales Director Simon “Santa Emilion” Staples explains what 25th December holds for his household – with a truly drool-worthy vinous line-up (all en magnum, of course)

I get hundreds of emails and calls at this time of year from customers asking me to help them look in their cellars and pick out a few tasty treats for the up and coming festivities. Now, whether that “cellar” is a mass of wine racks in their garage, a groaning Eurocave in their kitchens or our state-of-the-art cellars in Basingstoke, I had always thought they were coming to me for my 30 years of knowledge in the wine trade and rapier-like wit. Apparently I have been believing my own hype for far too long. It transpires that thanks to my inclination for overindulging in restaurants and – as a longstanding client chuckled – “quaffing pints of precious Claret, it seems you’re morphing into Santa, so who better to ask?”

So what am I eating and drinking on Christmas Day? For me, this year is all about magnums/magna and actually eating food we love, rather than being traditional. We’ll kick off at 11-ish with a magnum of our own Grand Cru Champagne, UKC, with smoked salmon and sour cream blinis and warm crab and onion tart. Along with our 20-year-old William Pickering Tawny Port this is the best own-label wine we do and it’s a bargain. Even a double-magnum, if there are eight or more of you, won’t break the bank at £100. We don’t bother with a starter so it’s straight into beef Wellington, with a sumptuous beef and caramelized onion gravy with a whole bottle of Madeira reduced into it. Served with my heart stopping dauphinoise/au gratin combo, maple syrup glazed carrots and fried Brussels with garlic and butter.

Although I’m broad-minded and like both types of red wine – Bordeaux and Burgundy – this is a dish designed for Claret. Specifically, it will be a magnum of 2001 Ch. Clerc Milon, edgy but has gone from primary fruit zeal to something more mature and seductive, and a magnum of 1999 Ch. Léoville Poyferré, one of the wines of the vintage for me and actually decadent for Poyferré.

I can’t stand Christmas pud so it’s a lemon or treacle tart with custard and cream. To wash these down, a magnum of 2001 Ch. Climens I bought in 2002 – the first of my case and a bottle I’m very excited to crack open. If there’s any room left, we have 36-month-old Comté, Mont d’Or and Stilton. Any leftover Climens will go brilliantly with the British blue and Mont d’Or, and bottle of 1977 Graham’s for my favourite Comté.

Try and stand up any wines you are going to have on 23rd or 24th to let them settle. Rather than wrestle with the cook in the family for fridge space, leave all the wine outside and bring them in when needed. Most whites and Champagnes will be spot on temperature-wise and reds bring them up to maximum 18/19 degrees (slightly cooler for red burgundy). If you can, decant any red Burgundy younger than 10 years old a maximum of an hour before; anything older than that, just open it an hour before. For bigger reds – Bordeaux/Rhône/Italian etc – try and decant them for at least an hour.

Cheers and I hope you have a relaxing and decadent Christmas.

Browse our Christmas range on; order by 6pm today, 21st December, for guaranteed Christmas delivery.