Christmas digest: a post-prandial selection


With firesides to linger by, armchairs to settle into and cheeseboards to nibble on, Christmas is the perfect time to indulge in a balloon of Armagnac or snifter of Calvados. Here Oliver James suggests three divine digestifs for the season

Christmas isn’t just about the 25th: it’s about the whole build-up. From opening the first door on an advent calendar, to the excitement of waiting to open a squirreled-away special bottle, to the calm after the storm of celebrations. While my younger self focused on the season’s sweet treats, as I have grown older I look forward to something stronger to settle down with. While of course Christmas is about spending time with friends and family, sometimes you just want to escape, relax into your rocking chair and enjoy the warmth inside while sipping something appropriately delicious. Here are three such bottle on my Christmas wish-list.

Domaine Dupont, Calvados du Pays d’Auge, 17-year-old (42%)

Calvados – the spirit of Normandy – seems to be one of France’s underappreciated treasures. Jérôme Dupont and his father Étienne Dupont care for this estate, producing hedonistic and top-notch Calvados. My first taste of serious Calvados was their 12-year-old which exceeded all my expectations. The sweet apple richness is an utter joy, here mingled with intense woody vanilla, dried fruits, hazelnut and rose.

Armagnac from Nismes-Delclou

Just uttering the word Armagnac gives me goosebumps. Nismes-Delclou is one of the region’s oldest producers of fine brandy, still owned and run by the original family. I couldn’t pick just one of their spirits, as we have an extraordinary range of vintages stretching back to 1893, all of which are absolutely delicious. (Although, if you’re not sure where to start, they make our 10-year-old, which offers sensational value.)

Nismes-Delclous uses only the finest fruit from the Bas Armagnac region, and the resulting spirits offer a range of luscious characteristics – from light, floral and vanilla through to dark fruit, spice, leather and chocolate.

Highland Park, 18-Year-Old, Orkney, Single Malt Scotch Whisky (43%)

Sir Alexander Walker wrote: “I am in the process of conversion to the idea that Highland Park is the only whisky worth drinking and Johnnie Walker only fit for selling to deluded Sassenachs.”

Highland Park is the world’s most northernmost whisky distillery and happens to produce my favourite Scotch. The 18-year-old is impeccable, perfectly exemplifying the precision and art that goes into making every single bottle at this distillery. Mature with notes of liquid honey and heather pollen, a slight caramelised orange edge pushes the sweet malt and oak through. It is truly extraordinary, with its combination of sweet, salty and dry toffee characters, building to a spicy ginger and smoky finish. It’s the perfect partner for a homemade mince pie, and certainly something Father Christmas might enjoy between stops.

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