Old friends


Christmas is the time for special wines and spirits. It may be a platitude, but what truly makes them special comes down to our memories. A bottle needn’t be grand to become an “old friend”  one of those familiar names that returns every Christmas, taking you by the hand and guiding you gently back in time. We asked a handful of our experts who their old friends are, and which memories will come calling over the festive season.  

Christmas brings a pause from the usual routines. Time slows and nostalgia takes hold. The past bleeds into the present, while the future waits in plain sight. Fine wines and spirits are equally shaped by the passage of time, and they evolve alongside us. This chronology starts with the moment we first try a certain bottle: where we were, who we were with. There’s the spark of discovery, acquaintance becoming familiarity as we return to it again. Then comes the quiet maturation in the cellar, until the moment they’re finally ready to enjoy. The past returns, but different: more complex, layered, new details coming to the fore – much like our own memories.  

A good bottle offers this unique pleasure – a strange and delicious kind of time travel. Below, our experts share some of the temporal adventures they’ve enjoyed alongside some “old friends” – the bottles they revisit at Christmas, time and again.  

Christmas Eve Brandy

For years, it was traditional for my father and me to share an Armagnac on Christmas Eve and, after everyone else had gone to bed, chat for 45 minutes – his diluted a little with water, mine without.  Not to put the world to rights, but just to enjoy each other’s company. It is a source of pride that the tradition now continues with my own son, and to do so with a bottle from the year of his birth – Nismes-Delclou 1994 – adds an extra glow. It is now my glass that has a little water. 

Christmas Day for us is usually a crowd, and too many to open something very special. With a variety of ages and tastes, something reliable and flavoursome (and good with turkey) is the answer. For me, that has always been a good Beaujolais, ideally a Moulin-à-Vent from someone like Olivier Merlin or Thibault Liger-Belair, and a magnum makes a fine centrepiece without breaking the bank. As it happens, Cru Beaujolais was also one of my father’s favourite wines, something he discovered in the late 1970s. He was a man ahead of his time, and his memory is preserved by my choices today. 

Mark Pardoe MW, Wine Director  

A little drop of Sherry  

Christmas for me is synonymous with Sherry. I can recall the first time I was given a tiny sip of this to enjoy, many moons ago now, before we sat down to Christmas dinner. It was horrible, but I felt so incredibly grown-up I gulped it down anyway. Time moves on. I learnt a bit about wine and, on reflection, that traditional bottle of Sherry that lived in the sideboard, gradually diminishing year on year, was well and truly knackered. Past it. Kaput. 

But traditions remain for a reason. And a little drop of Sherry when preparing food in the days before Christmas always lends an additional sparkle to the season. These days my Sherry of choice is an Amontillado – dry and savoury with toasted hazelnut and bitter marmalade notes. It’s a strong flavour and a small glass is more than sufficient. Though these days, I know to store it in the fridge once open, and enjoy it within a couple of weeks.  

Barbara Drew MW, Content Officer  

Festive abundance

Coming from a small family, Christmas for us has never meant a huge crowd.  Nonetheless, I’ve always felt that any sort of family gathering is better for having magnums on the table.  They not only look the part, but because magnums mature more slowly than standard bottles, they invariably drink better too. Champagne simply always tastes better from magnum, so that’s where we begin, and Berry Bros. & Rudd’s “UKC” Champagne ticks all the boxes. It makes a perfect apéritif, that you can keep drinking with the first course.  

Being a traditionalist, Claret often takes centre stage, and will usually be a Berry Bros. & Rudd stalwart such as Château Potensac or Château Cantemerle.  I branched out a few years ago with magnums of Rioja from C.V.N.E., which were a huge hit, and the quality-price ratio from Spain is fantastic. Rioja and Bordeaux have a shared compatibility with all the classic Christmas foods. They are rounded, generous and easy to drink, and even better poured from a big bottle.

Philip Moulin, Quality and Authentication Manager

A dram for a friend  

When asked to ponder an “old friend”, my whisky mind wandered through various dank dunnage warehouses and windswept distillery locales in remote, forsaken corners of Scotland. I also journeyed mentally back to the Amazon Rainforest where our Guyanese friends produce world-class rums, and to the arid highlands of Jalisco where plenty of Tequila was shared when I last visited.  

In the end, though, my meanderings settled not on a place, nor even a taste or aroma, but on a person: my dear friend and colleague Davy Żyw. I will be raising my glass to him this Christmas. For his tireless campaigning and fundraising for charities fighting Motor Neuron Disease. For his exquisite selections of Champagnes and Italian wines as a Buyer for Berry Bros. & Rudd. For all the pints we’ve shared in the Red Lion pub around the back of the office – his stout, mine bitter. And for our mutual love of Macduff distillery that led him to choose a whisky cask for us to bottle to aid his charitable endeavours. 

So, if you’re looking for a particularly special dram to enjoy this Christmas, I’d highly recommend Davy’s choice of 2002 Macduff – a truly resplendent whisky, raising money for a cause close to our hearts.  

Rob Whitehead, Spirits Buyer