What is fresh that can be said about Christmas wines? You may object that Christmas should be traditional; it is the one time in the year When established favourites should be drunk, as from deliberate habit. If not, if Christmas Should not be traditional in these so changing 70s, then it should be personal: each family should plan for themselves. I have sympathy with both these points of Yiew. There must be value and even excitement in being traditional when tradition is being assailed, as it seems to be today — have the Case for Christmas Day' — champagne, claret, sauternes, and a bottle of port. On the other hand, you may be feeling the burden of yet another Christmas approaching — they do come round increasingly fast — and the need for some variation in the routine of the years. I believe everybody agrees that the Christmas holiday is the time for the highest standards, the mid-winter feast is the time when the best is good enough, the season when the anonymous unbranded cork is left untouched and When those bottles specially esteemed for their extra subtlety and intricate combinations of flavour — often bearing world-famous names of single vineyards, but not always so — are selected and carefully prepared; it is the month of the magnum par excellence. And what is certain is that the pleasure that such wines will give will be heightened in proportion to the thought with which they have been chosen: not suryp.q.. the forethought that is necessary to get the best out of these wines, by matching sYnipathetically the lighter wines with the delicate less fiercely,flavoured foods, and vice versa; not only by giving the wines their full head, by intelligent preparation well in advance — bringing slowly up to room temperature a tlaY or more before using them, and decanting an hour or so before the meal, on the day — but by planning the wines for every day of the holiday, to provide contrast and variety. . My first aim must be to remind you that time Ispow running out for such action. For those Without a stock of wines, it is already becoming late to order and have delivery guaranteed by Christmas; for those with a cellar there may be gaps. My second aim is to suggest a few Possibilities that exist in today's market, which Will provide a basis for experiment and which w, ill fill any gaps, after each family has created its own overall plan. Perhaps champagne is the perfect aperitif. It starts off any gathering as a party — there is a Marvellous fancy about it; I have always ,thought that the sound of the bubble on the brink of the glass, transporting one to wild cliffs dncl caves, and distant oceans, is so much more evocative than its wink: for whatever reason the sparkle creates a fairy story. But we are too addicted to our accustomed marque of this wttle. The normal grands crus are made from a mixture of black and white grapes; a chamPagne made from white grapes exclusively ,(known as a blanc des blancs) is more delicate clnd less heavy upon our stomachs; in a period v't.'hen eating has become simpler and less a,ttening, this is an advantage. French Regional Wine Shippers Ltd (10 St James Place,
London SW1, tel: 499 5314) have a unique range of champagne which includes a blanc des blancs from Cramant, the village from where some believe that the best can be obtained. It is domaine-bottled by M. Bonnaire-Bouquemont; the vintage 1969 costs just under £43, and the non-vintage just under £39, for a case. They also sell a rosé champagne — why not for Boxing Day? — at just under £47: Bouzy Rose, domaine-bottle by J. P. Brice. These prices include VAT, as will the remainder quoted in this article, and are most reasonable for these qualities.
In the nineteenth century many families would drink the current champagne, often Sillery, throughout a meal — seven or eight courses of it. Such continuous imbibing of gas must have been most inconvenient — even with our shorter meals I find that champagne with food leaves an unwanted heaviness. Fortunately, today's wine-drinking has become more intelligent and more various, and we may forgo champagne even as an aperitif, upon some of the twelve days of the holiday. Sherry is an obvious second choice and the traditional theme of sherry can now be played in a number of new keys, since, with improved possibilities of care in bottling and shipping, sherries can be sent here at their natural strength or with very little fortification. This gives them more delicacy and more flavour, and the reduced alcohol means that the wines that follow will be better enjoyed. One example of this modern style of lightness is Harvey's Manzanilla, obtainable for £2.08 per bottle (5 per cent discount for twelve from Harvey House, 27 Pall Mall, London SW1, tel: 839 4691). This is a superbly fresh wine matured by the sun, and possessing all its salty zest, in the port of San Lucar de Barrameda, near Jerez, and ideal when valuable space must be conserved with the prospect of pudding and mince pies, on the way.
Another alternative as an aperitif is Kir, named after a mayor of Dijon who regularly served a white dry wine, with cassis added to taste — usually two or three teaspoonfuls to a glass. As with the sherry, this is immeasurably improving — Dolamore (16 Paddington Green, London W2, tel: 723 2223) conveniently supply a Kir case: eleven bottles of a suitable white wine and a bottle of Double Creme de Cassis for £15.12.
Appropriate changes to the accepted with the roast turkey are few: if you do not yet have the bottle of claret or burgundy that satisfies you, or if you wish to find a bottle of fine quality outside those areas, here are some suggestions. For claret or burgundy ask a reputable wine merchant for advice on their list of châteauor domaine-bottled wines. Do not buy from an off-licence where you are less likely to obtain the same knowledgeable advice. There are good 1964 and 1962 vintage clarets to be bought for between £3 and £4 a bottle; for red burgundies I would go for a 1969 or a 1971 which will cost about the same — you can pay more, but need not. Avery of Bristol Ltd (7 Park Street, Bristol, tel: 24015) have a good selection and are good advisers.
To ring the changes, either on Christmas Day itself, or more conventionally on later days when the meat is cold, consider a red Rhone wine. They are warming and reassuring wines and in my view still attractively under-priced for what they are. For instance, 1969 Comas bottled by Paul Jaboulet Aine is only £1.94 a bottle from Loeb (15 Jermyn Street, London SW1, tel: 7345878) and the very fine Hermitage, La Chapelle 1972, from the same source. is £3.16. Both of these wines are still immature
and need early decanting, but already they are delicious.
It happens that we are just four years away from one of the outstanding vintages in Germany: 1971. The prices of this vintage have remained depressed below what one would ordinarily have expected; had it not been for large stocks and the economic crisis, they would now be more. Here is an opportunity! In the past I have found that a fine moselle possesses both the invigorating freshness, as well as the firmness, that goes well with turkey. Here again you must consult Loeb who are the acknowledged experts in this area, so expert in fact that they advise (not, I believe, entirely correctly) that German wines should be drunk without food, on their own. But this is an idea. The finest estate-bottled moselles of 1971 can be bought for £1.92 a bottle upwards: quite frankly, breathtaking value.
There are many other wines that could be mentioned if space allowed, but this article must not end without a word about port — not because it is a tradition, but because it is so good; some walnuts and a Cox's Orange Pippin must also be included. If you do not have any vintage port (and it should, for preference, be at least fifteen years old before drinking) 1 recommend crusted port. Taylor's bottled in 1969, for example, can be obtained for about £2 a bottle and, like all the other wines mentioned, it should be sent to your home immediately, so it may rest for a week or more before Christmas. All the red wines, and the port in particular, should be decanted. I hope you will have most enjoyable drinking and that a glimpse of the fallen at the end of the holiday, in the shape of empty used-up bottles, will be a happy reminder of a satisfying campaign.