Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Waitrose Wines - Christmas picks

It is the first of December, the first day of the Christmas season. It's the first day you can put your Christmas decorations up, open the first door of your advent calendar and generally start feeling festive. 

Some of you might be beginning to plan your Christmas dinner, and so I thought that it might help you to identify some fab wines for the big day.

I recently attended a tasting at Waitrose's Cookery School in London for Waitrose's seasonal drink selections. There was a bewildering array of booze available. I knew I would need some help. 

Thankfully, Cat Lomax, an experienced, knowledgeable wine buyer for Waitrose specialising in Bordeaux, Rhone, Alsace, Austrian and Sparkling wines noticed my confused expression and decided to give me a guided tour of the selections.   

I was very lucky that Cat took me under her wing to help choose these wines, they are the pick of the wines I tried with her help.

Sparkling wines

Most of you are likely to kick off the shenanigans of Christmas day with some bubbly and a toast to a fabulous day of celebrations. Fortunately, there are ample choices for varied budgets and varied party sizes.

San Leo Prosecco Brut, NV, Italy, 1.5l £20.99

Prosecco is a word fast becoming synonymous for party. You'd also be hard pressed to beat the "wow factor" of a Magnum, a full double size bottle! But is the wine inside any good? Cat, my guide to the new range is so enthusiastic about this Prosecco, she had it at her recent engagement party. That's quite a big endorsement. I tasted it and thought it was wonderful frothy fun; highly drinkable, round, soft, yet fresh. Cat highlighted the fresh tones of pear as another standout feature of this Prosecco. Suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

Nyetimber Classic Cuvee 2010, West Sussex, England £31.99

Cherie Spriggs grows her grapes on the Lee of the South Downs, in the shelter from the coastal winds. The chalk seam in West Sussex falls deeper underground, leading all the way to the Champagne region across the Channel, a clue as to why England sparkling wines made by le method traditionelle are giving bona fide Champagne a run for its money. This wine won a prestigious IWC Silver Medal, proving its quality and refinement. Good sparkling wine, particularly Champagne, needs acidity in the grape alongside ripeness, which our climate is ideal for achieving. Made of 51% Pinot Noir, 36% Chardonnay and 13% Pinot Meunier, the Nyetimber is crisp and clean with toasty brioche flavours.

Pol Roger Vintage 2004 Champagne £56.99

Still a family run concern, Pol Roger is different from many of the other Champagne houses. It is a far smaller producer than its better known rivals.  This Champagne consists of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay. Cat advised me that 2004 was a good year, which is why Pol Roger considered it worthy of a single vintage. I would describe it as an elegant and fine Champagne with lemony citrus flavours, well above the level of ordinary supermarket Champagne. This wine is for a special celebration. Cat noted freshly made bread dough, yeastiness and praised its refined, precise character and crisp, refreshing flavours. Suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

White wines

The early courses of your Christmas dinner are likely to be seafood or fish. Dressed crab, smoked salmon, lobster, pan fried fish. You will want white wines which go well with food, but are not too overpowering. Cat guided me towards white wines which, whilst having different characteristics, are great for food pairing.

Domaine Saint Amant La Tabardonne 2012, Cotes du Rhone Villages, France £14.99

Made from 90% Viognier and the relatively unknown Rousanne grape (making up the other 10%), this wine is made in the Phone region, not known for their white wines. Made by a husband and wife team, grown on small chalky clay terraces, this wine deserves notice. Hand picked, the grapes are crushed by gravity and fermented on oak barrels. I thought after 1990s New World hyper-oaking that I didn't like oaked wines. I avoided them wherever I could. I have learned that you can't hold rigid opinions with wine; techniques change, seasons, weather and geography xast their spell. This wine had richness and body with a long plead finish.

Le Crocher d'Amelie 2014 Sancerre, Loire, France £17.49

100% Sauvignon Blanc as all Sancerre should be, this is a wonderful wine for food.  Sancerre has long been a go-to wine for me when food matching owing to its brilliant balance of flavour, sweetness and acidity. Jean-Max Roger and his sons Thibault and Etienne grow the grapes in the village of Bue and hamlet of Amigny on clay-limestone soil of Jurassic origins. But don't worry, this wine is no dinosaur; it is elegant with herbaceous garden aromas. The flavour and finish are refined and restrained. A fabulous wine for all palates. Suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

Red wines

Some people eschew the traditional turkey dinner for something more substantial, demanding the depth and fruit of red wines. There were plenty of great red wines available in the Winter selection, these being my favourites. 
Domaine Lucien Muzard 2013 Santenay, Premier Cru Maladiere, Burgundy, France £19.99

Burgundy, France is the home of the iconic beef stew Boeuf Bourguignon, traditionally made with Burgundy wine. The region is not as reknowned as other French wine regions, and can be intimidating for the wine novice because there are so many small appellations. This wine, made by brothers and small producers Herve and Claude Muzard is 100% Pinot Noir and is aged for 12 months in oak barrels. This wine is for the Pinot Noir sceptic (as I indeed am). I found it aromatic and earthy, with red currant fruit. It is not too high in tannins and has a slightly gamey flavour. I enjoyed this wine as it was balanced with a fresh finish. I sometimes find Pinot Noir harsh, so this was a real find. It is suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

Villa Antinori 2012, Tuscany, Italy £14.99

Made from a blend of Sangiovese grapes with small quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, this wine is made by a respected producer in the trade. The post-picking treatment of the grapes was devised to give good colour and aroma. It smells fruity, full of black cherry and red fruits. The 12 months spent in oak barrels gives a spiciness. The finish was fresh and balanced. Cat recommends this as an ideal wine for complementing fatty, rich dishes, owing to its soft, ripe tannins and fresh acidity.

Sweet/dessert wines

It may well be that you make it through the grazing and snacking of Christmas morning (with ritual present opening!), the rigours of a full Crimbo dinner and have some space left for pudding. If so, you might be looking for a dessert wine to finish a memorable day with. Cat has a doozy for you!

Crociani 2010 Vin Santo di Montepulciano Tuscany Italy 37.5cl £19.49

With its attractive Medieval label, this Vin Santo would round off Christmas dinner a treat! Made of 90% Malvasia and 10% Pulcinculo (Grechetto Bianco) grapes by Susanna Crociani. Deep coloured, this wine has flavours of caramel and honey. Cat encouraged me to taste the subtler toasted almonds and slightly burnt marmalade tones she found. If you're generous, you might leave a wee glass for Father Christmas to have with his Christmas Eve mince pie. Otherwise, it would be great with Christmas cake, or with the cheese board after dinner. It goes particularly well with hard cheese served with dried fruits and apricots. Comte cheese is a fabulous partner!

If you are interested in any of these wines, you can check them out at the Waitrose Cellar website: http://www.waitrosecellar.com/
You can order wines to collect from your local branch if you do not want to order for a full delivery. 

I would like to convey my heartfelt thanks to Cat for her time and trouble in helping me find these wines. These are only a small selection of the wines she picked for me. Her knowledge and expertise is truly impressive and inspirational.

I would also thank Waitrose Wines for inviting me to their tasting event. I attended as their guest. 

Snigdha has not received any incentive, financial or otherwise for writing this blog post.

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