A couple of years ago, I wrote about cheaper options for Christmas drinking, only to be admonished by several readers, who said that, at this time of year, I should be writing about more expensive wines instead (a rare event for this column, because outrage is more usually confined to my more costly recommendations). As a result, you’ll be hearing more from me over the coming weeks about slightly spendier wines for the festive table, but what about all those days in the run-up to the big day, not to mention the seemingly endless period afterwards, when you have to provide food and wine for days on end?
It’s all about providing something that’s drinkable, at an affordable price and that will do for everything from the odd glass for the cook to an impromptu party. In the case of reds, especially, it’s also really useful to have wines to hand that are suitable for cooking with and for mulling. That doesn’t mean any old tat, but there’s no point in spending too much on them, either. You might think this is the ideal opportunity to get rid of wine that needs drinking up, but if a bottle was, say, oaky to start with and has lost all its fruit, it’s not going to make for a particularly delicious drink (though you can add a slosh of vintage character or late-bottled vintage port to perk it up). Instead, look out for basic, full-bodied wines such as corbières and Spanish garnacha, which you can often pick up for well under a fiver.
During the holiday, I find I turn to wines I know will be popular, even if they’re not ones I normally drink. I’m not a massive fan of sauvignon blanc, for example, but who could resist a decent example for just £6, which is the price the Co-Op is currently charging for its really well-made, fresh, zesty Stonehaven Sauvignon Blanc (13.5%), from South Africa? Try that with smoked salmon. The store has started stocking the 2019 vintage, but may still have some 2018s on shelf.
If you live on your own, meanwhile, you might be tempted to buy a wine box. Unless you drink only a couple of glasses a week, however, I honestly wouldn’t recommend it. The range available is still terribly limited compared with wine in bottle, boxes are rarely subject to such keen reductions, and their sheer size means you can easily end up drinking exactly the same wine day after day (though if it’s a wine you love, you may not see that as a disadvantage, of course). Just warning you!
Four Christmas staples to have in your cupboard
Voyage au Sud 2018
£5.99 Waitrose, 12.5%.
Smooth, easy-drinking Languedoc white made from the local rolle, aka vermentino, grapes.
Planalto White Reserva 2108
£6.99 Majestic, 13%.
Bright, fresh, zippy Portuguese white: perfect party drinking.
£6.99 Aldi, 14.5%.
Amazing price for a Côtes du Rhône village wines. Smart enough to put on the Christmas table, but brilliant everyday drinking, too.
Taste the Difference Western Australian Shiraz 2018
£6.75 Sainsbury’s, 14.5%.
Exuberantly juicy, but not overly jammy Aussie red – ideal for those cranberry-stuffed Christmas sarnies.
• For more by Fiona Beckett, go to matchingfoodandwine.com
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