How to choose wine for Christmas Day

Don’t splash out on a bottle that doesn’t live up to its label. There are plenty of underrated bottles out there that are more than fit to grace your table

There’s still time to be savvy about a quality bottle that won’t break the bank and might well outperform the big-hitters.
There’s still time to be savvy about a quality bottle that won’t break the bank and might well outperform many a so-called big hitter. Photograph: fstop123/Getty Images/iStockphoto
There’s still time to be savvy about a quality bottle that won’t break the bank and might well outperform many a so-called big hitter. Photograph: fstop123/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Fiona Beckett
Fri 18 Dec 2020 09.00 EST

With a week still to go before you need to decide what to drink at Christmas, today doesn’t really count as last-minute in my book (that’s not applicable until the 24th, strictly speaking), but if you’re inclined to panic, there’s a danger you’ll end up spending more than you need on a wine that doesn’t live up to its label.

And what might that be? Well-known French whites such as sancerre, big bordeaux hitters such as margaux and saint-émilion, and Italian reds such as barolo and barbaresco are all rarely a good buy, or not from supermarkets, anyway. (I used to put châteauneuf-du-pape in the same category, but, thanks to a recent run of good vintages in the Rhône – 2016 is drinking particularly well – it does now deliver and looks great on the Christmas table). There are, however some good “village” wines around – for example, Morrisons’ Bonpas Vacqueyras 2017 (£15, 13.5%) – that are of at least comparable quality.

Which wines are underestimated? Gosh, where to start? German wines of whatever kind, especially red - spätburgunder (pinot noir) often outclasses red burgundy at a similar price, as you’ll see from my Lidl recommendation below. Portuguese still wines (that is, other than port), too: the Douro region produces some truly interesting whites from indigenous grape varieties – the Sainsbury’s wine in today’s recommendations, for example, is made from gouveio, rabigato and malvasia fina, which are hardly household names, but it’s full of character. And what about Australian shiraz? How did we ever fall out of love with shiraz? It’s so cheerfully drinkable and, these days, such good value, too. And chardonnay, as well, which has still not quite recovered from the Bridget Jones effect. If you think you don’t like it, give it another go, because these days it’s much lighter and fresher in style.

It’s interesting that there aren’t as many good offers as there were even just a few weeks ago, and certainly none of those 25% off across-the-board deals. Retailers clearly want you to shop early, drink it all up and go back to buy more. That said, getting a full-size bottle of Lustau’s delicious East India Solera Rich Oloroso Sherry for £9.99 (Waitrose, 20%) is not to be sniffed at.

And if you need a really swanky-looking bottle as a gift, I’d go for DV Catena’s Cabernet Franc Historico (13.5%) from one of Argentina’s top producers, which, annoyingly, was on a deal a couple of weeks ago, but is still well worth buying at the full price of £12 (Tesco, 13.5%), particularly if you’re a bordeaux fan. Actually, now that I mention it, I’m quite tempted myself …

Four Christmas wines that punch above their price

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Douro White

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Douro White 2019 £8.75 (on offer), 13%. The Douro produces characterful whites as well as port. This one would do duty for chablis, so is good with fish pie or scallops.

Stellenbosch Chardonnay Reserve 2020

Stellenbosch Chardonnay Reserve 2020 £6.99 Aldi, 14%. If you like a big, rich chardonnay, this has your name all over it. Not too blowsy, either, which is impressive at this price. Ideal for the turkey if you prefer a white.

Alte Vogtei zu Ravensburg Baden Spätburgunder 2019

Alte Vogtei zu Ravensburg Baden Spätburgunder 2019 £9.99 Lidl, 12.5%. An absolutely cracking organic south German pinot noir that knocks spots off red burgundy at the price. Would be great with the Christmas ham.

Mad Fish Shiraz 2018

Mad Fish Shiraz 2018 £9 Tesco, 14.5%. Slightly lighter and fresher than shiraz from south Australia, but still delivers a hefty wallop of fruit. A good all-rounder for the Christmas period.

• For more by Fiona Beckett, go to matchingfoodandwine.com

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