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Dreaming of a Red Christmas

So far, we have considered impressive sweeties, fortified wines and party-time ideas.

Today, then, it is the turn of reds for yuletide lunch tables.

As turkey is not the universal choice nowadays, these suggestions will also work with other main courses.

However, options still need to be fairly traditional, so there is an old-world orientation to this list.

Securing the uniqueness and sense of luxury that Christmas lunch wines often demand means I had to do two things:

  • Stray beyond my usual “supermarket wine aisle” beat, and,
  • Assume that folk are prepared to spend slightly more in this season of indulgence, despite continuing overall financial constraints.

With non-supermarkets selections, however, the wine searcher website could help you find an “indie” selling it nearer to you than any I quote.

The wines are arranged in ascending order of density.

As is normal here, pictures and hyperlinks are provided where possible to guide you straight to the right wine on shelf or web page.

When something light for Christmas is needed

2023 Beaujolais Nouveau Domaine Bel Avenir (from £12.60 at Wickham and 13.5% abv):

The gloss came off the glitzy Beaujolais Nouveau circus long ago, but serious examples of each current year’s harvest can still delight us.

This is one that brilliantly captures the freshness, floral nature and bright fruit foundation of that region’s wines.

Light with violet aromas, it features juicy strawberry, cranberry and red cherry flavours supplemented by cola and cinnamon constituents and good acidity.

NB:- There will be a detailed feature on white wine from Beaujolais next month.

On to one of its neighbours.

2022 Bourgogne Pinot Noir (£18 – instead of £20 until 12 December – at Sainsbury’s and 13%):

Burgundy prices can, of course, reach the stratosphere (which, to be fair, do match the sensational level those wines attain).

However, it is also good to welcome this more affordable version that provides a youthful indication of what the style is all about.

With delicate aromas yet sharp acidity, this great value Louis Jadot wine contains light bodied raspberry, plum and pomegranate flavours.

This are joined by star anise elements, a gentle oakiness and only minimal tannin.

More Pinot Noir for Père Noël

2019 Westcott Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir (Around £27 at Talking Wines and Framlingham Wines – and 12.5%):

Increasingly, Canada’s Niagara Escarpment is producing impressive pinot noir like this – which is noticeably more mature than that 2022 Burgundy pinot.

Cooling influences from the Great Lakes ensure that grapes there ripen only slowly, and that suits pinot noir perfectly.

Brown tinged (reflecting its careful aging) this Niagara pinot brings us smoky prune, blaeberry and cherry flavours.

That base is neatly embellished by truffle aromas, meaty savouriness, mild tannin, balanced acidity and a nutty, rose hip finish.  

Next the Southern Hemisphere

2022 Ken Forrester Wine The Misfits Cinsault (£10 at Tesco and 13%):

Ken Forrester is a hugely important figure in South Africa’s wine industry who played a crucial role in the revival of quality chenin blanc there.

Here he turns to cinsault – a red wine with a long tradition in his country – to produce a quality (but relatively light) version.

Smooth but with a concluding graphite twist the result has light bodied raspberry plum and red currant flavours.

They are framed by tart acidity and gentle tannin coupled with hints of clove, marzipan, smokiness and parma violet.

Dotting back to North America

2020 Klinker Brick Marisa Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel (£30 at Hay Wines but coming to Waitrose Cellar next year – and 15%):

While California’s Lodi region (home to this wine) is recognised for lower prices than, say, the Napa Valley, it has another claim to fame.

Many vineyards there have zinfandel vines that are 50+ years old which often means lower yields but – on the upside – more intense flavours.

Smoky and full bodied, this “Old Vine” example provides us with smooth cherry and blackcurrant flavours accompanied by sage and baking spice elements but with just an edge of sweetness.

It a great illustration of what makes Californian zinfandel so special.

Now back to Europe

2021 Domaine du Grand Montmirail Vacqueyras (£17.99 at Waitrose Cellar and back in stock shortly – 14.5%):

Since they are neighbours, wines from the Southern Rhone’s Vacqueyras and Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellations share several characteristics.

However, there are important differences in that Châteauneuf wines are permitted a broader range of grape varieties and usually age better while – geographically – the region is warmer and has more diverse soils,

Flipping the coin though, Vacqueyras wines can be bolder and more rustic, are often more suited to early drinking and – crucially – are more wallet-friendly.

Full and smooth, this particular Vacqueyras features rich plum and raspberry flavours along with limited tannin.

However, freshness comes from its sharp orange peel acidity which is nicely set off by attractive touches of black pepper, bay leaf and liquorice.

And on to Bordeaux

2020 Château La Clarière (from £24.30 at Laithwaite’s and 14.5%):

While claret is a traditional Christmas red, it is difficult to find competitively priced versions that are not released too soon or overly dominated by savoury elements.

This avoids both pitfalls perfectly.

It is a merlot-centred blend from Castillon, one of the less heralded of Bordeaux’s “Right Bank” wine regions.

Dense but a very modern claret, it contains minty cherry, damson and pomegranate flavours combined here with slate, chocolate and black pepper influences.

This is an absolute star.

2022 Juan Gil Yellow Label Monastrell (Around £13 at Butlers Wine Cellar, Vin Neuf, Aitken Wines and other indies – and 14.5%):

While organic winemaking is laudably environment friendly, eschewing certain additives can make the finished article prone to oxidation and spoilage.

Get it right, though and the results astonish with more expressive flavours and a discernible sense of purity.

The latter certainly happens in this monastrell (a.k.a.mourvedre) from Spain’s Jumilla region in which smooth and integrated mulberry, blackberry and damson flavours abound.

These lead into a long finish containing firm tannin and hints of lavender, cigar box and slate given verve here by citrus acidity.

Couldn’t stay out of the New World for long.

2019 Hollick Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon (£19.50 at Latitude Wine of Huddersfield and South Downs Cellars – and 14.9%):

Coonawarra has a nine mile stretch of terra rossa iron oxide influenced soil in South Australia famed for producing top notch cabernet sauvignon – and this merits that description.

Fair dues, though, it is not just iron oxide that’s responsible – other minerals and the excellent draining soil there also play a part.

Inky dark with classic cabernet aromas, this Coonawarra offering delivers intense blackcurrant, mulberry and prune flavours.

Those components are supported by modest tannin and good acidity with suggestions of mint, mocha, anise and cedar in the background.  

Finally finishing in South Africa

2020 The Liberator ‘Keep Me In Your Heart' Tannat, (£16.50 at The Wine Society and 14.5%):

Merely mentioning tannat conjures up images of dense, dark and substantial red wine but this is much less intense that traditional versions.

No doubt the modicum of cabernet franc used does soften the end product but more of the wine’s quality stems from the skilled winemaking architects of this lovely South African offering.

Full and very dark with minimal tannin, it features bold cherry, bramble and mulberry flavours.

That foundation is well supported by firm acidity and a richness that contains cola, anise and incense components.


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Comments

13 Comments

Eddie Walker

Great stuff as ever Brian. Spotted this notification late yesterday …

Whilst all the big supermarket outlets are still running with 25% off schemes now Morrisons too have a full-on 25% off buy 6 from now until 12th December.

They make a complication that none of the other main supermarkets do in that you can only have the deal in multiples of 6!!

Buy any mixed 8 or 9, then anything over 6 won’t include in the deal until we get to 12 … then 18, etc!! Selections can be mixed but nothing priced under £5.50 a bottle can feature.

Your Monday December 4th MWW posting included this Occitaine red that is a current favourite of mine. Buy 6 and it comes down to £6. Of its kind and provenance it has wonderful French rustic charm stamped all over it.

Calvet Igp Cite De Carcassonne – Morrisons Online Groceries & Offers

Just to mention again the Tesco Eglise Saint-Jaques Bergerac.

I had bought some many weeks ago attracted at first by the word ”Bergerac” on the label. Hens’ teeth stuff in this country for red bottles! Often a very reliable substitute at good money for Bordeaux blends.

Prompted then by the endorsement here I went off to replenish stocks to compliment the very excellent Pierre Jaurant Bordeaux from Aldi. I can’t not have lots of claret on the shelf.

Disappointment at the first store I decided to drop in. They no longer had it. But I have the time on my hands when I understand many don’t.

Luckily a trip out to the biggest Tesco in the area found bottles a plenty. Currently on a double dip, £7 down to £6 it can be £4.50 until December 17th . A star buy indeed for an authentic, go-to-any-time house wine, again in my ”cellar”.
Eglise Saint Jacques Bergerac 75Cl – Tesco Groceries

Don’t know if you will cover this white later but the stand out bottle for me from the Asda Wine Club case last month is this Extra Special Gavi di Gavi, that when bought on Asda’s current reduction will be £7.12. It’s a stunner for me and for those wanting a white ”for the turkey” this is the perfect top-class, guaranteed to please, value bottle to substitute for any more expensive Chardonnay let’s say.

ASDA Extra Special Gavi di Gavi 75cl – ASDA Groceries

Brian Elliott

Thanks for the tips, Eddie – really helpful in dragging maximum value from a rising market. Not only that but the suggested Gavi could be an addition to the other Christmas whites being featured on Monday

Keith Evans

Glad you found your Eglise Saint Jacques Bergerac Eddie. I located a few bottles here but only in a Tesco Express where, disappointingly, it was priced on the shelf at £7.75 and no mention of a Clubcard discount. I suppose I should have taken a bottle to the self-service till and checked what price came up but, as a matter of principle, I was not going to pay over the odds! It still seems I have until 17 Dec to get it on a 25% off 6 offer (pretty likely to be extended?) and until New Year’s Eve to get the Clubcard discount if I drive to one of the 2 Tesco superstores within 15 miles

Eddie Walker

Likesay Keith I have the time to apply myself to chasing around after wines that I want … at the price I can have them. I do really appreciate that others will not have the free time that I do and maybe people will have to pass if they can’t locate stock easily.

But as with others here this is both my hobby and my passion. The majority of folk that MWW aims at I think Brian might say is the ”general public” who won’t have the same investment as a smaller group of real enthusiastic explorers.

Herein lies a small problem of a subjective nature. What was all that fuss about??? LOL … We suggest folks try something and it turns out to be not what they prefer, after giving a lot of effort maybe for very little return. I suppose that is why I focus strongly on identifying the deals, purchasing and often repurchasing and a small investment to stock up when it’s there. Thankfully the stuff is usually there at the Big 5, plus the likes of the Co op, Lidl, Aldi, M&S, Majestic or even Ocado.

My guilty pleasure is a long way from there when I use The Wine Society for trying and experimenting with limited purchasing of more expensive bottles that thankfully now can come to me without delivery charge, often in 24 hours, and not even having to leave the house chasing about looking for it. A litre of fuel for a supermarket shopping trip against £40 up front to be a member of the specialist TWS. It’s a trade off isn’t it, not always suitable for others.

Just to mention how I much enjoy being amongst this group of people chatting about wine that’s facilitated by Brian and the time he gives to this excellent and frequent posting that is MWW. I’m sure we all massively appreciate what he gives to this .
Sante …..

Brian Elliott

Thank you, Eddie. As you say, the site has two sets of followers (and both are warmly welcomed). One is the average wine drinker who just wants a “fuss-free”, reliable bottle at a good value price. Top Tips in particular are aimed at them and it is gratifying to hear of so many people using the site to take their pleasure from wine up a notch. Thursday posts also try to provide something for the enthusiast (folk who are regarded by friends as “knowing a bit about wine” but who fall well short of being nerdy). It is good to see a community developing among both sets of subscribers although – as you suggest – it is quite time consuming producing the content and, because of the increasing cost of hosting and dependable security control, the site does run at a loss.

Richard Wyndham

As usual, an interesting selection of wines. There is so much quality wine around, great buys still to be had, so ever useful to get pointers from Brian – and the regular MidWeeker contributors.

Within this selection there are several that I have tasted and enjoyed: The Beaujolais Nouveau; Jadot Burgundy; Misfits Cinsault; and the Liberator Tannat.

It might be of interest that I drank the featured 2023 Nouveau alongside the same producer’s 2022 Nouveau. This was still drinking very well, so if anyone discovers a bottle of the 2023 lurking in their wine rack, it is likely to be a very pleasant 2024 summer tipple.

I approached the Tannat wine with some trepidation. But, no, it didn’t taste like immature vintage port, but was an interesting and surprisingly “friendly” wine.

I do find it fascinating, and educational, to compare Brian’s and other’s descriptions with my rather shorter and basic notes. Some time back I remember regularly describing a particular taste as “medical”, but eventually, by correlating my notes with wine professionals, worked out that “menthol” is a more appropriate description that is widely used. There are other examples, and it is useful and satisfying to align one’s wine vocabulary with the trade. In that respect Brian’s wine descriptions are right up there with the best.

Having quite recently come to appreciate Cinsault single variety wines, I shall buy another bottle of the The Misfits, taste it alongside Brian’s detailed description, and refine my wine dictionary. Keep educating us, Brian!

Brian Elliott

Thank you for the much appreciated praise, Richard. While the best descriptions of something unknown is by analogy with something familiar, it can be a difficult line to tread between being as complete as you can without the purple prose that shot Jilly Goolden to fame.
You are spot on about that tannat, incidentally. It is so nice to have pre-conceptions shattered in such a nice way.

Paul Davies

Why not a classic Big Red Aussie for Xmas?
Asda are offering Wirra Wirra Church Block Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot- Shiraz at £10.50 ,down from £13.50- but is then included in the 25% off mix six deal.Sometimes it is good to visit old friends,particularly at great prices.

Brian Elliott

Why not indeed. There are some excellent Aussie versions about at present – many at great value prices.

Paul Davies

Another great Cinsault is the Wine Society’s Bin#15 2022 Cinsault Vin de France Ollieux Romanis from the Languedoc. On sale at £11.50 down from £12.95 but fine to drink until 2025.Pale coloured, fragrant with red fruits and so smooth and silky..Very little sulphur involved so fruit to the fore.A natural wine,at its best slightly chilled.A modest,but welcome, 13% alcohol level.
I suspect many white wine drinkers could warm to this red wine.

Richard Wyndham

Thanks Paul, just checked my CellarTracker to see if I had a bottle, but I don’t. Sounds good, will add one to my next order. One if the reviews suggested it would be liked by “Pinot Paupers”, I guess that covers me.

I do have a bottle of Van Loggerenberg ‘Geronimo’ Cinsault, Stellenbosch 2021. My note shows I tasted it at a SA WS tasting in Lewes – must have liked it because I paid £22 (less 10%).

Paul Davies

Hello Richard,
Cinsault is an interesting grape.For many years the vines were dug up in SW France, unfashionable,difficult to grow and with a tendency to produce very high yields of grapes that tasted of zilch.
However carefully grown it can produce very good wines
Guess what- it is now being replanted in the Languedoc for two main reasons-Climate change–Cinsault is very resistant to heat and drought and secondly changes in customer preferences ,dramatically away from full bodied,high alcohol reds.
Cinsault grapes are relatively modest in sugar levels and very rarely go above 13% alcohol.
So here is a bold prediction -in the future Languedoc wines will contain a lot more Cinsault.

Brian Elliott

I think you are right about Languedoc cinsault. GSC is becoming almost as mainstream for the region as its GSM blends. It is the single varietals that offer the most scope though with an attractive lightness that, presumably, explains the “pinot pauper” observation Richard mentions.


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