Having recommended some great reds, fortified wines and sweeties over the last couple of weeks, the spotlight today falls on whites for the Christmas lunch table.
In compiling the list, I have made the usual two Christmas assumptions – that we need to emphasise the traditional in our selections but, given the season, purse strings can be loosened a bit.
As ever, though, and true to MidWeek Wines guiding principles, most of the recommendations are available in High Street stores because we recognise that accessibility is important too.
Some wines from other suppliers have, however, been added when we encounter a retailer that impresses us.
Remember that many featured wines now have a hyperlink to the retailer’s website for all the reasons I set out down the page in a recent Top Tip.
As ever, use any available pictures to help you find the wine on a crowded shelf – which is not always as easy as it seems.
Straight forward but delightfully different
If you are looking for a straight-forward yet distinctive white for drinking over the Christmas period, look no further than this excellent version from a consistently reliable producer in Languedoc.
This grape variety reappears later, and a bit further up the price ladder, to illustrate how versatile it is and how different versions labelled “pinot gris” are to those ubiquitous pinot grigios.
Aromatic but textured, Languedoc’s 2018 Les Jamelles Pinot Gris (£8.99 in Scotland and as part of a mixed six elsewhere – at Majestic and 13% abv) has pear, quince and peach fruit with firm grapefruit acidity and background suggestions of honey and nuts.
Heading for New Zealand
New Zealand sauvignon blanc remains a massive seller in the UK but Christmas is a great time to “trade up” from day to day versions (appealing as many of them are) to something from a great producer that is significantly more complex and which The Wine Society website calls “grown up sauvignon”.
In 2018 Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc (£14.95 at The Wine Society and 13%) that complexity emerges as herbal, green pepper and mint influences to underpin the wine’s grapefruit and ripe tropical fruit flavours and its restrained tangerine acidity.
Same grape; different hemisphere
Staying on the subject of sauvignon blanc and top producers of it, I was delighted to see Morrisons acquire a parcel of this wine from a “terroir obsessed” operation run by a family that can trace its history locally back almost five centuries.
The small size of this wine parcel means that it will not be in all Morrisons stores but it should be available online – at least – before Christmas.
Fresh and soft, 2018 Sancerre La Gravelière Joseph Mellot (£20 at Morrisons and 13%) has subtle but ripe apple and pear fruit with firm sherbet lemon acidity and herbal touches that add admirable intricacy.
Now for White Burgundy
Many traditional Christmas lunch first courses are partnered by white Burgundy in its various forms so let’s start with that classic seafood companion from the region’s most northerly outpost – Chablis.
We stay with the same retailer as the last wine to raise a glass to the smooth and sophisticated 2015 The Best Chablis Premier Cru (£15 at Morrisons and 13%) with its apple and white peach fruit, good acidity and contrasting nutty edged texture.
To the other end of the region
For our second stop, we go to the southern end of the “greater” Burgundy region to the up and coming wines of Mȃconnaise (but not stopping until we almost reach Beaujolais) and, there, savour the delightful wines of Pouilly Fuisse.
A small proportion of 2017 Taste the Difference Pouilly-Fuisse (£17 – instead of £18.50 until 1 January – at Sainsbury’s) is fermented in oak (rather than stainless steel) and that may account for its background spicy touches that embellish, but never smother, the wine’s soft, apple fruit, tingly freshness and smooth depth.
But back to Burgundy Central
Next we head back to the Cȏte de Beaune itself – well actually an offshoot of the main (roughly) NE/SW Beaune ribbon of wine villages to visit St Aubin, an area that sits behind Puligny Montrachet producing wines that are often flintier (and usually significantly less expensive) than that illustrious appellation.
Medium bodied and deliciously floral, 2014 Bourgogne Chardonnay ‘Les Chataigniers' Domaine Hubert Lamy (£19.99 at www.houseoftownend.com and 13%) has ripe peach, pear and apple fruit with zesty lime acidity and nicely proportioned oak influences that include allspice components and, of course, hints of vanilla.
Moving up the price ladder
I’ve teased you for long enough because it is now time to loosen wallets a little for wine from Chassagne-Montrachet (an appellation where its suffix name has been a watchword for top level white burgundy for years) and where luxury chardonnay is often found.
2016 Chateau de la Maltroye Chassagne- Montrachet (£40 at the Co-op and 13%) provides all the region’s trademark smoothness, texture and whisper of spice that, together, act as the perfect supplement to the wine’s apple and peach fruit, gentle acidity but subtle edge of sweetness.
That promised further look at pinot gris
For the next pair of wines, I return to the theme of quality pinot gris and start off in New Zealand – a country that has done as much as anywhere to promote a modern interest in this aromatic, textured wine that sometimes also embodies a hint of sweetness.
Its name comes from the blue/grey tints that the grape variety can acquire as it ripens.
Note, then, the honey based components in Central Otago’s 2017 Te Kano Pinot Gris (£19.95 at www.davywine.co.uk and 14%) that neatly round out the wine’s depth while also attractively supporting its greengage and green apple fruit and lively grapefruit based acidity.
Never forget Europe does pinot gris too
Alsace, of course, has been producing pinot gris for ages – often as a rich, late-gathered, peach influenced, sweet wine – but here we have an excellent dry version from a long-established producer that shows off the variety’s texture and versatility brilliantly.
I really enjoyed 2015 Hugel Pinot Gris Classic (£19.99 at www.houseoftownend.com and 14%) – probably the first Alsace producer’s name most of us encountered – which, here, brings us viscous yet still zesty and fresh white wine that adds lively grapefruit acidity to its rich quince and ripe melon fruit and concluding hints of clove.
Waitrose Ten at Ten Promotion
Again this year, Waitrose have identified ten wines that will work well for Christmas and discounted them all to £10 (a reduction of up to £8) for a two week period at the start of the month.
Here are some of its stars that fit today’s focus on white wines well – with a lovely rosé slipped in for no better reason than being so damned enjoyable – but starting in the Loire..
Can’t have one without the other
Sitting astride the Loire (but over 350 kilometres from its estuary) are the towns of Sancerre and Pouilly -sur- Loire which both produce classy and relatively subtle versions of sauvignon blanc on a geological base that the grape variety seems to love.
Having considered a Sancerre earlier in these recommendations, here is a version from its equally sophisticated neighbours over the river.
2018 Hauts de Perrière Pouilly-Fumé (£10 – instead of £16.99 until 17 December – at Waitrose and 12.5%) has smooth apple and gooseberry fruit with fresh lime acidity, peach influenced (and presumably lees driven) richness and a suggestion of sweet spices.
Chardonnay from the States
California’s Russian River area (north of San Francisco and the Napa Valley) is named after a colony of Russians that built a fort nearby and the region is described in Jancis Robinson and Linda Murphy’s book American Wine as “the mothership for Burgundian varieties in California”
Here, the area brings us the bright and vanilla embellished 2017 Frei Brothers Chardonnay (£10 – instead of £17.99 until 17 December – at Waitrose and 14%) that overlays the its nutty, baked apple and pear fruit with a creamy caramel texture that somehow provides depth yet never loses its essential lightness.
Finally that promised rosé
Turkey is a forgiving meat for wine partnerships (often it’s the accompaniments that dictate what to drink with it) and rosé works fine with turkey in its simplest form, but make sure it is a dry, understated, stylish one like this star from (where else) Provence.
Pale in colour and similarly delicate in style, 2018 Mirabeau Pure Rosé (£10 – instead of £14.99 until 17 December – at Waitrose and 12.5%) delivers savoury edged cherry, strawberry and mandarin orange fruit with a prickle of tangerine acidity and a concluding sweetness enhanced by hints of cloves.
Next week, in the final list of December selections, the focus is on champagne and other fizz that I believe will add extra sparkle to your Christmas.
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