Having recommended some great reds, fortified wines and sweeties over the last few weeks, the spotlight today falls on whites for the Christmas lunch table.
My selections bear in mind that the first or main courses at Christmas lunch these days often call for a white wine (which, anyway, can also work with turkey – if you can get one!).
Given the economic situation, the guiding principles remain value for money and, of course, accessibility – but with the hope that the season may allow a little loosening of budgets.
Following the approach adopted with the reds, I have “gold plated” a recommendation that, in my view, represents exceptional value for money.
This close to Christmas, I have abandoned the usual run-down on promotions as things can change so quickly, but do keep an eye on the websites of your favourite retailers.
The images and hyperlinks provided should help you to find them and be, in effect, your wine-based Sat Nav amidst the chaos of Christmas food shopping.
Let’s start with a riesling.
2021 Dry Karp Riesling (from £12.59 at Laithwaite and 12% abv):
Forget all those seriously outdated notions about Germany’s Mosel region and savour this dry, modern riesling.
It is from a part of the Middle Mosel that has some outstanding vineyards producing wines that (like this) showcase the region’s brilliance.
Delightfully dry with just a trace of sweetness, it brings us clean tasting pear, apple and tangerine flavours coupled with zesty grapefruit acidity and a sherbet infused texture.
However, stocks are low and it may only be available in Laithwaite shops at the moment, but they hope to have more available soon.
And so to a southern hemisphere version
2021 Framingham Classic Riesling (£16.50 at The Wine Society and 12%)
Of course, it is not just Europe that excels with riesling.
So do parts of South Australia and, of course, New Zealand.
Here is a neat example of a “halbtrocken” riesling by a Marlborough producer who has made a great reputation from a grape variety – and this will surprise many – that is not sauvignon blanc.
Rounded and almost off-dry, it contains floral cooked apple, ripe melon and apricot flavours supported by restrained lime acidity and a soft but subtle mouth-feel.
A Tale of Three Sauvignons
Speaking of sauvignon, perceptions still linger that its wines can be largely one dimensional – especially New Zealand ones.
They are dominated, so the prosecution case goes, by assertive acidity, forceful aromas and (usually) gooseberry centred flavours.
Frankly, I don’t buy that and have chosen three versions (including a European one) with contrasting components.
First Witness is the “standard” option
2021 Nautilus Estate Sauvignon Blanc (£13.50 at the Co-op and 13.5%)
Well, “standard” undersells this version because it is well-made, classy wine from a very able producer.
I have chosen it because it is such a good example of what Marlborough does well – and what secured it such an enthusiastic and vociferous following.
With gold strands to its colour, it brings us grassy, green apple and melon flavours enlivened by energetic lemon acidity and hints of tangerine peel and green pepper to add complexity to its long finish.
Same grape, same place, different style.
2021 Villa Maria Reserve Clifford Bay Sauvignon Blanc (£14 at Sainsbury’s and 14%)
As producers started to focus on specific parts of Marlborough (and there are indeed important variations) and even specific vineyards, so more varied styles of sauvignon emerged.
In particular, ripeness became a key issue and with it came increased tropical fruit flavours and greater intensity – and here is an illustration.
Subdued in its aromas but rich in its colour, this contains intense peach, red apple and green herbs flavours that are supported by sharp grapefruit acidity and sophisticated, lingering and textured depth.
Now, to the grape’s homeland
2021 Sancerre Domaine Roblin (£15 at the Co-op and 13%)
Sauvignon blanc is, of course, merely a 50-year newcomer to Marlborough while the variety's history stretches out much further in France (its country of origin) and, especially, in the eastern end of the Loire Valley.
There things are more restrained – acidity is enlivening rather than “shouty” – and very often savoury elements start to be introduced.
Few places are as celebrated providers of sauvignon blanc as Pouilly and, in this case, Sancerre.
Clear and bright with slate-style minerality, this version offers discreet but sherbet infused pear, grapefruit and baked apple flavours with lemongrass elements – all wrapped in well-judged lime acidity.
Now, let’s look at a trio of chardonnays
Once again I have selected three from different places (and continents this time) that offer varied strengths but – to keep prices down – none are from Burgundy.
First, to Australia
2021 Yering Station The Elms Chardonnay (£10.49 at Waitrose and 13%):
Victoria’s Yarra Valley excels at classic Burgundian grape varieties where the cooler climate suits pinot noir and, in this case, chardonnay.
Oak is in evidence here, but its use has never been on the scale seen in other parts of the country and that tradition of subtlety endures to this day.
Medium bodied and gloriously bright in colour, this version exhibits apple, quince and melon flavours embellished with sharp lemon acidity.
Add to that, vanilla hints (presumably from a gentle oak contribution) but these seem more evident on the nose than the palate.
Next to South Africa
2020 Oak Valley Groenlandberg Chardonnay (£21 at The Wine Society and 13.5%):
Speaking of cool climate chardonnay away from the most trodden paths (like that Yering) brings us neatly to Elgin in South Africa.
That region is south of Cape Town and was prime apple growing country until the potential for classy chardonnay like this was discovered and, largely this century, has been developed.
Intense with a very long finish, this example features beautifully balanced green apple, mango and apricot flavours coupled with zingy citrus acidity and a menthol influenced texture.
Avoid serving this wine too cold though; that seriously stunts its impressive flavour range.
Back to Europe
2021 Abbotts & Delaunay Les Fruits Sauvages Chardonnay (from £7.99 in Majestic and 13.5%):
If I am not including a Burgundy this time, here is the next best thing – wine made in Languedoc by someone with a long Burgundy pedigree (Laurent Delaunay).
This is called “Wild Fruits” because the natural plants that adjoin the vineyard are deliberately tended carefully and, as a result, their influences seem to surface among the flavours of this wine.
Bright in colour but with traces of smoke, this brings us textured peach, pear and fresh pineapple flavours married here to lime peel acidity and hints of garrigue and other (savoury) elements.
I believe that this offers exceptional value for money.
Heading down into Spain now
2021 Mar de Frades Albariño (£14 for Clubcard holders – instead of £16 until 1 January – at Tesco and 12.5%)
I featured this wine a month or two back, but it is now firmly established in Tesco and is an ideal Christmas wine.
As familiarity with Rias Baixas and with the albariño variety rises, so premium versions excite increasing interest and the winemaker involved here (Paula Fandino) has a great reputation for innovation and quality.
Ripe and embellished with gentle sweet hints, the wine delivers attractively textured greengage, orange and grapefruit flavours energised with zesty lime and tangerine acidity.
Finally back almost where we started
2022 Tyrrell’s Brookdale Semillon (£15 at Tesco and 11%):
Forgive me if I do not make the final leg across to New Zealand but this wine is well worth stopping for in Australia.
So often just a blending partner, semillon grapes come into their own in certain parts of New South Wales Hunter Valley and create wine as distinctive and enjoyable as this lovely example.
Rich and well crafted, this contains smooth peach, cooked apple and grapefruit flavours complemented by lively lime acidity, sherbet based texture and a very gentle touch of sweetness.
My next post (on Monday) brings you Top Tips for everyday drinking for they also have a part to play in many people’s Christmas celebrations.
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