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Which White (etc) is Right for Christmas?

After last week’s post on reds, one aspect of your Christmas shopping list could now be sorted – so allow me to try to do the same for white wines.

Turkey itself is a forgiving meat being agreeably companionable with suitable reds, whites and rosés – but other fare over Christmas is sufficiently varied to demand white wines in a range of styles.

Once again the guiding principles are accessibility and value for money – but with the budgets loosened just a little as befits this time of year.

Following the approach adopted with the reds, I have “gold plated” recommendations that, in my view, represent exceptional value for money.

As ever, use any available pictures to help find the wine whether they form part of a crowded shelf or appear on an on-line page.   

Our tour starts with … a Tour

Here is a high scoring part of the current Lidl Wine Tour that ably demonstrates all the treasures brought to the party by wines from the wet and cool (for that country) Rias Baixas region of north west Spain.

With appealing savoury herb elements, 2020 Salneval Albariño (£7.99 at Lidl while stocks last and 12.5% abv) offers us aromatic and shrewdly balanced apple, quince and grapefruit flavours with good lemon acidity and a pithy orange background.

Heading next to New Zealand

Despite its change of ownership, New Zealand’s Yealands operation still produces great basic sauvignon, but this “Reserve” version is a sizeable step up the ladder illustrating the complexity that the diverse geology of the Awatere Valley produces.

Textured and with captivating sweet pea aromas, 2021 Yealands Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (£10.50 at M&S and 13.5%) has ripe pear, red apple and peach flavours partnered by firm grapefruit acidity and a long finish that incorporates traces of allspice.

The other face of sauvignon blanc

A crude rule of thumb about sauvignon is that “New Zealand brings power but France offers intricacy”.

Like most generalisations it oversimplifies, but the corner of the Loire Valley around Pouilly does a great deal to meet the second part of the rule – as this example clearly illustrates.

Balanced and pleasingly delicate, 2020 Pouilly Fumé La Tuilerie (£14 available in M&S stores and on the Ocado website – and 14%) brings us subtle lime and melon flavours combined with restrained acidity, grassy undercurrents and just a suspicion of flintiness.

Switching to chardonnay now

Instinct says that Languedoc is too far south for the more subtle aspects of chardonnay to emerge.

However, this version from Limoux (in a cooler environment south of Carcassonne), made for the Co-op by Jean-Claude Mas, says otherwise demonstrating (yet again) that there are exceptions to every rule.

Viscous with enticing sweet touches, 2020 Silene Chardonnay Limoux (£10 at the Co-op and 13.5%) delivers rich and intense peach, orange and orchard fruit flavours partnered by lively acidity, cream toffee depth and touches of vanilla, herbs and crème fraiche.

Staying with chardonnay

Prejudices die hard and if any of your friends still see Australian chardonnay as big, ripe, oaky and alcohol fuelled then present them with a glass of this guy.

It is from Western Australia and offers a masterclass in combining a wide flavour range, texture (without being muscle-bound) and the discreet but beneficial use of oak.

Smooth with the said gentle oakiness, 2020 Robert Oatley ‘Signature Series' Chardonnay(from £12.99 at Majestic and 12.5%) contains medium bodied apple, white peach and ripe melon flavours supported by nippy acidity, lemon peel and vanilla elements.

Now back to France

I am going to disappoint anyone expecting chardonnay from Burgundy at this point because I really struggled to find a version that captured the essence of the region’s white wines, is widely available and sells at an acceptable price.

If, however, you want to get ahead of the “Burgundian curve”, seek out the region’s other white wine – aligoté.

Unoaked and delightfully fresh, 2020 Domaine Caroline Bellavoine Bourgogne Aligoté(£14.50 at The Wine Society) is winning many friends with its green apple and slightly peppery style and – as you can see on the video included in the usual hyperlink – has clearly won over buyer Toby Morrhall.

The unorthodox start here

One of the crosses that riesling has to bear is the faint kerosene traces that form part of the wine’s aroma and taste DNA; sadly, the mere mention of it puts so many people off.

Chemists tell me that a compound, called TDN is the main cause, and it becomes increasingly prevalent as riesling ages – but it does make the wine more distinctive and complex when at the modest level you find in this example.   

Soft with a sweet-edged depth, Washington State’s 2019 Ancient Lakes “Eight Thousand Lakes” Riesling (from £9.99 at Majestic and 11.5%) exhibits cooked apple and lime flavours to complement its good acidity, mineral touches, creamy texture and, of course, trade-mark whisper of kerosene.

Back to Europe now

Although found in several parts of Italy, verdicchio seems to reach its zenith in the weighty, food friendly wines it creates in the Marche region – home to this particular version.

An unusual sweet opening to 2020 Taste the Difference Verdicchio Dei Castelli Di Jesi(£10 – instead of £13 until 14 December – at Sainsbury’s and 14.5%) leads into rich quince and white plum flavours that are pleasingly embellished by firm acidity, a savoury backdrop and long lemon curd driven finish.

Heading across to France’s Rhone Valley

While over 90% of Chȃteauneuf du Pape wines are red, the area’s white wines are well worth a close look – even if they are never bargain-basement purchases.

As with their red counterparts, these wines are often blends and provide the sort of weighty, savoury and distinctive characteristics that make other white wines from the Southern Rhone so attractive.

With minty aromas but a savoury base, 2020 Brotte Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc (£19.99 at Aldi and 13.5%) also features smooth green herb and marmalade flavours that are supercharged by good acidity and a brioche edged texture.

Next comes a Home Run

Although sparkling wine is very much the current focus for English wines, some still versions catch the imagination too and here are a pair from a great producer at Staplehurst in Kent.

The name is not a typo, this is a blend of seven varieties – led by chardonnay (37%) – and given extra complexity by frequent battonage to create a genuinely luxury Christmas treat.

Delightfully ripe and complex, 2018 This Septered Isle (from £28.80 at Laithwaite’s and 12%) provides soft nectarine, pear and tangerine flavours supplemented by pink grapefruit acidity and a slightly spicy roundedness that also has floral and sweet elements.

And ending in the pink

Those guys at Staplehurst have also created this appealing rosé that seems to offer the pale colour and food friendly nature of rosé from Southern France but adds a neat twist of sweetness that makes it good “drink anytime” wine too.  

Roses and peach hints combine in the flavours that 2020 Balfour English Rosé (£13 available in M&S stores and on the Ocado website – and 11.5%) contains which also extend to strawberry, red currant and cherry elements all wrapped in a light, slightly sweet bodywork and fresh tangerine acidity.

Another 25% Off Promotion

I understand that Tesco launched another “25% off when you buy 6” promotion yesterday for Clubcard holders. Inevitably, there will be conditions so do check the retailer’s website before you commence any sort of “trolley dash”.

My next post (on Monday) contains details of promotions at major supermarkets and discloses my current Top Tips – join me then and, remember, I shall follow that with a review of fizz next Thursday.


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Comments

9 Comments

David Cronin

Nice round-up again Brian, I’ve tasted the Lidl Albariño and for the money, it’s very good. The Co op Chardonnay sounds like one to check out, I’m assuming it’s on the oaky side (which suits me).
Robert Oatley can do no wrong, always consistent, but for me, the star of the show that I’ve tasted is the Verdicchio (although maybe not a wine you would associate with Christmas), other vintages have been good but this 2020 really is a decent drop.

Brian Elliott

Thanks Dave. The Languedoc chardonnay has some oak influences (smoothness and richness with vanilla and toffee elements) but all nicely in proportion. I surprised myself with that Verdicchio since it was not an obvious Christmas selection but does add welcome variety to the more traditional seasonal wines.

Gerry

Great round up Brian – that Aligoté sounds delicious!

Brian Elliott

Thanks Gerry and I am glad my description of the Aligote stimulated interest. The variety deserves a better fate than too often simply being dismissed as chardonnay’s “poor relation”. As Toby says in the supporting video, it is very much “on trend” with the type of white wine that is rapidly gaining traction with the drinking public.

Jerry W

Had some of the Verdicchio today, and I have to say it was brilliant… totally different to the normal Verdicchio that all supermarkets, including Sainsbury’s, also sell. It was like a different grape! .. deep, rounded, and full of flavours and complexity. At 14.5% it is probably the strongest white table wine I’ve drunk, but it is very impressive for the price. Now if only they will do 25% off for six!

Brian Elliott

Hi Jerry …. As Dave also says, an impressive bottle indeed. Does this extension of the deals help you and others thinking along the lines of your final sentence.

Jerry W

Yes!! Though Sainsburys online will only supply it at 25% off until tomorrow. If you enter Wednesdays date, it says the offer has finished.. anyway, off to Sainsburys now!

Brian Elliott

Ah! Didn’t realise that but hope you get the bottles OK in the old fashioned “trolley based” way.

Jerry W

I did! 12 bottles, so happy bunny 🙂

Happy Christmas to you Brian.. you have done something I did not think was possible, ie to make buying wine in a supermarket interesting and rewarding!


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