Has there ever been a bigger choice than is on the shelves this Christmas? The television is spewing out commercials every five minutes, the newspapers have more pages of supermarket ads than actual content, whilst online opportunities are infinite.
However, there is nothing as satisfying as a leisurely browse around a bookshop or a wine shop. Leisurely, you ask, aghast? At this time of year? But there is no excuse this Christmas with offices now shut and two full run-in days to the main event.
Take a breather, pop into your nearest independent wine shop and browse the shelves. It will be an Aladdins Cave! No more serried ranks of the big brand, mass produced wines but a delicious and enticing array of interesting labels, unusual grape varieties, adventurous styles all with a wealth of stories behind them. These are the wines that will grace your Christmas table, encourage conversation, offer an alternative talking point to Trump and Brexit and other contentious subjects!
In a couple of weeks, these very wine families will be venturing out into freezing vineyards, secateurs in hand, to prune the vines that will make next autumn’s wines. Here must be no more daunting sight than leaving your warm bed on a winters morning and facing into rows and rows of bald vines, each one demanding attention. Little white vans will pock the landscape, lazy spirals of smoke will curl up into a blue, or very grey, sky as the workers burn the clippings to keep themselves warm, as well as tidying up their beloved vineyard.
Inside, slightly warmer but often not a lot, the cellarmen and oenologists will be tasting, racking and blending and the sales team or owners will be packing their bags for fairs and customer visits all over the world. This is the real world of winemaking. The early months of the year are manic.
So what is the latest trend, what is new? And, yes, yet again the classics like Chablis, Sancerre, Chianti Classico, Saint Emilion Grand Cru and a wealth of Bordeaux houses, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Chateuneuf-du-Pape, Burgundy white and red, and of course, the ubiquitous Rioja are flying off the shelves. Everybody still loves these favourites.
Biodynamic wines, natural wines, orange wines are all trendy, Picpoul de Pinet is taking over a little of the Pinot Grigio army, Sauvignon Blanc is still a massive favourite but other whites like Vermentino, Verdicchio, Chenin Blanc (often a shrinking violet but no less delightful) And of course, fabulous Rieslings all repay an adventure. For the reds, Grenache (garnacha) is a winter warming variety, often blended with Syrah or Mourvedre.
Australia masters these varieties beautifully. PInot Noir from New Zealand is a lovely match for turkey and ham. Matahiwi make a superb one called Holly!
Christmas and New Year are the ideal time to wander off the beaten track and try out something really special without having to pay a fortune for it. Italy is a rich hunting ground with its myriad regional varieties like Pecorino, Corvina, Grillo, Nero d’Avola, Lagrein, Fiano and Primitivo. The Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi from the Marche, from the Garofoli family, Macrina or Podium whites and Piancarda or Agontano reds will satisfy the most discerning palate. From Tuscany, John Matta at Castello Vicchiomaggio makes the most impeccable Chianti Classico San Jacopo or try his big super-Tuscan, Ripa Della More.
Jan and Caryl Panman, who lived for years in Castletownshend, have one of the best Chardonnays in the world, Odysee. It is reputed to give Puligny Montrachet a run for its money at a third of the price. Their Irish born son is now making the wine, his first vintage this year.
Spain is enjoying a place in the sun at the moment and Pedrosal from the Ribera Del Duero, or the lovely Rioja from Amezola de la Mora are a special treat for the festivities.
What better way to welcome in the New Year than a sparkling Cremant de Bourgogne from Roger Luquet, a Blanquette de Limoux from Ch. Rives-Blanques or, to see 2018 off with a bang, please welcome our new Champagne house, Bruno Paillard, beloved of Michelin starred restaurants the world over. This classy Champagne is a creamy, delicious and crisp style that will repay the investment royally. More news about this early in the New Year.
Whatever you drink, drink what you like yourself, drink the best you can find and make sure to mind yourselves! Remember, life is too short to drink bad wine. You only have one liver, treat it well!
Happy Christmas and have a lovely, vinous New Year!
By Monica Murphy