The Christmas Wish List




Yes, I know, it seems a bit late in the day to me, too –  but this article, recommending wines to be served with the Christmas Dinner, available at best just six days before the big event, is a response to readers’  comments and requests!


A number of readers have said that in previous years my recommendations, published a few weeks in advance of Christmas, have been lost, along with the rest of  whichever of the Costa News Group’s four main English language newspapers they regularly purchase, before they’ve had the time to go and buy them! I guess that those who buy the papers (about 150,000 of us each week) don’t naturally think of referring to the internet ( click Cork Talk) where recent articles are all archived.


So if this is perfect timing for you, I’m pleased – if, it’s a little late, my apologies, but  blame the others, willya!


The opening celebratory/ice-breaking/aperitif/starter wine, at that rate, an almost  catch-all wine, just has to be a sparkler! But which one? A Cava from Cataluña, a Cava from one of the other zones permitted to make Cava, or a Spanish Sparkling Wine, other than Cava! What a wonderful, if difficult, choice!


This has been a very difficult decision for me to make – I love Spanish Sparkling Wine, in practically all its forms (almost all of the sweet styles, are not for me) and this year in particular I’ve tasted more than ever before. I’ve been lucky enough to try young, Reserva and Gran Reserva Cavas in the natural home of Cava, Cataluña; as well as those styles, but from outside of this zone.


I’ve also had great pleasure in tasting sparkling wine from Cataluña that is not, in fact Cava, as well as wonderful fizz from several different parts of Spain. Tough call – but in the end, for this Christmas 2014, I’ve gone for the sparkling wine that has delighted me more (albeit, marginally more) than all the others.


You are certain to impress your guests as well as yourself with Albet i Noya’s Brut Barrica 21 Reserva 3, Clàssic Penedés Sparkling Wine. It is simply stunning!


The Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (the mainstays of Champagne) which make up the cuvée have been fermented for three weeks in French (Alliers) oak which, on opening, gives rise to the tantalising initial aromas of caramel and butterscotch which quickly make room for the traditional panaderia Sparkling Wine aromas of brioche as well as Danish pastry notes, with a citrus and heady floral suggestion too.


On the palate the wine is rich, voluminous, weighty and yet, elegant and subtle. You’ll find a tight acidity which keeps the wine fresh even after its 36 months ageing on its lees, En Rima, in the depths of the cellars. This ageing, which in Cava terms would qualify it as a Gran Reserva (Clàssic Penedès has different regulations), ensures a depth and complexity that is not normally found in many Sparkling Wines.


The oldest vines harvested for this outstanding Sparkling Wine are not yet 25 years of age so we can expect even more opulence, complexity and depth in future vintages. With only 6 grams of residual sugar it’s one of the drier Bruts, and all the better for it. Perfectly crafted, wonderful fizz, which you can happily pair with many dishes, including meat!


I’m taking you back to Cataluña for my white wine selection, in fact to a much vaunted Cava producer, Canals & Munné. However, whilst I love their Cavas, I’m recommending one of their still wines this year.


The still wine production, red, rosado and white, is somewhat in the shadow of Canals & Munné’s world famous Cavas, but it shouldn’t be, as there are excellent wines within this portfolio.


My favourite of the still wines (though it was very close, with both this wine and one of their red wines achieving the same scores) was their Gran Blanc Princeps Xarel.lo Fermentado en Barrica 2013.


For me, Xarel.lo is the new Chardonnay. It’s everyone’s friend as it can be fresh and fruity, more citrus than Chardonnay-esque exotic, with white floral and nutty notes too. Plus, like Chardonnay, it can take on very different flavours and aromas when oak is used in its elaboration, as with this wine. Either way, you’ll have a wine that is aromatic, quite deeply, to deeply flavoured, rounded and rich, with elegance too.


It’s the depth of flavour and the elegance of this FB (fermented in barrel) wine that I find most enchanting – a style that I can just go on drinking until the bottle is finished! It’s also a style that will sit wonderfully well with starters and, for those who prefer white wine to red with their turkey, it will pair perfectly with the main event!


As you might imagine, this being a country where there are so many excellent red wines, there was a plethora of real quality wines from which to choose the red wine that I am recommending for Christmas Dinner 2014.


Ultimately I had to choose just one. Acusp 2012 is made with 100% Pinot Noir! Unfortunately one doesn’t have much of a chance to taste good, and above, Pinot Noir in Spain. In Burgundy, it’s wonderful – rich but always with great elegance. It needs a cold climate really. But, with the average 1,000 metres altitude at which the vines are situated and the high density planting of Bodegas Castell D’Encus’ (DO Costers del Segre) Pinot Noir vineyard, the aroma and flavour profiles required of this demanding variety can be emulated.


It has a lovely silk negligee feel, with ripe, but not over-ripe, strawberries on the palate slowly overcoming the earthy forest leaves aroma. It’s juicy in the mouth and the fruit makes a presence throughout, but there are layers of flavour and a depth of pleasure as well as thought provoking complexity. The personification of elegance, this wine has everything!


I’m going to Jerez, for my final choice, the wine to accompany Christmas Pudding/Cake/Mince Pies, though I’m not, this time at least, going to recommend a Sweet PX (Pedro Ximénez) Sherry. But it’s close.


Lustau East India Cream Sherry is mahogany coloured and is one of the finest examples of this sherry style, so popular in the UK. It’s made by blending aged sweet sherry, made with the PX, and equally aged dry Oloroso made from the Palomino variety, the most widely used grape in Jerez.


It is then returned to large wooden casks and kept in the hot and humid atmosphere of the ‘sacrista’, the cellar – in a successful attempt to replicate the conditions under which the sherry casks of the 16th Century would have been kept whilst lashed to the decks during its voyage from Spain to the Americas! The resulting wine has an extraordinary smooth, deep and complex character.


It’s sweet and rich with raison notes on the palate and nose and some coffee liqueur hints with a dash of caramel on the finish. A truly excellent finale to a wonderful feast!


Merry Christmas!


Don’t forget you can hear about all the wine related events I organise by simply being on my e-mail list – plus there are some exciting developments which will be read first by those on the list. There’s no charge, of course, and it’s so easy – just send me an e-mail and I’ll add your name and e-mail address!


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