Christmas Wines & FIZZ
Posted: 4th January 2022
I suspect for most people Christmas is a time to bring out their best bottles, but in this house at least, it is also an opportunity to locate things that need drinking up. This occasionally leads to pleasant surprises, and at others to painful disappointments. This year I noted once again that my supplies are running low in many areas. We are lacking good dry whites. We have consumed all our stock of old Chianti and Barolo. My once impressive collection of vintage port has dwindled post-Christmas to just two bottles and there are fewer than a dozen old burgundy wines remaining, which might be a relief after this year’s experience.
On the food side there have been disappointments too. For the first time in years I was unable to locate the livers to make the much-loved terrine we broach at dinner on Christmas Eve. There were some available commercially, but not at a realistic price. When the day arrived there was only a tiny tin left over from some previous year, and a bit of stag pâté sent by the Lafite Rothschilds that was as good as its pedigree. We made up for the loss with some truly succulent Scottish lobsters. Last year economies reduced us to halibut. On the cheese front, the Stilton was oppressively salty, but I had found a vacherin mont d’or, a good camembert au lait cru, and a lovely little St Marcellin. Some of the cheeses were slow to come round in our freezing house but as Christmas warmed up, they came into their own. I have learned to chambrer the vacherin by putting it close to the stove. The meal culminated with a bûche de Noël.
With the tartines we had a bottle of non-vintage Taittinger which I must have had for fifteen years. I love old champagne and this had not suffered in any way – indeed, I have champagnes going back thirty years, and I have never (fingers crossed) found one to be out of condition. I had neglected the 1982 Chapoutier white Hermitage (a present from Michel Chapoutier), which had ullaged to low shoulder. It hadn’t suffered much: it might have been the colour of teak but tasted enchantingly of honey and gingerbread. The 2011 Domaine de Marroniers 1er Cru Montmains was a Chablis of an old-fashioned, austere school that may have been just a mite too austere for its own boots. The 1990 Pomerol from Château Bourgneuf was good (all toast and game) however and proved once again that claret tends to live to a healthier old age than burgundy these days. Maybe it always did.
We finished with a 1997 Sandeman Vau Vintage port. Vau was launched in the late nineties to create an early drinking vintage style, but we were assured that it would still be possible to lay it down. There was certainly nothing wrong with it and it had a pleasant raspberry and blackberry fruitiness about it, even if it was light for a top port. It drank well from a stoppered decanter for three or four days.
We had been too tired to go to Midnight Mass, and went to a much depleted service before opening our presents on the big day. Without the terrine, we needed something to nibble on. I had made two loaves of Venezuelan pan de jamón again as that had been a success a couple of years before. It proved just right, and the second loaf did service on Boxing Day. I leave out the raisins because one of our number dislikes them, but I am not sure they pull an awful lot of weight in the recipe, then again, I don’t like ‘sweet and sour’ much. We had a scrumptious dry-aged Simon Heffer forerib for our Christmas dinner with the usual red cabbage; then the cheeses reappeared followed by a magisterial Sussex pond pudding.
We had a bottle of 2004 Jacquart around the tree. It was a gorgeous champagne with a fine bead and delicate bouquet of apricots. With the beef there were two red burgundies: the 1992 Domaine René Leclerc Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Combe aux Moines and the 1996 Domaine Loïs Dufouleur Beaune Clos du Roi (1948 bottles made). The Chambertin had a slight edge on the Beaune but neither was particularly distinguished. I have spares of both. I might just drink them sooner rather than later: they aren’t going to improve. A great hit with pudding was a half bottle of 1995 Bouvier Trockenbeerenauslese from my old friend Willi Opitz.
As is often the case, the Italian wine on New Year’s Eve was one of the stars of the show. It has to accompany a dish of zampone and lentils with mashed potato and tomato passata. In this case it was a 1996 Masi Amarone. I decanted it as we sat down, but I could have done so half an hour before. There was no shortage of fruit or power. With time it threw off increasing amounts of liquorice. With the Middle-Eastern semolina, pistachio and rosewater cake there was a 1995 Feiler Artinger Pinot Cuvée Ausbruch 1995 which tasted of dried apricots and was supremely rich – almost a cake itself.
The dawn of 2022 has already broken and real austerity starts now. Not that anyone will stop drinking in this house. I have had a really good Soave Superiore reeking of tobacco, with a salty, nutty palate that will get the taste buds marching again. Some Soaves have deserved their bad name, but wines like these can delight. Wonderful too was the 2020 Casa Roscoli organic Primitivo smelling of raspberries and tar. It was not one of those slightly sweet Primitivos. This was all fruit and structure.
A glass or two of a crisp, appley Blanquette de Limoux reminded me if I needed any reminding, that we were drinking a lot more sparkling wine in Britain now than we ever did before. In the past non-champagne sparklers were reserved for receptions – weddings in particular – but now everyone is tippling prosecco by the glass.
FIZZ author and popular wine writer Anthony Rose
Anthony Rose’s book Fizz! came out at the end of November. The timing is right: there is a lot of talk (some of it clearly resulting from our newly rediscovered national pride) about the quality of English sparklers, but there are other good if not great, neglected sparkling wines in the world, including German and Austrian fizz. ‘Sekt’ has a history almost as old and distinguished as champagne.
My friend, the Mosel grower Enno Lippold has been at pains to convince me of the quality of some of these, which can sell at the prices of top champagnes. With all its cavas, foaming Shirazes, Vouvrays, Shampanskoyes and crémants (to name but a few), it is a world with a huge amount to discover, and Rose has proved himself the best of guides.