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Dreaming of a Red Christmas

Time to step things up and unearth quality red wines that amply justify digging that little bit deeper for the Christmas lunch table.

So far, we have considered impressive sweeties, fortified wines and party-time ideas.

Today, then, it is the turn of reds for yuletide lunch tables.

As turkey is not the universal choice nowadays, these suggestions will also work with other main courses.

However, options still need to be fairly traditional, so there is an old-world orientation to this list.

Securing the uniqueness and sense of luxury that Christmas lunch wines often demand means I had to do two things:

  • Stray beyond my usual “supermarket wine aisle” beat, and,
  • Assume that folk are prepared to spend slightly more in this season of indulgence, despite continuing overall financial constraints.

With non-supermarkets selections, however, the wine searcher website could help you find an “indie” selling it nearer to you than any I quote.

The wines are arranged in ascending order of density.

As is normal here, pictures and hyperlinks are provided where possible to guide you straight to the right wine on shelf or web page.

When something light for Christmas is needed

2023 Beaujolais Nouveau Domaine Bel Avenir (from £12.60 at Wickham and 13.5% abv):

The gloss came off the glitzy Beaujolais Nouveau circus long ago, but serious examples of each current year’s harvest can still delight us.

This is one that brilliantly captures the freshness, floral nature and bright fruit foundation of that region’s wines.

Light with violet aromas, it features juicy strawberry, cranberry and red cherry flavours supplemented by cola and cinnamon constituents and good acidity.

NB:- There will be a detailed feature on white wine from Beaujolais next month.

On to one of its neighbours.

2022 Bourgogne Pinot Noir (£18 – instead of £20 until 12 December – at Sainsbury’s and 13%):

Burgundy prices can, of course, reach the stratosphere (which, to be fair, do match the sensational level those wines attain).

However, it is also good to welcome this more affordable version that provides a youthful indication of what the style is all about.

With delicate aromas yet sharp acidity, this great value Louis Jadot wine contains light bodied raspberry, plum and pomegranate flavours.

This are joined by star anise elements, a gentle oakiness and only minimal tannin.

More Pinot Noir for Père Noël

2019 Westcott Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir (Around £27 at Talking Wines and Framlingham Wines – and 12.5%):

Increasingly, Canada’s Niagara Escarpment is producing impressive pinot noir like this – which is noticeably more mature than that 2022 Burgundy pinot.

Cooling influences from the Great Lakes ensure that grapes there ripen only slowly, and that suits pinot noir perfectly.

Brown tinged (reflecting its careful aging) this Niagara pinot brings us smoky prune, blaeberry and cherry flavours.

That base is neatly embellished by truffle aromas, meaty savouriness, mild tannin, balanced acidity and a nutty, rose hip finish.  

Next the Southern Hemisphere

2022 Ken Forrester Wine The Misfits Cinsault (£10 at Tesco and 13%):

Ken Forrester is a hugely important figure in South Africa’s wine industry who played a crucial role in the revival of quality chenin blanc there.

Here he turns to cinsault – a red wine with a long tradition in his country – to produce a quality (but relatively light) version.

Smooth but with a concluding graphite twist the result has light bodied raspberry plum and red currant flavours.

They are framed by tart acidity and gentle tannin coupled with hints of clove, marzipan, smokiness and parma violet.

Dotting back to North America

2020 Klinker Brick Marisa Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel (£30 at Hay Wines but coming to Waitrose Cellar next year – and 15%):

While California’s Lodi region (home to this wine) is recognised for lower prices than, say, the Napa Valley, it has another claim to fame.

Many vineyards there have zinfandel vines that are 50+ years old which often means lower yields but – on the upside – more intense flavours.

Smoky and full bodied, this “Old Vine” example provides us with smooth cherry and blackcurrant flavours accompanied by sage and baking spice elements but with just an edge of sweetness.

It a great illustration of what makes Californian zinfandel so special.

Now back to Europe

2021 Domaine du Grand Montmirail Vacqueyras (£17.99 at Waitrose Cellar and back in stock shortly – 14.5%):

Since they are neighbours, wines from the Southern Rhone’s Vacqueyras and Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellations share several characteristics.

However, there are important differences in that Châteauneuf wines are permitted a broader range of grape varieties and usually age better while – geographically – the region is warmer and has more diverse soils,

Flipping the coin though, Vacqueyras wines can be bolder and more rustic, are often more suited to early drinking and – crucially – are more wallet-friendly.

Full and smooth, this particular Vacqueyras features rich plum and raspberry flavours along with limited tannin.

However, freshness comes from its sharp orange peel acidity which is nicely set off by attractive touches of black pepper, bay leaf and liquorice.

And on to Bordeaux

2020 Château La Clarière (from £24.30 at Laithwaite’s and 14.5%):

While claret is a traditional Christmas red, it is difficult to find competitively priced versions that are not released too soon or overly dominated by savoury elements.

This avoids both pitfalls perfectly.

It is a merlot-centred blend from Castillon, one of the less heralded of Bordeaux’s “Right Bank” wine regions.

Dense but a very modern claret, it contains minty cherry, damson and pomegranate flavours combined here with slate, chocolate and black pepper influences.

This is an absolute star.

2022 Juan Gil Yellow Label Monastrell (Around £13 at Butlers Wine Cellar, Vin Neuf, Aitken Wines and other indies – and 14.5%):

While organic winemaking is laudably environment friendly, eschewing certain additives can make the finished article prone to oxidation and spoilage.

Get it right, though and the results astonish with more expressive flavours and a discernible sense of purity.

The latter certainly happens in this monastrell (a.k.a.mourvedre) from Spain’s Jumilla region in which smooth and integrated mulberry, blackberry and damson flavours abound.

These lead into a long finish containing firm tannin and hints of lavender, cigar box and slate given verve here by citrus acidity.

Couldn’t stay out of the New World for long.

2019 Hollick Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon (£19.50 at Latitude Wine of Huddersfield and South Downs Cellars – and 14.9%):

Coonawarra has a nine mile stretch of terra rossa iron oxide influenced soil in South Australia famed for producing top notch cabernet sauvignon – and this merits that description.

Fair dues, though, it is not just iron oxide that’s responsible – other minerals and the excellent draining soil there also play a part.

Inky dark with classic cabernet aromas, this Coonawarra offering delivers intense blackcurrant, mulberry and prune flavours.

Those components are supported by modest tannin and good acidity with suggestions of mint, mocha, anise and cedar in the background.  

Finally finishing in South Africa

2020 The Liberator ‘Keep Me In Your Heart’ Tannat, (£16.50 at The Wine Society and 14.5%):

Merely mentioning tannat conjures up images of dense, dark and substantial red wine but this is much less intense that traditional versions.

No doubt the modicum of cabernet franc used does soften the end product but more of the wine’s quality stems from the skilled winemaking architects of this lovely South African offering.

Full and very dark with minimal tannin, it features bold cherry, bramble and mulberry flavours.

That foundation is well supported by firm acidity and a richness that contains cola, anise and incense components.

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