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Red Alerts for Christmas

Dispel doubts about which Christmas red wines to buy by using my guide that ranges from Spain to Adelaide with bottles that start at £7.50.

Having looked at impressive sweeties and fortified wines last week, today it is the turn of reds for yuletide lunch tables.

In compiling the list, I have made two assumptions – selections need to be fairly traditional (and, thus, displaying something of an old world orientation) and, given that this is a season of indulgence, folk are prepared to spend a little bit more.

Being MidWeek Wines though, most recommendations are available in High Street stores or established online operations, because accessibility is – I do understand – important.

Although all the wines cited seem, to me, to punch above their price point, I have given gold tinting to those I consider represent especially good 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.   

Starting with a great value option

As recognition of the quality and style their wines achieve, a handful of villages are allowed to add their names to the broad regional appellation and picturesque Seguret is one of them.

It is also one noted, incidentally, for the early maturing properties of its wines.

Textured and dark, 2020 Côtes du Rhône Villages Séguret (£7.49 at Lidl While stocks last and 14.5% abv): has medium bodied cherry and loganberry flavours partnered by firm acidity, balanced tannin and a pleasing mineral edge along with traces of roses, oregano and cinnamon   

Another really well priced choice

With their wines possibly the biggest sellers in Spanish bars and restaurants, Rioja and Rueda specialists Ramon Bilboa bring innovation, freshness and sense of purity to what they produce – often, as here, at fantastic prices.

Aromatic and smooth, 2018 Ramon Bilbao Rioja Crianza (£9 at Tesco and 14%) brings us full, bramble and elderberry flavours accompanied by balanced tannin, good acidity and hints of cocoa, clove and a slate-style minerality.  

A high scorer from Italy

Eyebrows were raised when a £10 supermarket red blend secured 92 points in the recent Decanter IGT Tuscan Red Tasting but this is a worthy successor to the “Super Tuscans” created around half a century ago.

If you are not familiar with the Super Tuscan story, this link provides a succinct and simple guide to how and why that particular genre was born.

Medium bodied but with impressive intensity, 2018 Best Toscana (£10 at Morrisons and 13%) exhibits red currant, plum and cherry flavours supplemented by good acidity but firm tannin and traces of vanilla, roses and menthol.

On to France next

Burgundy prices are now such that I struggle find an example I can recommend at an approachable price, so I headed next door for a top-notch Beaujolais Cru example that offers brilliant value for money.

Ripe with bold acidity, 2019 Morgon ‘La Ballofière’ Domaine Dubost(from £12.99 at Majestic and 13%) contains vivid red currant, plum and rhubarb flavours supported by a light, ginger and clove imbued depth, contrasting sweetness but little tannin.

Sticking with Majestic

That great (but, sadly, departed) Australian wine man Peter Lehmann once memorably said “When God created shiraz, He had the Barossa in mind” and this well-crafted version neatly illustrates the basis for dear old Peter’s thinking.

Dark with especially well-defined fruit components, 2017 Plum & Pepper Shiraz (from £12.99 at Majestic and 14.5%) features juicy cherry and blackberry flavours embellished by gentle tannin, good acidity, a savoury finish and suspicions of allspice, eucalyptus and black pepper.

And staying in Australia

Named after Max Schubert (who created the legendary “Grange” red wine 70 years ago), this is a blend of Schubert’s grape of choice (shiraz) with cabernet sauvignon which also prospers in defined parts of South Australia.

Soft yet dense, 2019 Penfold’s Max’s Shiraz Cabernet (£15 for Clubcard holders – instead £20 until 6 December – at Tesco and 14.5%) delivers damson and blackberry flavours combined with firm tannin, good acidity and touches of thyme, mocha and clove.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the new world

One key reason for Argentinian malbec’s quality and popularity is altitude – and the freshness that the consequent cool nights bolster – and the urge to go higher and higher continues.

The Uco Valley (a current star) is higher than other parts of Mendoza while some of the highest vineyards within the Uco Valley itself are in Tupungato – home to this particular malbec.     

With a dark colour but typical organic brightness, 2020 Domaine Bousquet Organic Malbec (£11.75 at Vintage Roots and 14%) has ripe damson and loganberry flavours married here to firm acidity but gentle tannin and hints of sage, chocolate and baking spice.

Back to Europe

While a lot of the current focus in the Glorioso range goes on the crianza, their reserva is a decent bottle too and well worth your attention as a substantial Christmas red.

Incidentally, when writing here recently about the Cosme Palacio winery (that produces this wine) I said it was part of a major conglomerate; well, that’s no longer true.

Since this June, its main shareholders have been the Entrecanales Domecq family – a name that probably needs little introduction here, given its two centuries of involvement with the wine business.  

Soft and smooth, 2016 Bodegas Palacio Glorioso Rioja Reserva (£14.99 at Ocado and 14%) provides rounded plum and cherry flavours complemented by good acidity (but close grained tannin) combined with a mineral edge and touches of clove, mint and rosemary.   

I believe that The Wine Society will also have the wine from the middle of this month.

Remaining in Spain

Given the claim and counter-claim about which area is the prime producer of Spanish reds, it seems only diplomatic to include an example from Ribera del Duero as well as representation from Rioja.

Ribera is slightly cooler than Rioja (by about 2°C) and significantly higher which helps the freshness of the fruit although its assorted geological bases mean styles  vary but the intensity of Ribera del Duero wines seldom seems to do so.   

Smooth yet inky in colour, 2018 Secreto (£15.50 at The Wine Society, available from around 13 December and 14%) provides classy black cherry and plum flavours with firm tannin but gentle acidity and suspicions of cola, anise and a subtle sweetness within its nicely rounded density.   

When only claret will do for Christmas

No Christmas section would be complete without a representative from Bordeaux’s prime cabernet sauvignon country on the left bank of the Gironde.

Prices and a tendency to release wine too soon make it difficult to pinpoint “drink now” options but this Margaux (an area where deep rooted vines can make its wines relatively soft early on) is already a great choice.

Decant it and drink it now or, better still, keep it for a year or two.

Complex with typical savoury elements, 2019 L’Epiphanie de Margaux (From £30 at Laithwaite and 14.5%) offers us blackcurrant, loganberry and prune flavours coupled with firm tannin, good acidity and suggestions of mint, toffee and cedar.

There, then, is a group of wines that I think will grace any Christmas lunch table and, with the wide range of styles described here, I hope I have found something that will do so for yours.

Champagne Shortages for Christmas?

A week or so back, in The Drinks Business, Giles Fallowfield suggested that reports of a champagne famine over Christmas may be exaggerated.

He seems to feel that the impression of supply problems has its roots in the industry’s initial misjudgement about the major sales rebound as “post pandemic opening up” began.

In any event, he concludes that problems may relate more to specific suppliers than to the region as a whole – and hints that where stocks are (rather than their volume) may be an issue.

To me though, it is still unclear what will happen although budget priced champagnes are available – contrary to early predictions. My fizz review on 16 December will point you towards some of them.

Meanwhile do follow this link to read all the Fallowfield piece but remember it was written last month so prices and deals mentioned may well have changed.

Call in again on Monday when I reveal my latest Top Tips and outline the current promotions in major retailers and make a note to do so again on Thursday for the white wine window of my Mini Advent Calendar.

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8 Responses

  1. Another fine post Brian, which reminded me that my better half and I had lunch with Peter (Lehmann) working at his weighbridge during the vintage, back in 2000.
    He was a lovely old gentleman and we tasted the whole flight of his then current wines. All the while, purple stained Shiraz growers were coming in to receive their payment cheques for each trailer load of grapes they delivered and then diving into the huge fridge and pouring themselves a small glass of Riesling or Chardonnay.
    A special treat was a half bottle of the family reserve dessert Semillion, it was ~15 yo, had a simple typed label and was luscious.
    We chatted with at few of his long-standing growers, guys who had sold their grapes to him for over 20 years. They took the mickey out of us in typical good-natured Aussie fashion and we had a brilliant time.

  2. Good Morning Brian,
    I had the Cotes du Rhone Villages Seguret from Lidl last year with turkey and it was delightful. It was the 2019 vintage though. I have just checked and I have two 2019 bottles left. Rather amiss of me, but presumably it will still be ok ? I have stored it in an old fashioned larder in the cold and the dark. Do you know how the 2019 vintage compares to the 2020 vintage ?
    Thanks. Sarah

  3. Terrific story Adrian and, as you say, a great guy. He had a special relationship with those growers because, one year, his then bosses in the corporate world told him to drastically reduce purchases from them. Rather than – as he saw it – let them down, he resigned, set up on his own and bought the crop his old employers no longer wanted. Legend has it that his Queen of Clubs logo was chosen to represent the enormous gamble that stance involved.

  4. Hi Sarah ….. Even though Seguret does tend to mature early, I fancy that those 2019 wines should still be sound. As for comparisons, my memory may be letting me down but my impression is that the 2019 was smoky and raspberry centred while the 2020 seems more cherry based and has more mineral influences. Both will be enjoyable though.

  5. I’ve tried a few of the Lidl reds from their just released Winter Tour promotion. Agree that the 2020 Séguret is very good, although still young. But I loved the 2018 Torre Ferro Reserva, 13.5% from DÃO, which I tasted alongside. Great value at £7.99 and Richard Bamfield suggests, on the web site, that it can be kept for a further 2 years. Another wine that I really liked, especially at £5.99, was the 13% 2020 Bulgarian Kabal Gayda. This is a mix of 40% Cab Sauv, 40% Merlot and 20% Rubin. Had never heard of Rubin, but apparently it is a cross between Nebbiolo and Syrah created in 1946. This is “leaner” style of wine, rather than upfront fruity heftyness, so may not be to everyone’s taste. But perhaps if you like Nebbiolo or Carmenere, this might feel like an inexpensive everyday wine in that sort of style?
    Of the whites in the promotion, enjoyed the Carpinus Furmint at £7.99, and the Hachon Verdejo Rueda which must be a bargain at £6.99. The Austrian Georg Muskateller Weinkenner, is refreshingly different – have rediscovered dry muscat recently.
    Thanks for the Morrison 2018 Best Toscana recommendation, haven’t tried that, but notice it is included in their “Buy 3 get 25% off offer”!

  6. Thank you as ever Brian, great advice, recommendations and especially that link on Super Tuscans that I enjoyed reading to clear my head on what I thought I understood!! So right off the Morrisons Toscana caught my eye for sure and what a good deal to be able to have a 25% reduction as mentioned by Richard Wyndham, but only need to buy 3 bottles and not typically 6 as supermarkets do offer these days. That makes it £7.50 a bottle and I suspect at that money I will enjoy both the wine and the discount. I spent a very pleasurable Sunday afternoon a few years ago in Greve in Chianti when they did their medieval style wine harvest pageant. They certainly know how to throw a party! Whenever I’m in the Maremma near the coast I will always go to delightful, old Bolgheri for half a day and treck around the local countryside through the vineyards. Such ambience, the famous names, Sassicaia at Tenuta san Guido, Ornellaia, but the guy outside our camp gates who farmed not a couple of miles from these famous vineyards sold a merlot blend from his fruit and veg stall for €5!! I thought it to be the high point of affordability of Super Tuscans.!! I also thought I should stop bashing the credit card after so much indulgence at both Sainsbury’s and Asda this last week on their 25%-ers, but being absolutely stuck on this stuff I must go to Morrisons asap and have some of the Toscana. As ever ..thank you …

  7. Thanks, Richard, for the insights into other parts of the Lidl Wine Tour – those are the type of tips that subscribers really do like to hear.

    The Bulgarian Kabal Gayda will be a Top Tip on Monday (yes I enjoyed it too) and the Wine Tour Albarino will be featured next Thursday. As for that Toscana, I think you will like it – it is lighter in texture that traditional chianti but the fruit is exceptionally well defined.

  8. Great to hear all those stories, Eddie, and – as you suggest – Bolgheri is a seriously underestimated option.
    As I said to Richard, I was much taken by the clarity of the fruit in that Toscana and thought it captured the modern predilection for lighter wines very well without losing what classic chianti does so impressively.

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