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When White is right for Christmas

With turkey no longer a given for Christmas lunch, interesting fish based options are gaining ground. Here are terrific whites that could go well one of those dishes and much else besides.

With Christmas lunch often being switched from turkey to, perhaps, something fishy now is good time to pinpoint some white wine options good enough to grace any table.

We do not need to restrict ourselves to main courses because shellfish remains a popular starter.

Consequently, today’s review also contains a couple of less expensive, but very well made, whites to do service during that part of the meal.

As usual, a mere click on any of today’s pictures will provide an enlarged image that could be your Sat Nav to the wine amidst the hurly burly of Christmas food shopping.

Pinot gris again but from nearer home

I have previously reported how New Zealand pinot gris (not sauvignon blanc) is the “go to” wine in the smart Auckland bars but we should never forget how good Alsace pinot gris is – as this brilliantly priced version from the acclaimed Turckheim co-operative proves.

While decidedly crisp and clean 2017 Morrisons The Best Pinot Gris (£8.25 and 13% abv) also has a delightful hint of honey sweetness to give complexity to its pear and red apple fruit.

When the basic level is pretty good

With their basic Chablis as enjoyable as this (from a very difficult vintage that was seriously affected by frost and hail by the way) there seems no need to stump up the extra £3 to secure Tesco’s Premier Cru version – which is good, but not significantly better in my view.

With depth yet floral delicacy too, 2016 Tesco Chablis (£11 and 12.5%) brings us apple and ripe pear fruit, good acidity and smooth – herbal influenced – texture.

Compensation for missing the “10 at £10” promotion

If you miss the delicate and classy 2017 Broglia Gavi de Gavi in Waitrose’s “10 at £10” promotion that ends today, fear not.

Instead, I can offer you one of the best versions of Austria’s flagship gruner veltliner that I have tasted recently at this price point.

Enjoy in particular the soft apple and spice elements of 2017 Felsner Grȕner Veltliner Moosburgerin (£11.99 at Waitrose and 12.5%) with its textured (probably partly lees derived) mineral depth yet fresh and lively acidity too.

A chardonnay bonanza

Majestic currently has some great, well priced chardonnays (Argentina’s 2016 Catena Barrel Fermented Chardonnay is excellent, from £9.99) but I finally opted for this Napa Valley version because it demonstrates that Californian wine need be neither excessively expensive nor heavily oaked.

There is, nevertheless, an attractive rich creamy texture to 2016 Bread & Butter Chardonnay (£12.99 in Scotland or as part of a mixed six elsewhere from Majestic and 13.5%) that works well with its smooth lemon fruit, good acidity, long finish and hints of baking spice.

The underlying subtle suggestions of butterscotch, toast and vanilla eloquently illustrate my point about the judicious – rather than heavy handed – use of oak.

Speaking of oak, here is a lesson in barrel fermentation

Including “barrel” in the title is a reminder that this guy has been fermented in oak – a process that tends to produce smoother and lighter coloured wines than those fermented in steel – and that silkiness is indeed apparent in this lovely, great value South African white.

Its vanilla background is another reminder that 2017 Stellenrust Barrel Chenin Blanc (£11.50 – down from £13 until the 1 January – at Sainsbury’s and 14%) has spent time in oak but nothing impedes the wine’s vibrant lime acidity or the balance and liveliness that adds to the beautiful textured and honeyed apple and white peach fruit.

Now for big ticket lunchtime luxuries

While Burgundy’s Cȏte d’Or houses many of the region’s prestigious whites, the outer areas increasingly offer distinctive and different wines of high quality but at something closer to affordable prices; Maconnais is one such area.

From there (and from an appellation that borders on Pouilly Fuisse) comes Berry Bros & Rudd’s 2016 St Veran La Combe Desroches (£28 at www.bbr.com and 13%) which offers light yet still rounded, floral, peach fruit with sweeter, riper edges kept fresh by lively lemon acidity.

Top sauvignon from the Loire

Sauvignon probably doesn’t get any better than a single vineyard example from a Sancerre terroir that encourages that rather special smoky minerality the region can do so well.

Relish, then, the rounded yet soft grapefruit and green apple basis of 2017 Joseph Mellot Sancerre La Chatellenie (£21 at at www.dulwichvintners.co.uk and 13%) and the supporting firm lemon acidity, flinty edges with herb and lemongrass undercurrents.


Any wine lover being asked for suggestions about stocking fillers they would like, should seriously consider the latest edition of that long standing classic – Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book 2019 (£12.99 and published by Mitchell Beazley).

It is much more than guidance on 6000+ wines and growers (good as that is) but the comment is always entertaining and thought provoking.

This year there is a rant about excessive wine glass sizes and hints about how good the Chinese are at absorbing new information – about wine in this context.

Those supporting pages are also often good indicators of what “may happen next”.

I looked back at the 2011 suggestions on the “If you like this, …. try this” page to find early recommendations for (now almost mainstream) varieties like albarino, assyrtiko and gruner veltliner – although, in fairness, kerner’s replacement of chardonnay is still “work in progress”.

All-in-all, though, excellent reading material for winter firesides (accompanied by an agreeable glassful) – exactly as it has been for or all 42 years of this little book’s lifetime.

In the final of our “what to drink at Christmas” reviews next Wednesday we look at fizz for Christmas and, especially, the New Year ……… Join us then.  


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5 Responses

  1. Thanks as ever Brian for your insightful piece. Just to say that I struggled to find the barrel fermented Stellenrust Chenin Blanc at my Sainsbury’s this time around to be able to have it with 25% off a buy-6 offer that finished last night. It’s a very good buy at its full price and in the past has often been discounted on the shelf by up to £1.50. But equally for less money it’s little sister that stands next to it on the shelf, and indeed has quite a similar label is a delightful mouthful. And another saving that might have gone now re the Hugh Johnson Pocket Wine book 2019, I got mine from Book People 3 weeks ago for £3.99!

  2. Hi Brian
    Previous years we have tended to opt for mainly reds to accompany Christmas dinner but this year we are going to feature more whites and your selections above has thrown up some excellent choices. I particularly agree with you on the Gruner Veltliner even with its slightly higher price tag, beautiful wine (and not a grape I would have thought of for Xmas lunch).
    A Burgundy or good quality Chardonnay will probably be our choice and I will check out the ‘Bread and Butter’ before the big day. A quick shout out for the Rustenberg Chardonnay which I bought on the recent 10 for £10 Waitrose deal another stunning bottle.
    As Eddie pointed out the Stellenrust Barrel fermented Chenin has been a big favourite with our wine group and again well worth the money.
    I’m sure a red or two will find its way onto the table as well.

    Salud, Feliz Cumpleanos & Drink well

  3. Thanks for the update Eddie and sorry to be a bit slow responding. It’s a pity you could not capitalise on the 25% discount for that Chenin but, as you say, it is well worth the full price. Thanks too for the heads up on Hugh’s book. Enjoy the festive season and do keep a look out on the MidWeek Wines Facebook page – there are details of price discounts as from this morning

  4. Thanks Dave – and you are right to signal up that Rustenberg Chardonnay. Interesting, as you say, to see the slow migration back to white wines for big events as their quality makes a step change.

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