Raising a glass to a red and white Christmas

Cinque Ports Motor Company

Britons drink more alcohol during December than any other month, quaffing 40 per cent more than the annual monthly average.

The only question for many people isn’t whether to drink, but what.

Jonny Gibson, owner and head tutor of Sussex Wine School, is on hand to ensure you have the right tipple, whatever the occasion.

“In my family, Christmas Day starts with smoked salmon,” he says.

“That smokiness needs something with high acidity, and the classic choice would be champagne, which works beautifully.

“I might choose a grower champagne from somewhere like Secret Cellar, or in Majestic, find a deal on Ruinart or Louis Roederer. Their blanc de blancs is my favourite champagne of all time.

“English sparkling wine works really well too. They sometimes have even higher acidity.”

After breakfast and bubbles have been polished off and presents opened, Christmas lunch appears and it’s time for the next bottle.

“Most people will be having turkey, some maybe goose,” says Jonny.

“These white meats are subtle, so you don’t want a very dry, tannic red. My default variety is pinot noir. Burgundy is the classic.

“You could also do something from Otago in New Zealand, or a soft sensual pinot noir from Chile.

“Oregon in the United States is another good place. Dan at the Secret Cellar has a good selection. Germany also has cracking pinot noir, and let’s not forget England, and the likes of Chapel Down.

“Barbera d’Alba is the only other place I might go. It’s quite soft and works well with goose and turkey.”

For those who want a white rather than red Christmas, Jonny says the obvious choice is ‘love it or hate it’ chardonnay.

“The classic would be a white burgundy,” he adds. “You could go with a chablis or macon villages, or push the boat out with a pouilly-fuissé. Or a mersault, whose famous burgundies made from chardonnay are beautiful with this sort of meat.

“You want to avoid pinot grigio and fruity wines like sauvignon blanc, which haven’t got the subtlety you need.

“Look to Margeret River in western Australia, Tasmania, to Chile and the Casablanca region, or even South Africa. Go for a subtle, cool to moderate climate chardonnay.”

If you’re swapping white meat for a rich rack of venison or a full rib of beef, a different wine will
be required.

“You’re going to need something with tannin to cut through all that protein, especially if you’re roasting,” explains Jonny.

“One option would be a claret or a red Bordeaux, perhaps a St Emilion, or a slightly softer merlot.

“I really like Italian wine with beef or venison, a really top-notch sangiovese, Chianti classico or, even better, a brunello di Montalchino.

“If you wanted something New World I would go with an Argentinian malbec or a good quality cabernet sauvignon from anywhere.”

Once mains are out the way – crackers pulled, bad jokes told and paper hats donned – attention turns to dessert.

“Christmas pudding and mince pies are typically strong, dark, spicy, rich and sweet,” says Jonny.

“The best wine is basically a sweet, fortified wine, and there are a couple of options.

“The first is a ten or 20-year-old tawny port. The crucial thing about these ports is, they leave a gap at the top of the barrel, deliberately oxidising it, allowing the port to take on other flavours that go brilliantly with Christmas pudding.

“Warre’s does a ten-year-old tawny port called Otima, or you could go for a fortified Muscat from Rutherglen, Australia, or a fortified wine from Rivesalts in France.”

Once you’ve slept off all these Christmas Day delights, it’s time to get up and go all over again.

“We have bubble and squeak on Boxing Day,” says Jonny. “We fry all the leftover sprouts and get a ham out and some cheese out.

“My default option is a dry or off-dry Riesling from Germany or Clare Valley, Australia, but particularly the Mosel region in Germany.

“People think you need red wine with cheese, but that’s not the case. I nearly always go white. The only cheese that goes with red wine would be Cheddar or manchego.

“If you do like Cheddar and hard cheeses with a tang, those tawny ports are a great accompaniment.”

Once Christmas is over, there’s a whole week to recover, and find the perfect drinks to see the new year in.

“If you’ve got lots of people dropping in, you might not want expensive wines all the time,” says Jonny.

“I sometimes have mulled cider on the go, possibly a Biddenden cider. It’s a good standby if you’re expecting lots of guests.

“When it comes to fizz that doesn’t break the bank, there’s no getting away from cava or prosecco.

“If you opt for one with DOCG on the bottle, that means it’s from the historic Valdobbiadene part of the prosecco region and you should be in for a nicer drop.”

Jonny says prosecco’s light and fruity qualities render it more suited to a party atmosphere than a more serious, elegant occasion, when you need champagne or English sparkling wine.

“Ridgeview Bloomsbury or Nyetimber Classic Cuvee are the two granddaddies of English sparkling wine,” explains Jonny.

“Hush Heath in Staplehurst and Gusborne in Ashford would be two other great English choices.”

Jonny’s last piece of advice, isn’t what to drink, but how to drink it.

“Big glasses are better than small glasses,” he says. “The flavour of reds and whites comes out in a large glass much more.

“And, whatever you do, don’t kill white burgundies by over-chilling them.”

Sussex Wine School is holding a Christmas wines and food pairing evening at Hotel du Vin next Tuesday, and tickets, at £35, are still available.

To book visit www.sussexwineschool.com

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