Friday, 16 December 2016

How to choose wines for Christmas on a budget.

Wow where did the year go... Brexit.. Trump and now Christmas shopping makes me want to crawl up in a ball and hide until January. However as that is not an option then here is a by no means complete guide to getting some decent options in the cupboard so you can adopt a siege mentality and avoid going anywhere near an off licence between Christmas and New Year.

First of all remember planning is everything so think about what you've currently got in no one wants to have the neighbours drop by and have to open that bottle of 2002 Vosnee Romanee you've been keeping hidden because you've got nothing else on hand. Now is the time to make sure that you have a bunch of wine stuffed in the cupboard under that can make you look fabulously generous and capable without having to slip out the back door to run to the offie for a bottle of something terrible and overpriced.

Lets set some rules we are mostly talking about getting wines that you can open happily because you are confident that they are tasty enough that they will be supped freely and leave your guests thinking fondly of you as a gracious and generous host and not as the skinflint with antifreeze in his grapejuice. Equally you don't want to spend your hard earned on some idiot who wouldn't know a bottle of Dom Perrignon from a can of special brew. We're also not looking at Christmas dinner you probably know who is coming for that and what your eating you can plan accordingly this is about the rest of it and having enough on hand so it's as stress free as possible. Keep the receipt too, if you buy too much and it isn't what you normally drink then take it back in January and get a refund or trade it in for something you do want to drink most retailers should be fine with this and check with them when you buy it at least that way you know.

So get yourself a case or two of fizz for under a tenner a bottle you will be able to get Aldi's Monsigny or Lidl Comte de Senneval both of which are very drinkable most of the supermarkets have some kind of equivalent champagne for around the £10 mark. The truth is these wines though perfectly pleasant lack the real power and class of Champagne so if you want that you will have to double your money and that is not the name of the game here. English Fizz as much as I would love to recommend Nytimber is also out of the running even something like Pelorus from Cloudy bay (one of my top ten non Champagne) is too expensive. Prosecco is around the same price as entry level Champagne not that much under a tenner and some that is really pretty bad particularly among some of the branded stuff. Sainsburys taste the difference is actually pretty good Waitrose have Prosecco Valdo Oro also decent and even Aldi's Prosecco Superiore is tasty enough all of these come from either of the named villages Valdobiadenne or Coneglianno and this is probably your best bet for a sign of quality make sure these are named on the Label and you should be safe.

You could go for Cava, Codorniu Raventos is great and Friexenet Cordon Negro is always safe. The brave option is to go for something Loire Langlois owned by Bollinger is good as is Bouvet staying with France Aldi's Cremant de Jura is a superb wine and amazing value and a good bottle of Blanquette de Limoux is always a Joy. These might be less familiar to your guests but should still be approachable.

However the Safe bet is probably Prosecco or  cheap Champagne these are crowd pleasers as the flavours are one people know and that is part of the secret here. Christmas is not the time to introduce people to challenging new flavours and experiences this is time for comfort and security for your guests to find things easy and so give them something they know and that you know they will be happy with also again buy enough that when a bottle runs out you can open another bottle of the same thing and keep topping up anything you can do to make the day easy for you and easy for your guests so much the better. Buying a case at a time will hopefully also get you a bit of discount.

The average price spent on wine in the UK is £5.03 which I can not quite believe and means most people are drinking some pretty terrible wine most of the time. Especially if you consider at this price only 47p of that is spent on the wine the rest goes on packaging tax and so on. Its Christmas after all so lets give ourselves a slightly higher price point to play with how about £7.99 more than trippling the amount that goes on the wine and so hopefully tripling the quality of the wine. Don't forget we are looking for wines that we can open anytime guests drop by over the festive fortnight or for Christmas eve, New years eve or New Years day or bottles you can take along to any last minute get togethers when you really don't want to have to "pop in" to a supermarket and get stuck behind someone buying the turkey, trimmings and entire confectionary aisle.

Ok white wine first what we need is something half decent but we haven't got a lot of money so lets start by crossing any of the following off our list Chablis, Pouilly Fuisse, Sancerre, Pouilly Fume any of the famous regions are going to be too expensive? See it's not quite as easy as it seemed we could go for something a bit obscure but again we need wines that anyone even stick in the mud Dave from accounts.

Here we go then New Zealand Sauvignon blanc is pretty universally loved and at least tolerated and you will find some for under £7.99 pretty much anywhere and it will be OK but it won't really be very exciting but we are after safe not exciting so this is a decent bet. Your gran will be happy because its fruity enough to not seem too dry and the flavours are familiar enough that the cricket club will be happy.

If you do want to push for something a little more interesting Albarinho from Rias Baixas in Spain can have many of the attractive qualities of a Kiwi Sauv Blanc but still have a bit of personality in this price range, on a similar note a Vinho Verde from Portugal could do the same thing with a bit less alcohol and a touch of spritziness if you like that sort of thing. if you fancy going Riesling go New World and look for an abv of 12% or more and ideally Clare Valley in Australia or Bio Bio in Chile. I would normally suggest looking at South Africa or Eastern Europe but unless you are familiar with the wines this is not the time for experiments but if you know a drinkable Chenin or Irsai Oliver go for it.  If Marks and Spencer have a deal on six bottles or more the Colina Del Itata Field Blend is as good as anything this price. Any of these wines except maybe the Riesling should be easy drinking enough to keep a small gathering fueled through the strictly final get together.

Red wine is a bit of a mine field and where you will have to curb your natural instincts most strongly, remember this is not going to be served with a meal but with nuts, chips and dips and olives if your lucky so anything too full on or dry is going to come off badly. In the same way with the whites the big names St Emmillion, Pomerol, Barolo Chateau Neuf Du Pape will be out of the price range and if not most likely rubbish. So you might want to go completely the other way and look at beaujolais so long as it is fruity and fresh it can be a surprise hit likewise Frappatto and Dolcetto from Italy even an Aussie Tarrango or very light Grenache can be moreish.

You might want something a bit fuller though and it starts to get a bit tricky all the supermarkets have their own branded wines which look like they should be ok but are often a bit dull and these are the kinds of wines that everyone drinks. First things first offers are everywhere but only worth it if the wine you buy is one you think is going to work is that special discount on a big brand Shiraz really good or just the same boring crap you avoid the other eleven months of the year. The safest bet in many ways is a Malbec everyone loves a Malbec and Trivento reserve is decent and around the right price so no one is going to mind if this is where you end up.

However if you look for something from the Cote du Rhone by Chapoutier or Perrin you could get something altogether more festive even La Ville Ferme (made by Perrin) could make a pretty classy alternative. I would also consider a nice bit of South African Pinotage Morrisons own label best (or whatever they call it this month) is surprisingly good, but there are a good number of South African blends around that are very good value and hugely quaffable.

Most important of all is try to enjoy the time with friends and family and remember whatever doesn't get drunk by New Years day is going to have to be drunk by you so don't just but the cheapest bottle in the shop. Merry Christmas Everyone.

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