Christmas wine 2018

‘Tis the season to shop at Aldi? Seán Jones QC and Professor Dominic Regan present a shrewd seasonal selection... plus the best party wine, an oenophile’s essential stocking filler and why big wine deserves big glasses


It is the year of Aldi! Just as established players like Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer abandon their fine wine sections, the German interloper goes upmarket.

Our top Champagne recommendation of the year is its 2011 Vintage Veuve Monsigny. Made by Philizot it is pure Chardonnay (Blanc de Blancs) and at £19.99 it costs the same as the non-vintage own label numbers from Sainsbury’s and Tesco. Ruinart makes an astonishing Blanc de Blancs but that is £55, down from £65, at branches of Jeroboams in London.

One eminent Silk drew our attention years ago to the Aldi non-vintage Champagne from the same producer which, at the time of writing, is down to £11.49 from £11.99. Waitrose now charges more than that for a half bottle. Lidl presents an acceptable Comte de Senneval at £10.99.

Sometimes people feel obliged to buy a branded bottle of Champagne. We recommend Piper-Heidsieck which is ‘on a surging wave of quality’ according to Hugh Johnson, the wine guru with a hand in the stupendous Garrick Club wine list. Time it right and you should be able to buy it for about £20 on promotion.

One bottle does not make Christmas. Our other joy was Aldi red Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the glorious 2016 vintage. It was just right. The telltale scent of herbs, pepper and tobacco are there. Nothing over-powering. We had it with steak. Diego, sommelier at Hawksmoor Air St (see below), could not believe it was £13.49.

Finally, a pair of gems from very fashionable Tasmania. Again at £16.99 both Pinot Noir, perfect for turkey, and elegant Chardonnay, equally good for turkey as for fish, were classy and cheap for what they were.

If you do not want to spend so much then sparkling Crémant Du Jura is £8.29 is luscious. We have highlighted reasonable reds too in the past. Toro Loco under £5 is definitely acceptable. Finally, Mâcon-Villages 2017 is a gentle white Burgundy that at £6.99 is a steal.

Earlier this year Tesco sourced some Bordeaux reds from the stellar 2010 vintage at £16.99. If you see any then buy it. Really serious wine at such a comparatively modest price. Their Argentinian Malbec at £8 is a sumptuous red. They have also had some decent Beaujolais Villages where there has been a good run of vintages between 2014 and 2017. Every retailer stocks this approachable wine which remains fairly priced. Aim to pay about £8 or a tad more. It is a versatile drink that goes well with food or by itself. Tesco and Waitrose both stock Rioja made by Baron de Ley, another underpriced wine.

We remain fans of Sainsbury’s Limoux Chardonnay, an elegant pure white that is worth the £10 asked.

Sauvignon Blanc fans should buy the Lidl New Zealand bottling at £6.99. It is not Graywacke, the current cult, but it is a good tenner less.

Majestic does retain a fine wines section. A recent visit unearthed a magnificent Vinalba Malbec at £14.99, Californian Edna Valley Chardonnay at £13.99 and rare bottles of Two Hands Shiraz at £25. This Australian red is for those who like their wine to be massive.

Stamp Shiraz Cabernet is ubiquitous and at £5.25 represents a party wine that will not shame anyone. Both the red and white Sous Le Soleil bottlings, £5.99 at Waitrose, are straightforward, dependable wines that would be fine for a drinks party.

Last year all of the big retailers (but not Aldi or Lidl) ran ‘buy six, get 25% off’ promotions in the period up to Christmas. We expect the same this year.

If you like eating out but are troubled by ghastly mark ups on wine we have three suggestions. Our spiritual home is Hawksmoor at Air St by Piccadilly Circus. At all of their restaurants in London, Manchester and now Edinburgh you can bring a bottle of any size on a Monday and pay corkage of £5. Their own wine list is very reasonable. The Hix Oyster and Chop House at Farringdon levies no corkage at all on Mondays. The small Andrew Edmunds restaurant in Soho has the most reasonable and lovely list with minimal mark ups. Their buyer is a genius.

Each year we recommend the perfect stocking filler for anyone interested in wine and that is Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book. The 2019 edition (green cover) is as comprehensive as ever. The size of a pocket diary, it explodes with information. What are the best recent Rioja vintages? 2008, 09 and 10. What goes well with Korean food? Beaujolais. What is a good alternative to ever expensive red Burgundy? Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir. We can assure you that it is substantially updated every year. Whilst published at £12.99, both Amazon and The Book People sell it for £4! A pocket bible for the oenophile.

There is a continuing great debate about wine glasses. Big wine does deserve big glasses. Do not burn your money though. Ikea has some lovely glasses for a few pounds.

On the High St head to TK Maxx for good glasses. It discounts Riedel glasses as used in many a Michelin starred restaurant. One of us bought capacious Burgundy glasses recently which were £3.50 each, not £15 as priced online. Schott Zwiesel is another quality glassware brand that is stocked on a regular basis.

Seán Jones QC (@seanjonesqc) and Professor Dominic Regan (@Krug79)


www.drinkaware.co.uk | www.wellbeingatthebar.org.uk | Try some Christmas mocktails US-style, courtesy of Town & Country magazine: bit.ly/xmasmocktails

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Dominic Regan

Dominic is a professor at City Law School and has advised Lord Justice Jackson on his recent reforms. He buys a lot of wine. Twitter: @krug79.

Sean Jones QC

Seán, 11 KBW, @seanjonesqc, specialises in employment law and is General Editor of Tolley’s Employment Handbook. He also works in the sports law field.