Christmas is the season when retailers discount heavily to encourage shoppers to spend. In the New Year prices will rise and sharply as the impact of Brexit feeds through.
Champagne is for so many the way to celebrate. It need not be expensive. Aldi now sells one in every 10 bottles bought. At £10.99 this is excellent value and it is of good quality. The Lidl equivalent tasted overwhelmingly of apples, more akin to cider. Tesco own label Finest non-vintage is superb, as is the Waitrose offering. If you must buy a famous brand then Pol Roger is luscious. Pink Champagne is even more expensive. Billecart-Salmon and Bollinger both make Rosé. The English Nyetimber Classic Cuvée at £32 has won many awards and is a serious competitor to the French fizz.
Demand for Prosecco has risen sharply. It is cheaper than Champagne and if it is going to be combined with, say, Aperol there is a strong case for buying it. Tesco Finest, made by Bisol, is excellent at £8. Quality can, as with Champagne, vary enormously so do not buy indiscriminately. Waitrose San Leo is good but over a tenner.
Marks & Spencer has extended the range of wines it offers to include small Champagne growers as well as exotic bottles from Bolivia and Greece. Some branches are woefully limited in the range they offer but if you have a decent local store you will be astonished at how wide the options are. This year M&S has run more wine promotions than any other retailer such as ‘buy 3 get 20% off’. Both its White French Macon and Red Bordeaux are reliable and tasty.
The ubiquitous Hardys Stamp Shiraz Cabernet, steep at £7 but regularly on offer, is as easy a red as one could ever encounter. Fine by itself or as a companion to food. The same can be said for Waitrose Good Ordinary Claret and its Cuvée Chasseur, both about £5. Aldi’s The Exquisite Collection Hawke’s Bay Bordeaux Blend is not from Bordeaux but New Zealand; a £7 winner.
Great Western Wines based in Bath will deliver anywhere in the country for free if you spend £100, which is easily done. The Unanime red from Argentina at £15.95 is an incredibly complex red which would be triple the price if French. Highly recommended. Other independent merchants stock it too. Great Western has very good Australian contacts and get small parcels of massive mature Shiraz. Ask for Alan and get his advice. They also have Stag’s Leap from California.
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Limoux French Chardonnay is £8 and worth every penny. For parties, its own label simple wines such as Pinot Noir come in at under a fiver and will not disappoint.
Hedonism is the finest wine shop in the country. Spread over two floors at Davies Street in Mayfair it has a magnificent range of serious wines including Petrus and 1959 Meursault. Big wines command big prices but Dom Perignon is sold at the Tesco price. If you are in the area go and look in wonder.
If you are in London or Manchester on a Monday, do think about dining at Hawksmoor where you can bring your own wine and pay £5 corkage, no matter how large the bottle. It is our favourite steak restaurant and the staff are genuinely charming.
The Hugh Johnson Pocket Wine Book is, at the time of writing, £3.95 on Amazon. The cover price is £11.99. It would be a great gift for anyone with an interest in the subject and there is guidance on vintages, pairing wine with food and grape varieties. The one oddity is that whilst divided up into countries of production, Bordeaux occupies a section to itself rather than being included under France. TK Maxx is still unbeatable for serious wine glasses and sometimes stock Riedel at half price.
The question which understandably arises most often is ‘What should one drink with the turkey on Christmas Day?’ Your humble authors gathered around the dining table of the Jones family last year and adored Californian Chardonnay by David Ramey which is sumptuous. It is stocked by Wholefoods and Hedonism. Those who love red would appreciate Tesco Finest Trilogy Malbec 2014 at £11. It is made by the legendary Argentinian Catena family and is a fruit bomb. Like a grand Rioja but half the price. Astonishingly good. Decent Chateauneuf Du Pape is the other reliable fairly priced red to go for. Sainsbury’s stocks one in its ‘Taste the Difference’ range at £21. Look for the Perrin name on the bottle. This is the family behind the upmarket Beaucastel range which costs treble. ● www.drinkaware.com
Contributors Seán Jones QC @seanjonesqc and Professor Dominic Regan @Krug79