Wine Review - Christmas is coming

Dominic Regan and Sean Jones recommend wines for the festive season.

At Christmas, even those who don’t drink, do. Here are our recommended buys for the season ahead and there is something for everyone. We anticipate a repeat this year of the internecine warfare between the big supermarkets. Keep your eyes open for buy 6 and get a 25% discount, something that all the big chains did last year. Majestic Wine now only insists that you buy a minimum of 6 bottles and their staff are very well informed.

Champagne and fizz is where we begin. Non –vintage own label champagne from both Tesco and Sainsburys (the blanc de noir) is utterly decent and under £20. Waitrose has always been a reliable supplier too; moving up a notch their Mesnil vintage 2004 is luscious and at about £30 less than the big name non-vintage brands. If you want a prestigious label then Pol Roger and Taittinger will not disappoint. Billecart Salmon is a favourite with wine writers and is stocked by merchants but not the supermarkets. There are now several English sparkling wines on the market, but we still think they fall short of the real thing and they cost at least as much. Most pink champagne is, at best, no better than the normal but it costs much more. The one fabulous bottle is made by Bollinger and it is reasonably priced too. If you want to make cocktails based on something sparkling then save yourself money by using Italian Prosecco of which both Waitrose and Tesco have an excellent supply. Cava is a comparative disappointment.

White wine

The best white wine in the world surely comes from Burgundy - a Mersault or Puligny Montrachet is stunning and will accompany turkey on Christmas day. Tanners of Shrewsbury stock good supplies and will advise you over the phone on what is best. Their finest bottle of the moment is a New Zealand chardonnay, 2008 Kumeu River, that has all the attributes of serious burgundy but comes in at under £20. Magnificent. They also stock a rare champagne producer, Beaumont De Crayere, that is the equal of any of the grand names but far cheaper. The Californian producer, Ramey, delivers a wonderful chardonnay that is stocked by Wholefoods in Kensington High St for £35. Top London restaurants Le Caprice and Bibendum both list it at about £125 … and sell a lot of it.

Red wine

Turning to red wine, on the day itself the Chateauneuf Du Pape 2009 is exactly what is needed to go with the turkey and it is superb with beef too. Wine from the southern Rhone valley remains good value given the quality. The 2009 vintage was beyond belief; do not buy 2008. Waitrose, Tesco, Asda and John Lewis do not stock a duff one between them. Astonishing. Aim to spend £15 to £20 at most. The best value out there is Rioja, the price of which has remained stable unlike Bordeaux where demand from afar has driven prices up to silly levels. Both the 2001 and 2004 vintages are divine. Alternatively, South America and Australia are producing stunning malbec, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon. Pinot Noir from New Zealand is blissful. Look for Roaring Meg at Majestic.

“Cheap wines”

The general rule is that cheap wine is horrid but there are some tremendous exceptions at the moment. The very best value is the humble Waitrose red, Cuvee Chasseur 2010 for £4.35. It has rightly won awards and is a steal. Marks and Spencer sell a very similar wine from the same region, Domaine St Pierre, for about £4.60 and it is something we could happily drink  indefinitely. Beaujolais enjoyed a great 2010 vintage and the wine is perfect for drinking by itself or with cold meats. Cote Du Rhone 2009 and 2010 are also spot on. Sainsbury has started its own label varietal range so you can try their shiraz, for example, or a great Pinot Noir which again comes in at about £4. Cheap white is more difficult. Widely available are Chilean chardonnay and sauvignon blanc at about £6 and these are sound.

Rose has become so popular but it is so much a summer drink. It is also comparatively expensive.

In the immediate run up to Christmas the Financial Times produces recommendations each Saturday from the respected Jancis Robinson M.W. Her tips appear freely on her website and that is worth monitoring if you are looking for something specific (and often reassuringly expensive).

The best present for anyone interested in wine, apart from a bottle, is the Hugh Johnson Pocket Wine Book 2012 at £11.99 (or much less on Amazon). It is a handy bible the size of a pocket diary and oozes wisdom. What to drink with haggis? Hugh has the answer.

Finally, T K Maxx appears to have bought a huge consignment of Riedel wine glasses and those are being sold at less than half the normal price. The brand is the best in the world and again should make an oenophile happy.

Dominic Regan, City University London and Sean Jones, 11 KBW 

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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.