SOME people make plans for Christmas with almost military precision. Little is left to chance. The Savage household is not like this.
I have remembered to order a turkey, but it took a tetchy email from our younger son, who’s now working in London, wondering why we’d not sent him an Advent Calendar (he may be nearly 23 but he’s a stickler for traditions) to kick start the 2007 present-buying campaign. It’ll probably be Christmas Eve before I get around to sorting out some wine.
Procrastination suits me fine, because I can never quite decide what kind of wine works best with turkey. If push comes to shove, I suspect I’ll go for a bottle of a lightish, fruity red. It will cope pretty well with the rich medley of flavours on the dinner plate from cranberry sauce to chipolatas and sprouts. Pinot Noir is my favourite black grape, and it will be hard to resist a good red Burgundy (invariably 100% Pinot Noir), but New Zealand Pinot Noir is often better value.
Villa Maria’s wines are consistently good. The cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2006 (£10.99 at Fenwick) is a terrific bottle, but if you can afford to grace your Christmas table with the very best then I’d splash out on Ata Rangi Pinot Noir. The superb 2004, packed with spicy intense cherry fruit is £27.15 at Richard Granger. We are not so flush. My wine of the week at a fifth of the price is a remarkably acceptable alternative.
Pink wines are distinctly turkey-friendly. I don’t think you can get much better than the southern French classic Chateau d’Aqueria, Tavel 2006 (£9.99 at Majestic – £8.99 if you buy two). I love its soft, ripe, strawberry fruit. Strawberries are also to the fore in Grant Burge’s ‘Benchmark’ Rosé 2006 (£5.49 on special offer at Fenwick) – simpler than the Tavel but ever so slightly sweeter and juicier too.
Rich dry or even sweetish whites can also work well with turkey and rich meats like goose, though the firm tannins and relatively high acidity of a classic claret would be, perhaps, a more traditional choice. Two unusual dry whites stand out. One is a rare Australian example of the Rhône Valley grape Roussanne – d’Arenberg ‘The Money Spider’ 2006 (£8.99 from Oddbins). It is deliciously honeyed, spicy and peachy.
The other is from Greece, Hatzidakis, Barrel-Fermented Assyrtiko 2006 from the island of Santorini (£9.99 at Waitrose). It’s an intriguing mix of orange, lemon, peach and apricot fruit with a mineral salts tang. My top choice for a more classic dry white, especially if you’ll be eating fish at some time over the festive season is Chivite’s superlative Coleccion 125 Chardonnay 2005 (£21 at Waitrose). This brilliant, subtly oaked classic from Navarra is one of the finest white wines ever made in Spain.
Bigger red wines come into their own with both rich vegetable dishes and red meat. There are great buys to be found in every supermarket, including Aldi and Lidl. Try for example one of Aldi’s special buys for Christmas, Terrilogio, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2003 – a deeply satisfying mouthful of chewy, smoky, raisiny fruit – utterly typical of this Italian classic. It’ll cost you just £6.99.
Another unusual possibility is Doña Paula Cabernet Franc 2006 from Argentina, via Oddbins (£10.99). It’s full of spicy, concentrated (dry) raspberry jam flavours. A little more conventional, but also bursting with ripe fruit, this time spicy brambles, Grant Burge Hillcott Merlot 2005 is a fine bargain (£8.45 on offer at Fenwick); and for sheer value for money Collage Zinfandel 2004 (£4.99 at Fenwick) is a big mouthful of ripe, raisiny, figgy fruit.
Christmas without bubbly would seem very strange. If it must be champagne go for Drappier’s excellent Brut (£18.99 at the Co-op) or the wonderful, organic Fleury Père et Fils Brut (£24.99 from Waitrose) – both are far better than many more famous names. Away from France, Jansz Vintage 2002 from Tasmania (£14.99 at Oddbins) gets my vote for its sophisticated biscuity taste and rich, creamy bubbles. With so many shopping days still to go, I’ve simply no idea which one I’ll finally choose.
Wine of the Week: Tyrrell’s Pinot Noir 2006, Fenwick, £5.49 (special offer)
Delightful light red from Australia, full of juicy, ripe, cherry and plum fruit with a dusting of spice. It won’t disgrace the turkey.