For many people, there is no better way to spend Christmas time than in the company of friends and family enjoying delicious food – and of course, enjoying some great wines too! Our Master Sommelier Frank Kämmer tells us which wines he’s looking forward to uncorking this Christmas.
A Grand Cru champagne: as an aperitive and beyond
For me, Christmas simply isn’t complete without a really good champagne, and this year I have discovered a really special bottle that I can’t wait to share with my family. Bottlings that hail from Pascal Agrapart’s small winery rank among the superstars of vintage dated champagnes, and his Avizoise vintage champagne is no exception.
It comes from an old Grand Cru vineyard close to the village of Avize in the heart of the Côte des Blancs; it’s a vineyard that boasts a particularly rich chalk and loam soil. With its mineral depth and complex structure, Avizoise is more than a festive aperitive; it’s a wine to be enjoyed with food and it makes a perfect accompaniment to fine fish dishes, such as turbot with buerre blanc. This is great Christmas wine option.
A classic Australian red for the main course
St. Henri from Penfolds is one of the great classics of the Australian wine scene, yet in Europe it’s not nearly as well known as it ought to be, perhaps because this illustrious red has no desire to fit the classic image of a “New World” red wine.
St. Henri has been produced in more or less the same way since 1953; it’s matured in large, old wooden barrels in a most wonderful, almost old-fashioned way. It’s an unbelievably characterful Shiraz, but it is somewhat overshadowed by its legendary big brother “Penfolds Grange”, which ranks as one of the world’s finest red wines.
Interestingly, back in the 1950s, both wines were considered to be of similar status and this was reflected in comparable pricing. However, whilst dazzling Grange became a global star, more traditional St. Henri remained something of a trade secret among connoisseurs: today, the price of the former is more than six times that of the latter! A few weeks ago, when I was in Adelaide at the tasting of the new 2013 vintage of the St. Henri, I made the following notes:
“Uncommonly intense nose, yet nevertheless highly inviting. Echoes of figs in cherry juice, cassis, and sloes, as well as striking earthy notes of leather, tobacco, bay and undergrowth. Pronounced attractive approach with an exceptionally velvety tannin bloom on the palate. Excellent weight with self-confident character, yet without any hard edges. Rich in expression, but not overloaded. Very fine acid strains. Superb mocha notes in the finish. ‘Old school’ in its best sense. A true gentleman with strong personality and huge potential”.
The bottle that I brought back with me from Australia is now ready to be opened at Christmas as the perfect accompaniment to saddle of venison with cranberries.
Sherry for dessert
The Andalusian wine region around Jerez de la Frontera must have an image problem – there is simply no other way to explain why it so often produces world-class wines that are known to only a few savvy connoisseurs.
Given their extraordinary quality, Andalusian wines boast an absurdly excellent price to enjoyment ratio however, although I am thoroughly aware of this, on my last visit to the Valdespino vineyard I was again taken by surprise by another barely known treasure. Having already tasted some very good dry sherries from this vineyard of ancient and fine repute, I was offered a sip of an excellent wine from a bottle with a delightful, antiquated-kitsch label.
It was a Moscatel sherry made with Muscat grapes from a vineyard in the west of the region, near Chipiona on the Atlantic coast, and it was stunningly good! An enchanting, overwhelming aroma of orange blossom and spices, together with a seriously silky sweetness, perfect balance and delicate length; it was one of the most memorable dessert wines I have tasted for some time.
I turned to the cellar master and cautiously enquired about the price of a bottle of such delicacy, thoroughly expecting to hear a sum running into three digits, which would have been more than justified considering its quality. However, his answer – “It costs something like 20 Euros…” – stopped me in my tracks, reviving and strengthening my conviction that there are still treasures to be uncovered in Andalusia. Since that day, my anticipation has been mounting daily at the prospect of being able to enjoy this gem of a Moscatel sherry with gingerbread mousse over Christmas. The perfect Christmas wine!
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