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What to drink at Christmas 

This is the time of year when winewriters traditionally agonize over which wines go best with turkey (or goose if you are posh and innovative) or the various alternatives. Or else they trot out rather cliched lists containing white Burgundy, mature Claret and Port. Itís all a bit boring, and I donít intend to go the same way. Instead, hereís my rather eclectic list of wines that I think will brighten up the festive season, through their personality, or intrinsic quality, or by virtue of being great value for money.

1. Fizz. Fizz is great any time, but particularly so when you are celebrating. But we are so limited in our imagination when it comes to serving it. Donít just give guests a glass as an apertif, or for toasting. Why not serve it through the meal? Fizz is remarkably food friendly Ė and itís versatile, too.

Itís best to have a variety of fizzes so you can match the occasion. In absolute quality terms, thereís nothing quite like Champagne, and I reckon these days the average quality of even cheap Champagnes is pretty good. New world fizz can be superb, but it doesnít tend to have quite the same flavour profile as Champagne. Having said this, few people can differentiate quality in sparkling wines very effectively, and thereís certainly a place in your Christmas wine stash for inexpensive fizz such as Cava and the more basic new world offerings. These have the added benefit of being fruitier and more accessible than most Champagnes, so they go down well with non-wine-geek guests. If you are feeling flush or itís a special meal then really good Champagne canít be beaten: my favourites include Roederer, Pol Roger, Laurent Perrier and Taittinger.

2. Wines from the Southwest of France. Dudes, the southwest of France is making some of the most interesting, character-filled reds you could possibly hope for, at prices that make it seem like Christmas. [Well, I guess it will be Christmas when you are drinking these.] The problem is getting hold of them, because they donít find their way onto supermarket shelves. Marcillac, Gaillac, Madiran, Coteaux du Quercy, Cahors and Irouleguy. These are the names to look for. Best source: Les Caves de Pyrene in Guildford, which has a brilliant list. A mail order mixed case from Les Caves should see you sorted for a while.

3. Wines from the Loire. The Loire valley of France makes some fantastic wines, and compared with the likes of Burgundy and Bordeaux, they are pretty well priced. Steer clear of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume (just Sauvignon, thatís all they are), and look out for Anjou reds and whites, Vouvray (sec is dry, Moelleux is sweeter Ė itís Chenin, an interesting grape), Samur Champigny, Chinon and Bourgeuil. Biodynamic and organic growers often make more interesting Loire wines. Good Loire wines are hard to get hold of, but worth the effort. Best source Les Caves de Pyrene (above), RSJ, Berry Bros & Rudd.

4. Affordable Australian wines. Aussie wines have taken a bit of a critical bashing recently for being boring and industrial. I still like them, and Iíve recently enjoyed some really nice fruit-filled reds that arenít too jammy or sweet, and which arenít beaten into submission by loads of oak. I like the St Halletts Gamekeepers Red (Oddbins, Waitrose, Thresher, Sainsbury among others), anything by Ben Glaetzer (Heartland, Mitolo and Glaetzer, carried by Oddbins) and even the in-yer-face Zontes Footstep Shiraz Viognier (Sainsbury). 

5. Sweet wines. We should be drinking more Sauternes, more Port, more Sherry (although most of these arenít really sweet) and more Madeira (ditto). Just do it.

6. Portuguese wines. Particularly those from the Douro and Alentejo. Theyíre just a bit different, and I really like them. Like many interesting wines, itís hard to locate the good stuff from Portugal, which rarely gets a look in on supermarket shelves. Waitrose has an OK selection, but otherwise itís independent wine merchant territory. Avoid anything by DFJ Ė to me, these wines taste a bit similar and rather spoofy.

7. GrŁner Veltliner. It rocks. Austriaís own white grape variety can make wines that range from bright and fresh (if a little neutral), to those that are richer with a lovely peppery freshness, to those which are concentrated, complex, off-dry and spicy. Great for Christmas drinking. Look out for FX Pichler, Brundlmayer, Schloss Gobelsberg, Kurt Angerer, Emmerich Knoll, Rudi Pichler, Fred Loimer, Jurschitsch and Stadt Krems.  

What I wonít be drinking:

Chilean reds. Very repetitious. Lots of sweet fruit with a strong green streak in the background. A bit boring really.

Cheap South African reds. Again, greenness is almost always a problem with these wines. It makes them taste angular and rustic, but not in a nice way (rustic can be good in certain contexts).

Cheap Californian wines. California makes some great wines, but seems to me to have a staggering inability to make palatable cheap stuff. Iíd rather drink water than the likes of Blossom Hill. I wouldnít call being Californian and affordable a Ďwine faultí, but itís getting close.

Supermarket wines, listed at £7.99 and bottled in the UK (usually wine at this price is bottled at source), and then being sold at half price in gondola end promotions.

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