I returned from the school run today with a bespoke pink crown adorned with stars, and a bottle of Tesco’s Finest St. Chinian, which is quite possibly the best value red wine I’ve ever tasted.
Ah, kids. I was thrilled with my pink crown, quite the masterpiece. I’ve arrived at another critical juncture in my parenting journey, which my husband and I were pondering last night over a glass of this – to Santa, or not to Santa? We both moved swiftly to the latter point of view, which is that the idea of Santa or Father Christmas is BBE (Biggest BullSh*t Ever – the abbreviation is to be used henceforth in this blog). The concept of an elderly, grey bearded, omniscient, sleigh-riding character who comes into your house to deliver gifts in return for booze and cookies is a rotten idea. A silly notion which we’d have to dismantle in a few year’s time to a child whose first reaction to that bombshell would be to wonder why her parents had lied to her in the first place. I just cannot bring myself to fabricate Santa into our lives, there’s magic to be found in other places. We have a huge Christmas tree, which the children have decorated themselves and therefore looks like it was dragged through the rubbish bin on the way in, but they love it and the lights they helped entangle through it. In fact, we’ve renamed it the caca tree, as it’s my 2-year-old son’s favourite new place to perform his ablutions. And under the caca tree, we’ll stick a few small presents from Mom and Dad. And, of course, there will be food, and plenty of wine for the adults!
In October I must have tasted over 1500 wines, doing the rounds at the supermarket press tastings, where the media are invited to taste a selection of wines on sale for Autumn and Christmas. I’ve always believed that there is no direct correlation between price and quality in wine, and the supermarket tastings this year proved it once again. Of course there are a lot of rubbish wines at supermarkets when they’re buying to meet a certain very low price point, but there are some outstanding wines too at reasonable prices, you just have to know what they are. I plan to write up a full review in the Spring after the next round of tastings. In the meanwhile, here are some ideas for the festive season.
SPARKLING – These bottles prove that you don’t need to spend a fortune on fizz.
I’ve recommended it several times before, because for £10, it’s the best value all-rounder. It’s refreshing, balanced and the perfect way to welcome your guests.
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Champagne J Sainsbury Brut £18
This is the bottle for lovers of traditional Champagne. Sainsbury’s launched their new Champagne last month just in time for Christmas and it’s outstanding value for money. It’s flavour is full on buttery brioche, golden delicious apple, lemon citrus and as creamy as any Champagne. It’s a completely different bottle of bubbles to the Tesco English Sparkling wine I describe below and if you fancy a little tasting experiment at home try the two side by side.
Tesco Finest English Sparkling Brut NV £17.50
It’s much lighter than the Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Champagne. Elegant and well made, these delightful bubbles will see you through the festive season. Light citrus, fresh white peaches and that typical bruised apple flavour you get from Champagne. The bubbles are fine and feel so great on your tongue!
If you’re having friends or family over for a traditional turkey dinner, there’s no point fussing over perfect wine matches when there are so many mismatched dishes on the table. It’s best to offer bottles of both red and white wine that everyone will enjoy. On the whites, here are six delicious recommendations:
Tesco Anjou Blanc £6
It’s ever so slightly off-dry, and the hint of sweetness gives the wine richer notes of honey, but it’s still very refreshing. The grape variety is Chenin Blanc, and Anjou, in France’s Loire Valley produces some of the world’s best. This is a versatile wine for Christmas.
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Mosel Pinot Blanc £7
Pinot Blanc is a French white grape variety we’re beginning to see more of in the UK. This full-bodied but lightly flavoured wine is brilliant with food, particularly seafood and light meat like turkey. This one’s from the Mosel region of Germany and bursts with vanilla, pear and apple flavours.
Stellenrust Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc £13
Hailing from sunny Stellenbosch in South Africa, the place I misspent my University years but managed to emerge miraculously unscathed, with a first class degree I might decree to my detractors (read parents). This is a rich, full bodied palate of ripe yellow peaches, lemon zest, honey and almonds. Great stuff.
Enter three fab Chardonnays…
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Macon-Villages 2016 £8
Crisp, fruity, unoaked French Chardonnay. The tropical peachy flavour makes it very easy to return for a second glass.
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Pouilly-Fuisse £17
The respectable region of Pouilly-Fuisse in France demands a higher price tag, but is it worth it? Not always, but if you’d like to try a Chardonnay that has both richness and freshness this is a lovely example where the use of oak in the winemaking process has been to the wine’s benefit, adding a creamy texture and notes of cedar wood. It’s worth it.
Tesco Finest Vire-Clesse 2014 £11
This is a lovely little Chardonnay from Burgundy in France. The wine-making process didn’t involve much oak so the fruity flavours are front and center. There is a creaminess to it, which lends itself to pairing with rich chicken, pork, duck and goose.
I preferred all of the above Chardonnay to any Chablis I tasted at Sainsbury’s or Tesco.
Tesco Finest St-Chinian 2016 £7.50
For me, this is the best red wine deal I’ve come across this year. Forgetting the price, it’s simply a delicious wine, then when your brain registers the £7.50 price tag your neurons start firing in a most haphazard fashion as you stockpile the stuff in anticipation of there never being a better wine for the price, ever.
Dense, fruity but balances with a freshness that works so incredibly well with food. This is a great food wine, and perfect for Christmas when there are so many different dishes on the table
Tesco Finest Chianti Classico Riserva £8
Chianti wine is made from Sangiovese grapes, which have a tendency to make wines with lovely fresh red cherry flavours, a little earthiness and fine tannins (that dry feeling you get in your mouth when you drink certain red wines is from the tannins, which is the same substance as in tea). Sometimes a wine can be overly tannic, when you feel a bitter drying sensation in your mouth. When a wine is well made, or of appropriate drinking age, tannins can be soft and refreshing, as is the case with this wine.
There’s a lot of talk that wines of a certain region tend to match its food. In Tuscany, where Chianti comes from, the food is heavy on tomato sauces, cured and grilled meat. The high acidity in Sangiovese wines is useful with these rich meat and past dishes. In fact Sangiovese is a wonderful food wine, and there are many lovely examples of the wine outside of Tuscany, even in South Africa. Chianti is fantastic with burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, salami and for a real treat, with charcuterie and game, but since we’re talking about Christmas, this Chianti will taste beautiful with a rich goose or duck.
Tesco Finest GSM £8
GSM stands for Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, the grapes from which this wine is made. It’s a popular blend, originating in the sunny Southern Rhone region of France. This one’s from Australia where there is sunshine aplenty to kiss the grapes to full ripeness. When grapes are grown in a warm, sunny climate, lots of sugar accumulates in the grape berries and the wines tend to be rich, full bodied (alcohol around 14%) and creamy in the mouth. This is a fine example of the style. This is a wine that most people tend to like, and so a safe option at Christmas. It’s also a brilliant BBQ wine, but here we are in England hurtling towards the depths of winter so drink it indoors with anything grilled.
Chåtauneuf Du Pape Les Courlandes £12 at Sainsbury’s
Also a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre with the addition of Cinsault, the extra richness and concentration achieved in the famous Chatauneuf du Pape region in France’s Southern Rhone is worth the extra £4.
Chateau Montus 2012 £18 at Sainsbury’s
This is a rich, potent red wine made from a blend of Cabernet-Sauvignon and Tannat. From Madirin in France, the reason I’ve recommended it over every other supermarket Bordeaux I’ve tasted is for it’s dense, ripe, concentrated blackberry and blackcurrant flavours. There is not a hint of greenness about it and it’s tannins are beautifully ripe and smooth. It’s sure to please the Bordeaux lovers in your life, and those who love big strong red wines.
Georges Duboeuf Fleurie £8.50 at Sainsbury’s
Another brilliant all rounder for Christmas, this is a good alternative to Pinot Noir. Fleurie is the most favoured area in Beaujolais (France) and known for it’s light, crisp red wines with crimson red current, strawberry and violet floral flavours.
Domaine Vacheron Belle Dame Sancerre £32 from Waitrose Cellar
Of all the Pinot Noir I tasted over £25, this was the only one worth buying. Sancerre in France, is famed for its aromatic white wines made from Sauvignon Blanc, but they do make some Pinot Noir and it’s worth seeking out. This is bright and fresh, with intense, succulent strawberry and cherry flavours. It knocked the socks of the Burgundy I tasted in the same day, which is usually my go-to region for this light style of wine. This will be perfect with duck or goose.