GRAPEVINE with LIZ SAGUES: Classic wines for Christmas

PUBLISHED: 11:47 11 December 2008 | UPDATED: 15:41 07 September 2010

Join me in a little experiment... Christmas is about classic wines, and nothing is more classic than red burgundy. But its price may stretch the budget a bit. So what can the new world offer instead? Three bottles of pinot noir were lined up, not so much

Join me in a little experiment... Christmas is about classic wines, and nothing is more classic than red burgundy. But its price may stretch the budget a bit. So what can the new world offer instead?

Three bottles of pinot noir were lined up, not so much in competition with each other but to give an idea of how New Zealand, Australia and Chile can challenge France. And I owe a big thank you to the friends who tasted them with me - more tastebuds, more widely relevant the result.

Initially, New Zealand - Villa Maria Reserve 2006 (£16, Tesco, Fresh & Wild, www.nzhouse ofwine.co.uk) - was the star, wonderfully scented, juicy cherry and plum fruit, rich, balanced, great on its own. With food added into the taste equation, however, the others began to shine too.

The most interesting results came with three potentially pinot-friendly cheeses: soft goat's, cheshire and camembert. With the cheshire, Villa Maria turned rather vegetal; alongside the camembert it acquired a more burgundian, somewhat farmyardy character; with the goat's it was unexceptional.

Anakena Ona 2007 (£10, Oddbins), where 80pc pinot is joined by a cocktail of merlot, syrah and viognier, was particularly enjoyable with the cheshire, just a touch sharp but pleasant with camembert, and adequate with the goat's.

The Australian candidate, De Bortoli Windy Peak 2008 (£8, Sainsbury's) - whose winemaker, Steve Webber, is a true pinotphile - was the best cheese all-rounder. Its definitely unburgundian nose developed delightful aromatics with the Cheshire, its ripe raspberry fruit juicily complemented the goat's and while the camembert match was least special it still worked well.

But overall, my clear favourite was the Ona - I found fascinating aromas and flavours alone or with food and it has the style and substance to balance powerful seasonal meats from goose to rare-breed pork. Each of the wines had its champions, though. In summary, they clearly aren't burgundy, but there's lots to enjoy - and talk about!

I've had a chance to taste a number of other Chilean pinots, and these particularly appealed: Vinya Leyda Cahuil 2006 (£9.90, www.thewinesociety.com ), Tesco Finest Los Fresnos 2007 (£7.50), Anakena Single Vineyard 2007 (£7.75, www.stonevine.co.uk,), Co-op Casablanca Valley 2007 (£8), Cono Sur Vision Old Vine Block 78 2007 (£7.50, Majestic).

One more pinot recommendation comes from a very unlikely country - Spain. The enterprising Torres family has planted the variety high in the Penedes and the resulting Mas Borras 2005 is very good indeed, silky and seductive (£16.60, Harrods).

But if burgundy is within your budget some well-worth-the-money favourites include: Beaune premier cru Clos du Roi 2006 Domaine Rapet (£25, Jeroboams - and a tempting white is Rully Blanc La Barre 2006 Domaine Ninot, £13); Monthelie premier cru Les Duresses 2005 Coche- Bizouard (£20, www.stonevine.co.uk - and white Auxey-Duresses Les Hautes 2006 Vincent, £15.50); Volnay Les Grands Poisots 2003 Domaine Louis Boillot et Fils and Nuit St Georges premier cru Chaignots 2001 Gerard Mugneret (£22 and £28, www.thewine society.com - and white Macon- Chardonnay 2005 Domaine Saint-Denis, £11).

As this is the last wine column before the festivities, have a very happy time with these special treats.

Fizz: the deservedly trophy-decorated organic/biodynamic champagne Fleury Brut 1995, fresh, delicate, with lovely lingering nuts, honey and citrus flavours (£42, www.vintageroots.co.uk 0800 980 4992).

A white which will honour any turkey, lobster or smoked salmon: Torres Fransola, a lightly and elegantly oaked sauvignon, complex and delicious (£16, www.handford.net).

Southern French reds which turn mid- winter into summer: Coteaux du Languedoc Saint-Saturnin 2006, Le Mas du Lucquier (£8, Marks&Spencer), Faugeres Les Leonides 2005 Domaine du Meteore (£7.50, www.stonevine.co.uk), Saint-Chinian 2005 Hecht & Bannier (£12.65, Berry Bros & Rudd) and a bargain-priced stylish Italian classic,Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Amarone 2005 (£13).

Plus an unctuous dry sherry you'll remember long into 2010: Hidalgo Jerez Cortado Wellington (£20, Majestic).

Two final points: there's still time for Christmas delivery on web orders but act soon as the VAT/duty changes work through.

Liz Sagues


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