Tricky time of year this, with the festivities hoving into view. Never easy for anyone, least of all those of us who suffer from Christmas Affected Doom, Depression and Despondency (CADDAD), a ghastly affliction about which I’ve written at length elsewhere so won’t bore you with now.
Suffice to say that it is a dreadful burden, often hereditary (invariably passing down the male line with females rarely affected), often undiagnosed and rarely properly treated.
Symptoms include a rise in blood pressure caused by the sight of supermarket Christmas puddings and mince pies in early September, a throbbing in the ears upon being invited to have a ‘Cool Yule’, a lurch in the stomach on being force-fed cold cardboard, toothpaste, tile grouting and gravy (known to some as turkey with all the trimmings) and itchiness caused by stray pine needles getting stuck in one’s slippers (a gift from one’s mother-in-law) or socks (from one’s wife — yet again).
I’ve found the only way to cope is to self- medicate at regular intervals with fine wine from a reputable source. And what better source than Messrs Corney & Barrow?
C&B boast two royal warrants as well as some remarkable exclusive agencies including such tip-top names as Champagne Salon, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Pétrus. But Corney’s reputation rests as much on their own first-rate house wines as it does on any of the above which, basically, any fool could source and sell. Getting house wines right is a far trickier and I reckon Corney & Barrow have pretty much nailed it. They source from the finest producers possible and their buying team is deeply involved in the blending and ageing processes. The bottles are impeccably packaged (the current range is presented with strikingly elegant labels) and the pricing is reasonable in the extreme.
And if one takes advantage of the fabled Brett-Smith Indulgence (£6 off a case when buying two dozen bottles or more) there is a double discount on offer. This makes the wines very accessible indeed and ideal for Christmas stockpiling. The mixed case is only £115, an absolute steal in my view, thanks in part to a very benign rounding-down of the already double-discounted price by C&B’s associate director James Franklin.
The Corney & Barrow Sparkling Blanc de Blancs Extra Dry NV (1) is made specially for Corney’s by the century-old firm of Varichon et Clerc on the edge of the Alps in Savoie. A blend of Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, it’s made using the Champagne method and aged for over a year on its lees. The result is a bone-dry, creamy, toasty sparkler with fine bubbles; although full-flavoured, it has a wonderful lightness of touch. It’s way better than any supermarket champagne I’ve had and looks the biz too with its swanky gold-foil neck and gold label. Best of all is the price: just £11.38 a bottle with the Brett-Smith Indulgence, otherwise £11.88 down from £12.50.
The 2015 C&B House White (2) is a blend of 70 per cent Colombard and 30 per cent Ugni Blanc produced by the excellent Producteurs Plaimont in Gascony. Corney’s buyer, Rebecca Palmer, visits the region each winter to oversee the blend and she’s created a charmingly uncomplicated crowd-pleaser. Light, fresh, floral and hugely engaging, it’s been Corney’s runaway best-selling white wine for the past 20 years. £6.63 with the B-SI, £7.13 without down from £7.50.
I’ve tried the 2015 C&B White Burgundy, Mâcon-Chaintré (3) before and have always longed to offer it in these pages. Corney’s have never before had enough stock to let us do so but this time we stamped our feet and James Franklin hummed and hah-ed before capitulating gracefully, earmarking a stash especially for us. A 100 per cent Chardonnay from the tiny organic Domaine Cornin in the Mâconnais, it’s soft, creamy and textured with plenty of crisp, clean, lively fruit and it’s little wonder it sells out so fast. £11.38 a bottle with the B-SI, otherwise £11.88, down from £12.50.
The 2015 C&B House Côtes du Rhône (4) comes from the family-owned Vignobles Gonnet, the celebrated producers of Domaine Font de Michelle Châteauneuf-du-Pape and their vineyards on the right bank of the Rhône at Domazan in the Gard. A blend of 65 per cent old-vine Grenache and 35 per cent old-vine Syrah, it’s earthy, warming and spicy with plenty of ripe, luscious and downright gluggable red and dark fruit. I loved its easygoing simplicity and fear one could drain a bottle in one sitting all too easily. £8.95 with the B-SI, otherwise £9.45, down from £9.95.
The 2011 C&B Rioja Crianza (5) was a huge hit with readers when we offered it this time last year and, with 12 months longer in bottle, I reckon it’s now tasting even better. Produced by family-owned Bodegas Zugober in the Alavesa sub-region of Rioja from Tempranillo, Graciano and Mazuelo, it’s soothingly soft, smooth and supple. It’s unmistakably Rioja too, with all those lovely lip-smacking aromas and flavours of vanilla, plums, damsons, cherries and spice. And despite being even tastier than it was last year, it remains the same price. £8.95 with the B-SI, £9.45 without, down from £9.95.
The 2014 C&B Company Reserve Claret (6) has had Corney’s customers in something of a feeding frenzy, with repeat orders flooding in. And little wonder because it’s a right belter, a Merlot-dominant blend. It’s richly flavoured, soft and succulent and designed for immediate drinking. Just slosh it straight into jug, carafe or decanter and enjoy. £10.98 with the B-SI, otherwise £11.48, down from £12.75.
All the above six wines can be found in the mixed case and there we would normally leave it. However, this being Christmas (grrrr!) and James Franklin having casually wafted a couple of other cracking clarets under my beak, I just had to offer them here. They’re pricier, so not in the mixed case, but I really must bring them to your attention.
The 2012 C&B St-Emilion (7) from 50-year-old vines is Merlot through and through with just a lightening touch of herbal Cabernet Franc. It’s concentrated and complex and very stylish. Only 150 cases were made and I’d strongly advise nabbing one. £13.99 with the BSI, otherwise £14.85, down from £16.50.
The 2012 C&B Margaux (8) is more for the Cabernet Sauvignon lovers and is produced by none other than Ch. Angludet, everyone’s favourite Cru Bourgeois claret. With cassis, spice and cedarwood, it has weight, gravitas and a touch of silky delicacy too. It’s impossible not to knock back. £17.99 with the BSI, otherwise £18.86, down from £20.95.
The mixed case (9) has two bottles of each wine (bar these last two) and delivery, as ever, is free.
To order please call 020 7265 2470.
Simon Hoggart’s Life’s Too Short to Drink Bad Wine, revised and updated by Jonathan Ray, is out now.