Well, I’m glad that’s over. Christmas and New Year’s Eve that is. What a ghastly palaver. It went on for months and even though it’s finally done and dusted, we’re still picking pine needles out from under the blasted sofa and ploughing our way through seemingly endless bowls of defrosted stilton soup. And what on earth prompted me to make so much red cabbage and then go and freeze all that was left? I’m sick of the stuff.
Still, I drank long and deep during the festivities. Rather too long and rather too deep, if I’m honest, and I’m now clinging by my fingertips to the water wagon if only to prove to Mrs Ray and my boys that I’m not a complete and utter lush.
Happily, I managed to sample this very tasty selection from Mr Wheeler before the shutters came down and it’s only by recalling how much I enjoyed the wines that I’m able to keep going through the alcoholic wasteland that is January.
The 2017 Carlomagno Fiano (1) from the Salento peninsula in Puglia — you know, the so-called boot of Italy — is utterly charming. Named after the Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne, and produced by the celebrated winemaker and consultant Stefano Chioccioli, it’s light and fresh and full of sun-baked melon, banana and citrus fruit. In other words, perfect vinous fare for a British winter. £8.25 down from £8.75.
The 2016 Les Vignes des Deux Soleils, Les Mattes Blanc (2) is 100 per cent Chardonnay grown in the Languedoc, some ten or so miles from Montpelier. It’s bakingly hot here in summer and the large stones that litter the vineyards retain, then reflect the heat of the sun onto the ripening grapes at night, prompting locals to talk of the ‘vines of the two suns’. Grown on herb-scented garrigue soil and slowly fermented in oak barrels, the wine has bags of spicy, weighty character, blessed with an underlying freshness. It’s hugely enjoyable. £10.75 down from £13.75.
If you favour Chardonnay that’s slightly more restrained and more classic in character, then you will love the 2017 Domaine Séguinot-Bordet Bourgogne Chardonnay (3). Based in Maligny, the Séguinot family has been making fine Chablis since 1590 and if the grapes used to make this wine hadn’t been grown just outside that hallowed appellation, we’d be looking at a much heavier price tag. It’s Chablis in all but name though: steel-fermented, crisp, clean and pure with a firm mineral core. £13.75 down from £15.
As for the reds, the 2017 Castillo del Moro Tinto (4) from La Mancha in Spain — Don Quixote country — is disarmingly simple and undemanding. A blend of Tempranillo and Syrah, it’s hardly what you might call complex, but it does boast buckets of soft, ripe, spicy fruit and is as easy-going as they come and at a very modest price. £7.50 down from £8.25.
For a couple of quid more you can enjoy the 2016 ‘Arbouse’ Massif d’Uchaux, Côtes du RhôneVillages (5). A blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan, it’s moody, earthy and spicy with an abundance of rich dark fruit and a decent kick of alcohol. Produced by the exemplary Cave Coteaux du Rhône Sérignan-du-Comtat co-operative near Orange, it’s right up my street, warming and comforting. £9.25 down from £9.75.
Finally, the 2015 Petite Laurence (6), a 100 per cent Merlot from Bordeaux, produced in collaboration by Hubert de Bouard de Laforest (co-owner of Ch. Angélus in Saint-Emilion) and winemaker Philippe Nunes at the Bordeaux Supérieur property: Ch. Laurence. 2015 was a first rate vintage and there is plenty of soft, succulent, expressive fruit here and, at little more than a tenner, it’s a bargain. £10.75 down from £12.
The mixed case has two bottles of each wine and delivery, as ever, is free.