Jonathan Ray

Wine Club 15 December

Wine Club 15 December
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It’s the music that gets me, the bloody piped music. Christmas carols on an endless loop. It’s a wretched constant, whether one’s in the supermarket, the station, the airport or even — and, good grief, is nowhere safe? — the doctor’s surgery, as I’ve just discovered.

‘How can you stand this?’ I asked the girl in the Santa hat at the supermarket checkout. ‘How can I stand what?’ she replied, glassy-eyed. ‘The music, the bloody music!’ I exclaimed. ‘Oh, that,’ she said with a sigh. ‘I don’t hear it any more. It’s been on for six weeks now and I’ve become immune.’ We looked at each other sadly.

I know, I know. I’m a miserable git at Christmas but I can’t help it. Everything winds me up. I’ve just been given my traditional festive talking-to by my ever-loving. The general gist is that if I don’t pull my socks up and join in then she’s off home to her mother. The joke is that her mother is coming to stay here for Christmas.

First sign of a cork popping, though, and she’ll be back. At least we agree on that — the vital importance of getting the vino right. I propose that we get stuck into this tip-top offer from our old chums at FromVineyardsDirect and urge you to do likewise. Happy Christmas all!

The 2014 Crémant de Bourgogne, Sainchargny Émérite (1) is one of my all-time favourite fizzes and if it isn’t yet one of yours, it darn well should be. It’s an absolute snorter and I’ve recommended it (under its previous name: Cave de Lugny Crémant de Bourgogne Brut Millésime), both in print and, well, yelling from the rooftops, countless times. It really is a model of its kind, produced using the champagne method by the highly-rated Cave de Lugny co-operative near Mâcon in southern Burgundy. Only the finest hand-picked Pinot Noir and Chardonnay is used, some of which is aged in oak before blending. The cuvée, having been assembled, then spends a further 18 months in oak on the lees and the result is as appealing a sparkler as you’ll find anywhere. It’s full of delicious ripe, honeyed fruit, toast and brioche and blessed with a delectably fine mousse. As I’ve said many times to anyone who will listen, I’ve had dozens of champagnes twice the price that don’t taste half as good. £14.95 down from £15.95.

I had a bottle of the 2016 Domaine du Bicheron Mâcon-Péronne, Cuvée Vieilles Vignes (2) only last night with a plate of Mrs Ray’s pitch-perfect chicken risotto and — goodness me! — it hit the spot. FVD’s Esme Johnstone tells me that it’s their best-selling burgundy by miles and I’m not in the least surprised. Produced from old vine Chardonnay by Denis and Geneviève Rousset, whose family have been making wine in the village of Péronne, also near Mâcon, for almost 130 years, it sees not one splinter of oak and is as crisp, clean and pure as they come. It’s rounded and textured with an underlying citrus freshness and a fine mineral core. It’s a class act for sure and — I don’t care what you say, such things matter, especially when it comes to showing off to the neighbours at Christmas — the bottle looks dead pukka too. £12.45 down from £12.95.

If Sauvignon Blanc rather than Chardonnay is your thing, I’d respectfully suggest that you look no further than the 2017 Domaine de l’Ermitage, Menetou-Salon (3). Menetou-Salon, just north of Bourges in the Loire Valley, is where canny folk who quail at the prices now asked for top quality Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé now head for their vino, and quite right too. I reckon this is as good as anything you would find elsewhere in the Loire. The de la Farge family have been making wine here at the Domaine de l’Ermitage estate for 500 years, so one imagines they know what they’re up to.

Only the finest hand-harvested Sauvignon Blanc is used and the result is an impressively sophisticated glass of wine. It’s clean and fresh, with the expected notes of nettles and grass, but there’s ripe stone fruit too and even something bordering on the tropical. The 2015 vintage won gold at the Decanter World Wine Awards and I reckon this is every bit as good. £ 14.95 down from £15.95.

Rioja is always a sound bet at Christmas, especially if you’re lucky enough to be sitting down to roast saddle of lamb rather than that dried up old cardboard we know as turkey. The 2005 Alto del Obre, Rioja Reserva (4) from the Bodegas Tarón co-operative, set high in the foothills of the Sierra Obarenes, fits the bill perfectly. Brand new to FVD’s list, it’s a lusciously flavoursome blend of 90 per cent Tempranillo and 10 per cent Mazuelo (the oldest vines of which were planted more than a century ago) aged in American oak barrels for 14 months and then in bottle for a further two years. It’s full of rich, ripe and concentrated bramble/hedgerow fruit with plenty of aromatic spice in the background and a long, soft, satisfying finish. £12.95 down from £13.95.

We offered the 2015 Petite Sirène (5) in June and it was so well received that I’m delighted to waft it under your beaks again. From a corking vintage, it’s effectively the 3rd wine of Ch. Giscours (the much-loved Third Growth from Margaux) made by the same winemaking team. A blend of 70 per cent Merlot and 30 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s richly flavoured and succulent with red and dark berry fruit, whispers of vanilla and spice and a long, mouth-filling finish. It’s an extremely approachable entry level claret with impeccable pedigree and reassuringly accessible price. In short, it’s perfect Christmas fare. £11.45 down from £11.95.

Finally, for those who enjoy their clarets more mature, I suggest the 2010 Ch. de l’Abbaye de Saint-Ferme (6), an extremely well-regarded  Bordeaux Supérieur made from old vine Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot planted at the striking 11th century Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Ferme, some 40km east of Bordeaux itself. It’s absolutely bang on song and so it should be, coming from a 10/10 vintage and having had eight years to relax and open out.

It’s soft, mellow and silkily seductive with plums, blackcurrants, spice and even earthy truffles on both nose and palate and although I’m not sure it’s quite got the legs to last till next Christmas, it’s in absolutely peak condition for this one. £11.45 down from £11.95.

The mixed case has two bottles of each wine and delivery, as ever, is free.

Written byJonathan Ray

Jonathan Ray is the Spectator's wine editor.

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