I can’t lie to you, I hate this time of year. I further admit to being a fully paid-up member of the Bah Humbug Brotherhood and a long-time sufferer of Christmas Affected Doom, Depression and Despondency (known to anyone who will listen, such as sympathetic barmen and random strangers in the Dog and Vomit as CADDAD), a ghastly condition that flares up around mid-October and lasts until January. And it only gets worse as one gets older.
Sadly, there’s no known cure, although symptoms can be alleviated a little by taking November and December off in the Caribbean or the Maldives, alone, with Netflix, a box of books, some decent grub and a well-stocked minibar. The main problem, as I’ve said before, is that the start of the festive season sees the end of digestive reason, as we gorge on dishes so tasteless that we decline to eat them the rest of the year. I speak, of course, of roast turkey with all its dire ‘trimmings’, mince, or rather, wince pies and Christmas pudding, which is so unspeakable that we set fire to it.
The Brussels sprouts alone are delicious, as anyone who has puréed them with butter, cream and a touch of nutmeg, or parboiled them, cut them in half and stir-fried them with almonds or pine nuts and tiny bits of diced bacon, will tell you. Oh and the red cabbage. I do love red cabbage!
However, just because the festive grub is grim, it doesn’t mean that the wine should be so, too. Indeed, it’s only the thought of some fine bottles stashed away that gets me through the whole damn caboodle. Well--chosen vino is absolutely crucial, and, thanks to the good offices of Corney & Barrow and a lengthy tasting on my part (entirely on your behalf), that is what we are offering here. And if one takes advantage of the fabled Brett-Smith Indulgence, whereby the MD of C&B, Adam Brett-Smith, generously lops an extra six quid off a case for anyone buying two dozen bottles or more, there is a double discount on offer. This makes the wines very accessible indeed.
The Corney & Barrow Blanc de Blancs Extra Dry Méthode Traditionnelle NV (1) is an absolute peach of a fine fizz and one which flew off the shelves when we offered it this time last year. It’s made especially for Corney’s by Varichon et Clerc on the edge of the Alps in Savoie. A blend of Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Savoie’s signature variety, Jacquère, it’s made in the champagne method (with its secondary fermentation in the bottle) and aged for over a year on its lees. The result is a bone-dry, deliciously fresh, creamy, toasty sparkler with commendably fine bubbles and, though full-flavoured, it has a wonderful lightness of touch to it. It really is a cracking fizz and is perfect for those festive gatherings or moments of solitary introspection when something from Champagne would be just a little ostentatious or de trop. And it’s a great price, too: just £11.61 with the Brett-Smith Indulgence, £12.11 without, down from a Corney’s list price of £12.75.
The 2015 Ch. La Fleur des Graves Blanc (2) is that rarity, a really toothsome and moreish dry white Bordeaux. I always feel that the dry whites of the region are longing to be sweet if only they could be. This little beauty is just spot-on. An impeccably judged blend of Sauvignon Blanc (giving zesty freshness), Sémillon (honeyed richness) and a mere splash of Muscadelle (aromatic fragrance), it’s fermented in stainless steel before spending 12 months in French oak. It’s deliciously rounded and complex, dry and — as James Franklin, C&B’s head of merchant sales, points out — wonderfully food-friendly. £10.85 with the B-SI, £11.35 without, down from £11.95.
The 2016 Corney & Barrow White Burgundy Mâcon-Chaintré (3) is made especially for Corney’s by Domaine Dominique Cornin, a tiny organic, biodynamic, family-owned estate in the village of Chaintré in the heart of the Mâconnais. It’s one of C&B’s biggest sellers and although I’ve begged James Franklin to let us offer it here on many occasions, we’ve only managed to do so once, and promptly sold the lot. It’s utterly delicious, being soft, supple and creamy with lightly honeyed — but also crisp and fresh — fruit and a long, dry, slightly nutty finish. White burgundy as good as this, at a price as modest as this, is as rare as Christmas without The Great Escape on telly. £13.70 with the B-SI, £14.20 without, down from £14.95.
The 2016 Corney & Barrow Rouge (4) is as decent a house red as you’re likely to find, and perfect for rambling family lunches made up entirely of leftovers. It’s made for Corney’s by Celliers Jean d’Alibert in the Languedoc and is a fresh, succulent, spicy blend of super-ripe Carignan, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s not madly complex, true, but it’s absurdly approachable and drinkable and I’d say nigh-on impossible not to like. I’ll certainly be stashing a case away for unexpected guests and impromptu quaffing. £6.63 with the B-SI, £7.13 without, down from £7.50.
The 2015 Cecilia Beretta ‘Soraie’ (5) is a tongue-tinglingly tasty curiosity from Valpolicella in the Veneto in northern Italy. It’s made by the appassimento process, traditional to the region, whereby some of the hand-picked grapes (a mix of Merlot, Corvina, Cabernet Sauvignon and, erm, Croatina — nope, nor me) are dried in the sun for a month, thus concentrating their sugars and flavours. After blending and fermentation, the wine spends six months in oak/cherry wood puncheons and it fair bursts with seasonal spice, warming ripe cherries, plums and damsons and a whisper of chocolate and vanilla. It’s soft and mellow, and crikey it’s good! £9.90 with the B-SI, £10.40 without, down from £10.95.
Finally, from the Rheingau, the 2013 Schloss Schönborn Spätburgunder (6), a juicy, easygoing red from one of the oldest wineries in Germany, owned by the Counts of Schönborn since 1349.
Almost all the production here is Riesling, of course, but a tiny part of the estate is planted to Spätburgunder (aka Pinot Noir) and the few bottles made are snapped up by Corney & Barrow. I found it a touch austere on first tasting it but when I came back to it, luscious sour and ripe cherry notes flooded out of the glass and I gulped it down with utter delight. A perfect crowd-pleasing standby. £12.33 with the B-SI, £12.83 without, down from £13.50.
The mixed case has two bottles of each wine and delivery, as ever, is free.