From choosing the perfect wines to dealing with novelty wine gifts, and how best to dispose of bottles come recycling day, the traditional English Christmas poses a number of potential pitfalls for the wine lover. Charles Jennings and Paul Keers share their idiosyncratic view...
Buying and pairing
Don’t forget the Pol Roger to start proceedings. When you tell everyone it was Churchill’s favourite Champagne, that will give you an opportunity for plenty of quips regarding the day’s battles ahead
Buying wine for your Christmas dinner should be a treat, an ideal opportunity to indulge both your knowledge and your generosity. If only your family were as appreciative as your wine merchant…
Unfortunately your favourite high street cave is suddenly rammed with customers who last encountered a Merchant on the credits of a film with Mr Ivory. It’s impossible to enjoy the most important bottle shopping trip of your year because the sales assistants are monopolised by all of these first-time buyers.
Presuming you come away with a few choice bottles, or have cherrypicked a selection from the cellar, now you have to deal with the Christmas dinner – which, of course, is an impossible meal for matching. Forget about pairing with the turkey; your carefully chosen wine will be trying to hold its own against a cranberry sauce that attacks your palate like jam, and a bread sauce that smothers every other flavour with the blandness of wallpaper paste. It’s all right for Cliff Richard – he just pairs his wine with mistletoe.
So pragmatists simply match the wine to the occasion, and go traditional: a nice old Burgundy or Bordeaux. After all, when Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, he didn’t envisage a Christmas Yet To Come involving wine from countries populated by either separatists or convicts.
And not to forget, crucially, a bottle of Pol Roger to start proceedings. When you tell everyone it was Churchill’s favourite Champagne, that will give you an opportunity for plenty of quips regarding the day’s battles ahead. With perhaps a glass held back for a nightcap when it’s all over. As Winston said, in victory you deserve it – in defeat, you need it. PK
Read more below
It’s all going horribly wrong. You’re heading into the main course, but Auntie Janet is still drinking the Chablis you served with the starter, and doesn’t want to move on to red. And Grandma has asked whether that nice yellow wine over on the sideboard is the one she had with pudding last year and if so, could she have some now because it was so lovely and sweet? (Well yes, that’s one way of describing Suduiraut…)
Serving the red wine in decanters means that, sadly, the guests will not see the provenance of your grand cru classé. Don’t worry; the label would have been of little interest to them as it doesn’t feature conversational topics like animals or supposedly entertaining puns. And someone would only have upset you by remarking that ‘1989 is a bit old, isn’t it? Don’t you have something fresher?’
However, it does mean that all of the said Bordeaux in decanter number one can be kept within arm’s reach – your arm’s reach – and served only to those who would really appreciate it. Primarily yourself. The teenagers and hoi polloi are drinking Good Ordinary Claret from other decanters planted further down the table.
But the teenagers have already got through more than you had bargained for, and are looking thirstily around for more. Is that young man really going to the loo, or heading for your cellar? And your spouse is questioning the number of wines you’ve lined up. ‘Oh, is there a special wine that goes with the cheese, then?’ Of course there is. It ‘goes’ with the cheese in the same way that knives do. Or would people like to enjoy their cheese with their dessert spoon?
Oh goodness – Uncle Charles, do you know the Bishop of Norwich? I said, do you… never mind, could you just pass the Port? No, not that way… PK
In the closing hours of Christmas Day, the situation begins to reveal itself: drifts of discarded wrapping paper; the wreckage of the turkey; the Stilton that no one can bring themselves to eat; and, of course, countless empty and half-empty bottles.
Where did they all come from? How can there be so many? And how to get rid of them? This is not as straightforward as it ought to be, especially if, like PK, you’re socially hypernervous. What, he asks himself, will the neighbours think on recycling collection day – not so much of the quantity, but of the quality? What judgments will they leap to?
It’s a terrible pressure, and it obliges him to spend time outside in the bitter night, arranging the Lynch-Bages and the Beychevelles on top of the recycling heap, and hiding the rubbish below, artlessly, as though Nature had done the work for him.
I, on the other hand, have a much more elemental problem: there is just an awful lot of bottles, and none of them, frankly, bears scrutiny. To any passer-by it must look as if we’ve spent three days ram-raiding the nearest Tesco Superstore before frantically drinking the evidence in a frenzy of shame. Which, in many ways, we have.
Nothing to be done about it, of course. The bottles are there, heaped up, occasionally tinkling to the ground as the breeze knocks the uppermost ones off, like an ice face breaking away on Mont Blanc.
Possible solutions? Keep the majority of the dead bottles somewhere in the house and drip-feed them to the relevant authorities until they’re all gone, and if it takes until February, it takes until February. Or: nip round to PK’s and put the worst offenders prominently in his recycling box. Don’t think I wouldn’t. CJ
There are two kinds of gift: wine (which you might want) and wine-related artefacts (which you almost certainly won’t). The wine, at least, is fairly easy to manage. Faced with a well-intentioned but basically horrific bottle of Paraguayan Shiraz, you seize it with a well-practised leer and cry: ‘Splendid! I look forward to drinking this at my leisure!’ before burying it under a sofa cushion and walking away.
The artefacts, though – the gadgets and accessories that your nearest and dearest assume you can’t live without – these are harder to finesse into nonexistence, not least because the giver is often sitting right opposite you, just dying for you to give the gift a first try. We’ve seen a number of these over the years.
Some are almost but not quite useful: the wine aerator, the sonic decanter. Some are merely tiresome – silverplated bungs with mottos like ‘Life is a Cabernet’; especially galling is ‘I’m not old, I’m vintage!’ And some are simply terrible – for example, a plastic wine glass with a light in the foot that changes colour, or a Bill Clinton novelty corkscrew with the screw emerging from Bill’s crotch (yes, seriously). All of them are wrong; some, very wrong.
Actually, I lie: I deeply covet the wine glass with the light, but then so would you, if you saw it. As for the rest? Well, there may be no way out. Just man up, get a grip and tell yourself, as you cheerfully use it once and once only for the benefit of the giver, that it’s only a corkscrew. And it’s not really Bill’s crotch. CJ
This article was first published in Decanter magazine in December 2015.
More Christmas Content on Decanter.com
How to let your wines show their best...
Find out which wines the Decanter team have in store for each stage of Christmas day...
Too much tannin can be bad, but acidity is your friend...
Expert advice from this archive article, plus new wine reviews...