Our wine critic scours the shelves for the best bottles for experts
I copped a fair amount of flak from readers last month for not recommending more expensive wines (this may well be a first for below-the-line commentators). My thinking was that you don’t need to spend as much at this time of year as the supermarkets encourage you to, but some of you clearly want to, and if you’re visiting someone for Christmas, there is an argument for letting them know that you’ve splashed the cash. Still, no need to go overboard.
Champagne never goes amiss as a gift, and there are always a crazy number of offers at this time of year. You might want to avoid the under-£10 bargains, in case your cheapskatery is spotted, so instead drop by the Co-op, whose excellent Les Pionniers (£16.99; 12.5% abv) recently came out top in a Which? blind tasting. The glamorous-looking J de Telmont Grand Réserve (£13.32 as part of a multi-buy at Majestic; 12% abv) is another cracking buy: six bottles should definitely ensure a repeat invitation next Christmas.
Magnums such as the elegant-looking Marques de Riscal Rioja Reserva 2010 (£22.49 as part of an order of six bottles or three magnums at Majestic, £25 at Great Western Wine; 14% abv) also usually go down well, while Italian wines often look dead posh: Dei’s dark, sexy Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2012 (£17.95 at Lea & Sandeman; 13.5% abv) sounds it, too – perfect with cheese or a post-Christmas steak.
People expect to drink port at Christmas, but I think it would be a bit of a cop-out as a gift: it’s the wine world’s equivalent of socks and hankies. I reckon a wine buff would probably appreciate a good bottle of sherry more, and Harveys’ award-winning Palo Cortado 30-year-old VQRS (£22.59 for 50cl at Waitrose; 19.5% abv) – yes, 30 years old – is a real treat. For light relief, I’d also take along a few bottles of Pedrino Alcoholic tonic (£1.90 for a 200ml bottle in selected branches of Waitrose; 5.5% abv), which is a refreshingly moreish blend of Pedro Ximenez, quinine, citrussy botanicals and spring water. You can use it to make a G&T, but I think it’s nicer on its own.
Actually, since we’re talking gin – and who doesn’t these days? – Lidl has a very expensive-looking, super-junipery premium gin, Hortus Artisan London Dry Gin (40% abv) for just £15.99, as well as a handsome range of sherry cask-aged whiskies under the Glenalba label: I like the youngest, most expressive 22-year-old bottling (40% abv) best; at £29.99, it’s also the cheapest, but I now know you’re not interested in that.
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