Sunday, 20 December 2015

Festive Recommendations

A lot has happened since I posted  blog on here - the year has somewhat run away with me! Over the Summer we decided to move on from The Wingerworth and I'm now pursuing the dream of working in the wine industry with a brilliant Derbyshire-based Wine Merchant called Springwell Wines. I'm sure that an honest and eye-opening review of our time at The Wingerworth will follow in months to come, but for now I'm concentrating on moving forward in my latest adventure. 

I recently submitted the following recommendations for the Vivino Festive Buying Guide and two of the write-ups were published in the guide, only severely edited down. After a long time out from blogging I thought that publishing the full piece on here would be a good way to get back into the swing.

The wines that I have chosen are some of my favourite wines from 2015 - wines that I love and am excited to share with my family on Christmas Day. 

Nyetimber Classic Cuvee, Sussex, UK
Pinot Noir (51%), Chardonnay (36%), Pinot Meunier (13%)

I've approached these recommendations by thinking of what I will be serving to my loved ones on Christmas Day. There were a number of strong contenders here - Gusbourne Estate have won several IWSC Gold Medals this year and was named the IWSC English Wine Producer of the Year. We sell several of their wines at Springwell and I'm particularly fond of the Brut Reserve. The Wiston Estate Rose blew me away earlier in the year too, but in my opinion Nyetimber Classic Cuvee 2010 is the best fizz in the UK right now (read that how you will...). At the astonishing £21.59 I have been paying at Waitrose lately, £-for-£ it is the best value wine you will find full stop. 

You'll note that I have only mentioned English Sparkling Wines - well, that's because I now have a bit of a passion for English Wine and I do genuinely think it is the best! I have to thank good old Simon for introducing me to the stuff at The Wingerworth and I'm so glad he did. Earlier this year a tasting panel including Jancis Robinson, Neal Martin, Kate Spicer and Jamie Goode pitted this and the best of the rest of British wine against Champagne, with English wines taking the top two slots. Chalky soil in Kent and Sussex is similar to that in Champagne so we get a very comparable style to good quality fizz from the other side of the Channel. Just to throw a little controversy into the fire, global warming has done the English Wine industry a bit of a favour over the last few decades and there's no doubt that English fizz is leading the charge in the global market these days. Aside from that, I'm sure we are all careful to "buy local" when it comes to putting together our festive feast, so why not buy your festive wine locally too? 

Enough justification, to the wine itself - alongside that deliciously elegant combination of and freshly baked brioche, waxy lemon, honey and toasted festive nuts, we get a great reminder of the wine's heritage with some crisp apples and pears cutting through the richness. A fine and delicate mousse and in true festive spirit, length that just keeps giving. An absolutely stunning start to our Christmas celebrations.

Waitrose - £31.99  (though I actually bought my current stock at £21.59 with various promotions!)

Au Bon Climat "Hildegard", Santa Maria Valley, California, USA
Pinot Gris (50%), Pinot Blanc (40%), Aligote (10%)

First on my Christmas Day sit-down menu is Chestnut Veloute with Confit Duck Leg - it sounds OTT, but it's basically my favourite soup... The one I wait all year for (I've given the fancy name so you can Google the recipe)! 

Everything in my being tells me to go White Burgundy here, but I'm not "that" guy. Don't get me wrong, I love a good Meursault or Montrachet, but my heart lies in California. This spot was very nearly taken by another stunning English Wine - Litmus Element 20, but I didn't want to seem as though I was being single-minded and I think that the Hildegard will work with the dish better. Whilst I credited the discovery of English Wine to Simon Franklin, the shout-out on this wine goes to my General Manager at The Wingerworth, James Robinson. Au Bon Climat is my favourite Burgundian-style Cali producer and I'd completely bypassed this beauty until James brought into onto our Wine List as part of a special feature on "Our Favourite Wines". You might be thinking that it's an odd pairing, but these three traditionally lighter grapes have been blended and oak aged (two years) to such perfection by the "Mind Behind" Jim Clendenen, that they have just been lifted to another level. Weighty, oily Pinot Gris stands up to the dish, while the minerality of Pinot Blanc and citrus of Aligote cut through the richness superbly. Flavours of crisp apple and mixed nuts blend with the chestnut in the soup perfectly. It's a match made in heaven!

I have been buying this at Majestic, but since the Naked Wines merger their selection seems to have nosedived and I sadly can't pop into my local shop to buy it anymore. Never fear, it's still available online!

Field & Fawcett - £28.50

Seghesio "Home Ranch", Alexander Valley, California, USA
Zinfandel (85%), Petite Syrah (15%)

This year we're having goose so I wanted to go with something a bit weightier and more interesting to stand up to the fattier-and-richer-than-turkey meat. In all honesty, I used to routinely pair Pinot Noir with turkey, but started to find that it gets overpowered by all of the delicious accompaniments on the plate so now I go slightly bolder. I'd recommend Southern Rhone if you're going down the turkey route - perhaps a nice CDP, though you'll get better value from Vacqueyras or Gigondas. 

For my goose I was originally thinking of going with one of the heavyweights from Ridge - Lytton Springs or Geyserville, which incidentally are still available from Majestic via Special Distribution. But then I remembered this big boy and there was no going back! The "Home Ranch"  from Seghesio is just a powerhouse of a Zinfandel that bears stunning ripe, sweet fruit that will go with a festive goose like nothing else. There is beautifully considered oak ageing and earthy undertones reminiscent of a good Rioja. It's Christmas and it's definitely time to pull the big guns out.

Slurp - £49.95

A. R. Valdespino "El Candado" Pedro Ximenez, Jerez, Spain
The all-important question of what to drink with your Christmas Pudding. For me it has to be this incredible PX Sherry, steeped in history and general deliciousness. Alfonso Valdespino one of 24 knights who fought to protect the city of Jerez under King Alfonso X and was rewarded with this vineyard by the King in 1264 - plenty of time to perfect the wine! Each bottle of the "El Candado" is locked with a small padlock in memory of one of the Head Winemakers, who used to lock the barrels because the wine was so good. A lovely bit of theatre at the table in allowing one of the guests the honour of unlocking the bottle. 

The grapes are raisined in the sun, fortified to 17% and then aged in Solera for an average of 10 years. The result is an intense, fruity, nutty, caramel-y glass of utter bliss - figs, raisins, dates, treacle, caramel, roasted nuts, cigar box and a touch of dark roast coffee - just everything you would want in, on or alongside your Christmas pud (try all three variations!).

Rannoch Scott - £8.59

Graham's 30 Year Old Tawny, Douro, Portugal
Cheese and port is the only way to finish off the festivities. I'm a big fan of Tawny and think that the nuttiness works ever so well with good cheese. But why Graham's over any other? Well, firstly and most importantly it's personal taste, but if it helps Graham's is the only British port house still independently owned by a single family and one of the only houses to still have its own cooperage team. I recently picked up the 30 year old Tawny for a (relative) steal online on the back of a monster 19-point score from Jancis Robinson and it certainly doesn't disappoint! 

The orange rind character typically associated with younger aged Tawny has mellowed out somewhat. Deliciously savory walnut gives balance to sweet fig, honey, butterscotch and enough dried festive fruit to keep Christmas going for a good while to come. Decadent, indulgent and the ideal way to finish your Christmas Day.

Wine Direct - £49.95

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