Most of a working career in the drinks industry has helped me learn a little about good wines, beer and spirits, largely because of the endless patience of others who really know about these things, and because I have been singly blessed with opportunities to see things and taste drinks that only a tiny few do. I’m unusual because my career had encompassed brewing, spirits, cider and wine in high quality companies, whereas the vast majority of people within these sectors rarely see more than a couple.
So, I was asked to write an article about what I would recommend drinking over Christmas. A dangerous request because I am unrepentantly biased, and seldom drink products from outside the circles in which I have worked. I also have access to drinks that few will ever be fortunate to see, let alone taste, albeit there are some still inaccessible to me. This isn’t a boast, it’s just the way things are, particularly at the very top of the wine industry with some wines being made in the terms of a few cases per year.
But, anyway, I have chosen twelve drinks (oops- a few more, let’s say a brewer’s dozen). An entirely subjective choice, things encompassing all budgets and being fairly accessible, some more so than others. No snobbery or exclusiveness is involved. Most can be sourced from a brewery close to my heart, but not all. Neither have I recommended minority taste drinks nor things I do not drink, such as whisky, about which I claim no knowledge. I defer to more learned councils on here about such things. But all I will be drinking over the festive period, and as we all do, will be ensuring that I open the wallet just a little more than for other occasions in the year.
Right, let’s get the partiality out of the way. The fact that certain chief executives of rivals of ours quietly admit they drink our beers out of choice gives some justification. Firstly, Old Hooky, voted in 2010 as the best beer in the world by a panel of the top critics: it’s all about balance between rich mouth-feel, malty fruitiness and dry hoppiness. Yay! Strong English ale is not done better, and when the wine’s put away and it’s where I head more often than not. Good with any rich casserole or even cheese.
I’m also partial to a slightly drier biscuity amber ale style, of which I drink Playing Hooky. A new beer influenced by the US craft beer movement, but retaining that balance which is so English, refreshing but never satiating. For me, it’s up there with Old Hooky and I will drink it anytime.
For those who like a cleaner and drier Pale Ale style, I’d select Haymaker from a certain brewery. Too many Pale Ales are lacking bite or strength in my view, or are over-hopped. Haymaker avoids these pitfalls at 5%. It’s often overlooked, but not by me. Yum.
Is lager a dirty word among the best English breweries? Not with me. If having a lager, it’s always Pilsener Urquell I’m afraid – the original and still the best. Huge flavours unlike most lagers, a proper dry refreshing cold beer, I would only ever serve this to guests not enlightened enough to drink proper ale! Widely available.
Just the one for me. I’m a Westcountryman, but these days the best cider comes from Herefordshire, from Dunkertons. There are many other good cider producers such as Aspalls, Thatchers and Westons, but the organic medium dry fruity Black Fox from Dunkertons (available from Waitrose) is consistently the one I drink from choice. Proper classy cider.
The gin boom is a stunning thing, and most welcome. Twenty years ago, less, I remember being told by a Marketing Director that it was a dying category (she said the same about dark rum, sherry and port – so those will be wildly trendy shortly). But many of the new gins are too unbalanced and even over flavoured, their makers forgetting they are invariably drunk with mixers. Now, I’m well out of date with the latest craft gins on the market, but you won’t go far wrong with Cotswold Gin, made near us, the Lady Protector, a gin aficionado, swears by it with a bottle of Fevertree. We can supply this balanced beauty.
Christmas dinner, if you’re having turkey or geese, it’s got to be pinot noir, its light tannic fruity poise being perfect, neither-overawing nor fading away before the food. It’s Christmas, so push the boat out and get the real deal, red Burgundy. The best wines, both red and white, undoubtedly come from Burgundy, and are bewildering in their variety and complexity, and prices. I’ve spent ridiculous amounts of cash and time gaining even a small understanding of it, and am thoroughly hooked on its mysteries.
If you feel inclined to believe me, and it’s a sipping wine made to be drunk with a meal, and are feeling flush, try a Beaune Theurons 1er cru Domaine Gagey, 2011/12 Louis Jadot. Jadot is by far the best large Burgundy producer and their Beane Theurons can be stunning – I tried a 1915 Beaune Theurons a few years ago at Jadot and let’s just say it even overawed a 1955 Le Musigny. I’m not claiming that this vintage will get as good in 80 years’ time, but this is serious stuff and good value for £36 (available from us). If you’re being a bit more careful try a Tanner’s Red Burgundy – a good reliable example for £15 a pop. Well, you’re worth it! Both available from us.
Before dinner you want a good refreshing white. Try one of these, or for drinking at any time!
Welcombe Hills Bacchus-Sauvignon Blanc (£10). This English white quite blew me away when I first tried it – it’s stunning. From near Stratford-upon-Avon, combining the English grape par excellence – Bacchus – with the vibrant Sauvignon Blanc in a winning combination. Forget New Zealand, and much better value for this intensity and quality.
Up-and-coming into fashion is Picpoul de Pinet from southern France, traditionally drunk with fish and seafood, whose qualities its crisp fresh fruitiness complements it perfectly, but it drinks well on its own and this Petit Ronde at £9 per bottle is a good and well-priced example. Lovely and we supply.
Clare Valley Riesling (£6.99 from Aldi). I suspect made by Leasingham for Aldi, I’m a big fan of good Riesling and Leasingham Estates in the Clare Valley in South Australia produces some very good ones. I’m biased because on a heavy fortnight’s wine tasting and Lions watching tour of the Antipodes a dozen years ago, I stumbled out of a coach at 9 am to drink their range and found them delicious, albeit we were first refreshed by a sparkling shiraz which wiped away our hangovers. (Sparkling Shiraz is amazing but seldom seen in the UK).
This particular wine is pretty decent and very good value. If you want to step up in quality, try Bay of Fires Riesling from Tasmania at £13 from us, which possesses greater intensity.
Now a champagne. There’s loads of cheap champagne about, but you get what you pay for in champagne even more than other wines. But there is great quality around at sensible prices if you know what you’re looking for and aren’t fixated on ‘brands’. This is what I buy and we now stock it:
Bouche Pere et Fils Brut Vintage Reserve 2004 at £24.50 per bottle. This is stunning and the most recent vintage this great small producer has released and the price is frankly ridiculous. The great bottle age works for all decent champagnes and this is no exception. We supply.
Well, I’ve hit twelve, but what the Hell. These can’t be over-looked and I love them all:
125 Negroamaro de Salento. You want great red wine at sensible prices? Italy every time. It’s underpriced relative to others because it produces a huge range of obscure grapes and wines, but this Southern Italian beauty is stunning at £9.50. We supply.
Another Italian winner for me, a steal at £6.50, is Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Parini. My everyday drinking go-to red.
And the best red from England I have found by far is Gifford’s Hall St Edmundsbury Red at £11. It’s stunningly good and comparable to a fine Rhone, mixing rich mouthfeel with a spicey gamey fruitiness. We stock and I buy lots!
And finally, a dessert wine, a Sauternes, the most undervalued wine category of all. Drink with pudding and cheese, but also as an aperitif. You’ve got to have that bitter orange peel taste from the Botrytis infection in the grapes which only Sauternes delivers regularly, to prevent it just being sweet. After Burgundy, it’s Sauternes for me. You can buy plenty. but the Tanner’s Sauternes is a good value introduction (£13) from us.
Ooops! Let’s finish with a beer – the Best Speciality Beer in the World this year – Red Rye. It’s got everything and its muscular flavours go brilliantly with cheese and other strongly flavoured foods. You know where to find it…
Cheers everyone. Happy imbibing!
© 1642again 2017