RICHARD ESLING: It’s time to choose your festive wines

A selection of dessert wines
A selection of dessert wines

Is it just me, or does the festive season get busier and busier every year?

Perhaps it’s just that in our hectic lives we try to pack too much in, between work, friends and personal stuff, plus the fact that we are presented with more and more choices of everything, both off-line and on- line. So now that the presents are bought, the tree is up and you’ve managed to get the lights working, it’s time to concentrate on the food front, and more importantly what to choose wine-wyse.

In this country, we are privileged to have one of the widest selections of wines available anywhere in the world. Pairing wines with your Christmas dinner naturally depends on how traditional you are. If we are talking turkey or roast beef, I personally am very traditional and always choose a decent claret from Bordeaux, such as a Saint Emilion Grand Cru or a Medoc Cru Bourgeois, with at least 5 years’ age. Better still a Grand Cru Classé, although that starts to get a little pricey. If you prefer a white, I would choose a Burgundy, such as a Chablis Premier Cru or a Montagny, with enough body to stand up to the food flavours.

This time of year, we can treat ourselves to some extra indulgences to help our celebrations along. Dessert or pudding wines are amongst those delicious extras and really complement some of the wonderful sweet-meats and desserts we serve at Christmastime, being a perfect end to the feast. Most, but certainly not all, come from Europe, and are produced in several countries by different methods. One of the most traditional sweet white wines is Sauternes from the Bordeaux region. The grapes producing this wine are affected by a mould called botrytis, often called ‘noble rot’, which concentrates the sugars, resulting in a rich, luscious sweet wine. M and S has some good examples at the moment, such as Cypres de Climens 2007, one of the best recent vintages in this area from one of the best chateaux.

A wine which has similar characteristics to Sauternes, but is normally a little less expensive, is Monbazillac from the Dordogne in South-west France. If you’re quick Lidl have got a great one at a ridiculously low £6.99 a bottle. This supermarket in fact often has some surprisingly good wines and currently has some other very interesting ‘sweeties’. One of these comes from the Pfalz region of Germany and is a Trockenbeerenauslese - a bit of a mouthful in more than one sense. This is also produced with noble rot and is one of the rarest wines of Germany. If you’ve never tried it, now is the time - £7.99 per half bottle. Highly recommended with lighter, creamy, desserts or fabulous just on its own.

Other extraordinary sweet wine bargains from Lidl are two from Hungary. They are both Tokai wines which I recommend trying. The Grof Degenfeld 2013 is a mere £6.99 per 50cl bottle, but there is also a very high quality 5 Puttonyos wine at £18.99. A steal for this quality, with great intensity and purity of flavour. With flavours of quince, marmalade and dried apricots, a perfect accompaniment to Heston’s hidden orange Christmas pudding from Waitrose.

And finally, try to find a Canadian ice wine. Again, Lidl was selling some recently and you may still be lucky. Intensely sweet, it is made from grapes which have literally been frozen on the vines, concentrating the sugars and eliminating water. These wines are made in tiny quantities and are very special. Terrific with creme brûlée, tarte au citron or even lemon meringue pie.

Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. An erstwhile wine importer, he runs a wine agency and consultancy company called WineWyse, is founder and principal of the Sussex Wine Academy, chairman of Arundel Wine Society and is an International Wine Judge. Twitter @richardwje. Visit

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