How to find the right wine for Christmas

Bubble sister: Róisín Burke tests out some Prosecco — a good opener for parties. Pic: Denis Minihane

A GOOD wine should top everyone’s Christmas shopping list. whether it’s for a quiet post-dinner treat, or for entertaining the masses.

To the novice wine drinker, the vast choice can be perplexing.

Getting started

“My advice is to immerse yourself in the world of wine,” says Billy Forrester of Bubble Brothers in Cork. “Take an interest, notice the aroma, and get a large wine glass so you can stick your nose in and take a sniff. Giving the glass a swirl will bring the flavours to the surface as well.”

Red or White

People are generally red or white drinkers, although they might mix it up over time. “We often get people swapping after a few years, because they just get bored.”

Red is generally a deep, heavy flavour. It contains tannin, which is in tea. It allows the wine to age gracefully.

Tannin wines need time to get supple and soft. If it is drunk too early, it can be chewy and can coat the inside of your mouth, according to Billy, but white is a lighter, fresher taste so it can be drunk a lot sooner.”

The wines of the traditional growing regions are still very much in vogue. “The Old World wines, such as France, Italy and Spain, are very popular with people,” according to Billy.

They offer more complexity and a very interesting flavour. In recent years, the market has been bombarded with New World wines, such as New Zealand, Australia, America, Argentina, Chile, which are perfectly acceptable, but the European wines are more interesting. It’s to do with the soil, and the rock. It adds elements of complexity to the fruit.”

So, does spending a little bit more on a bottle really make a difference? “More expensive wine will always be better wine. Just a few euro will make a huge difference to the quality. Two to four euro can be the difference between a bog-standard, ordinary wine and an exciting and colourful one. There is more fruit, more passion, texture, aroma, flavour and balance.”

Hosting

Christmas is for reconnecting with family and friends, at gatherings, big and small.

Billy has advice on picking palate cleansers to accompany home-cooked cuisine.

If you have a favourite wine, it is not worth buying it in large quantities to cater for a party of people that may or may not appreciate it. If you go to a specialist, they will be able to help you find a wine similar in taste to your favourite, at a more affordable price for large quantities.

For intimate get-togethers, how about mixing it up before, during and after the meal. “Champagne or Prosecco are always good to begin with. They can be had with or without food, and they get people talking.”

For the main course, have distinctive reds and whites available. “The white should be fresh and citrusy. Not too sharp, though. People might not like that. A smart white is Mas de Bazan Contrapunto Albarino 2011, reasonably priced at €14.99.”

For red, source from the south of France. “People like that area, it is well-travelled.

You can get great value for money. There are some great rustic wines, world-class, that provide excitement,” he says.

Billy recommends Chateau Jouclary ‘Cuvée Tradition’ 2010, €13.99. “It is a good package.”

A dessert wine is a nice extravagance in the festive season. “Christmas tends to be the time people buy dessert wines. They want to indulge and they have time to experiment. It is for sitting around after the meal, having a chat. A good, sweet wine is Chateau Broustet Sauternes 2007, €33.99. It looks like golden honey and it is great with savoury treats. For red, the Mes Amiel, priced at €20.99, is a delicious drink. It goes very well with chocolate. It is very sweet.”

Gifts

A good bottle of wine is often a default present at Christmas, but it can be hard to know how much to spend and what to purchase.

But try to gauge the drinking habits of the recipient as there is no point spending €50 to €100 on a bottle of wine for someone who doesn’t drink a lot. A very expensive bottle should probably be given at a different time.

“A good gift wine should cost you about €20. Famille Perrin produce a large range of utterly delicious wines. They are smooth, polished and well-made, with aging potential of about five to eight years. They are very affordable, starting at €12.99 for an everyday wine, up to €84 for an award-winning one.”

If you enjoy wine, there is nothing better than getting to taste a much-lauded bottle. If you’re unsure where to start, your local wine merchant is the ideal place for some seasonal advice.


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