My Christmas wines

I love Christmas Eve: the hard work is over, the family is about to arrive, the fridge is well stocked, the Champagne is chilling and it’s time to start cooking.

This morning the smell of chocolate wafted through the house – we’re having chocolate pot (see below for the recipe) to go with the fantastic dessert wine Maury 1928 Solera, a dark fortified wine made from Grenache Noir, Grenache Gris and Carignan by Les Vignerons de Maury in the Roussillon.

Well before that we’ll be opening a bottle of Billecart-Salmon Ultra Brut. My boyfriend’s mother, Françoise, is a Champagne loving Parisian. She says that she’s never knowingly tried an Ultra Brut Champagne and I’m sure that she’ll like this one which is bone dry yet rich and toasty. I think that the Ultra Brut style, zero dosage (no added sugar), is the ultimate aperitif and I particularly liked Billecart-Salmon’s take on the style.

I’m cooking duck on Christmas Day and my two red wine choices for the Christmas dinner hail from Spain and Italy respectively and both are made by family producers. We’ll be opening Ochoa’s Mil Gracias Graciano (2007 vintage) which was made by Adriana Ochoa at Olite in Navarra (northern Spain). This wine is simply superb and it’s deep black inky fruit and freshness matches dark game perfectly.

Equally fine and perfect for this time of year is Allegrini’s ‘Corte Giara’ Amarone della Valpolicella 2008, a slightly richer red with enticing black cherry fruit and great length.

Between Christmas and New Year I’ll be cooking pheasant and I’ve got a rather different wine in mind to go with it: Roxanich’s Antica 2007, a Malvazija (Malvoisie in France and Malvasia in Spain). I tasted this Croatian wine at Green & Blue wine merchants in East Dulwich along with Trevor Long and Judith Burns, importers of Croatian wines ( I was seduced by the wine’s great depth and spicy flavours as well as its beautiful texture. Pheasant or Guinea fowl will surely have the flavour profile to go with it. Happy Christmas!

Chocolate Pot

150 gr dark chocolate

300 ml single cream

1 egg, beaten

A touch of vanilla essence

A drop of brandy


Melt small pieces of chocolate in the cream being careful not to overheat. Pour into a blender, start to blend and add the remaining ingredients. Pour into six pots, cool and chill. Decorate with seasonal fruit.

Magnums make a great gift

A few years ago I started to give magnums (the equivalent of two standard bottles of wine/1.5litre) to my family and friends at Christmas and other times of the year. I’ll be doing the same this year for the following reasons:

1. The magnum bottle is often described as the ideal size for wine maturation favouring quality.

2. Producers generally select some of their best vintages or stocks for magnums so you can expect the quality of the wine to be good.

3. A magnum makes an impression and raises a smile.

Most good wine merchants stock more magnums at this time of year as well as half bottles (37.5cl) which make great stocking fillers and additions to hampers. Here’s my guide to where to find a good selection:

Berry Bros & Rudd is offering around 200 magnums coving Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux, German Riesling, Italian Barolo, Rioja, Port and one or two top drops from Australia. Prices range from £29.90 to over £2,000.

London wine merchant Lea & Sandeman has a varied range of wine, Champagne and ports in magnum with many priced under £50 although you could splash out on Krug Grande Cuvée Brut for £355.  

Majestic lists 10 magnums of Champagne and wine starting with the very drinkable Viñalba Reserva Malbec 2009 at £17.99.  

Waitrose has a range of magnum gift sets from £40 to £120.

Corks Out, with several branches in Cheshire, has a good choice of Champagne in magnum and other wines including 2001 and 2000 vintages of Lebanon’s Château Musar. You can also find a magnum accessory set here for £13.36.

The Secret Cellar lists 26 magnums from France, Spain, Champagne, Australia, South Africa and California .

Stevens Garnier has a good range of magnums and half bottles including Spanish and French wines.

Last but by no means least Oddbins has magnum bottles of Château Jaumard 2009 on shelf for £15. If you like a drop of easy-going claret at this time of year try this, it’s great value for the price.

2011 harvest report for Spain

My extensive report on this year’s harvest in Spain can be seen at:

I collected comment from producers and regional representatives in both well known and up-and-coming regions to find out about the challenges that they faced and their early predictions for the wines of 2011. We will start to see the first wines next spring when young whites and rosés come onto the market followed by young reds and, sometime later, oak-aged reds when they have completed their maturation in both the barrel and the bottle.