The best red wines for Christmas
This article was first published in the Irish Times, Saturday 15th December, 2018.
If Chablis and Mâcon are the traditional Irish Christmas white wines, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and St Émilion Grand Cru or Rioja Reserva are the red equivalents. Turkey is an accommodating bird and will go nicely with most wines, red or white, although I try to avoid tannic wines such as young Bordeaux or Barolo. However, you do need to watch out for the accompaniments – spicy, fruity stuffings and cranberry sauce can kill a wine in seconds. While you won’t go wrong with the above wines (although I would avoid cheap Châteauneuf-du-Pape) this year, why not expand your horizons a little to other countries and regions?
Grenache, or Garnacha, is the main component in the aforementioned Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and most southern red Rhône wines. In its original homeland of Spain, or in the McLaren Vale and the Barossa in Australia, it can be very good indeed. Australian Grenache tends to be light on tannins, with soft generous ripe spicy strawberry fruits; great for turkey. You could go with the excellent John Duval Plexus GSM 2015 (€39, independents), a Rhône-like blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. Spain is producing some really exciting Garnacha at the moment. As a general rule, look to Navarra for lighter, juicier wines, and Madrid or Méntrida for wonderful, perfumed, full-bodied wines. See below for just two suggestions.
I am a big Pinot Noir fan, as are a number of my Christmas guests, so I suspect we will head in this direction, although I have served northern Rhône on previous occasions, most memorably an elegant, silky bottle of Côte Rôtie from Stephane Ogier (€52, searsons.com, Eldon’s, Clonmel). I have also been eyeing up some maturing Crozes Hermitage Yann Chave (€27.95, searsons.com, plus independents). You can find very good Pinot Noir from various countries, most notably Germany, Oregon, California, New Zealand, Germany and Australia, although it is hard to beat red Burgundy at its best, as in the Volnay below.
Unlike turkey, goose welcomes tannins and eats them up, so a Barolo, Barbaresco or Bordeaux would be ideal. However, steer clear of red cabbage if it has lots of sugar, vinegar and spice. The same goes for duck, although here a Pinot Noir would also work nicely. Vegetarian dishes with mushrooms, or stuffed peppers, courgettes and aubergines are all very red-wine friendly, including wines with some tannin.
If you live near Loughlinstown, a quick fix Christmas pairing from Whelehan’s would be the fruit-filled Rula Albariño (€14.95) and smooth, full-bodied Domaine de l’Amauve Côtes du Rhône (€16.50). For a German Pinot, try the rich fruit-filled Bender Pinot Noir (€18.25, winesdirect.ie) or the spicy Stepp Pinot Noir (€22.50, Marks & Spencer), or the Becker Family Pinot Noir (€22, independents).
Tandem Inmune Garnacha 2016, Navarra
Fresh, smooth, crunchy, savoury dark fruits with a lovely herbal touch. A very good match for the Christmas turkey and stuffing.
Stockists: O’Briens, obrienswine.ie
La Bruja de Rozas 2015, Viños de Madrid, Commando G
A wonderful full-bodied wine with fresh, fragrant red cherry fruits and fine dry tannins on the finish. With turkey or duck.
Stockists: Kelly’s, Clontarf, kellysofflicence.ie; Clontarf Wines, clontarfwines.ie; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, thecorkscrew.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie.
Giant Steps Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2017, Australia
A richer style of Pinot, with succulent red cherry fruits and a very attractive earthiness. Perfect with duck, goose or turkey.
Stockists: Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; Grapevine, Dalkey, onthegrapevine.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, thecorkscrew.ie; wineonline.ie
Volnay 1er cru Cuvée Blondeau, Hospices de Beaune
Youthful ripe dark cherry, with a touch of smoky new oak, underpinned by good acidity. If you are having it for Christmas, decant half an hour before dinner. Perfect with turkey, goose or duck.
Stockists: Marks & Spencer
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