Friday, 23 November 2007

Christmas Drinking 2007

Do we really squeeze all our serious drinking (by which of course I mean wine appreciation) into the last 10 days of the year? That's the picture you get: wine merchants up all night packing parcels for people who rarely touch a drop until Christmas Eve.

And then: the bubbly foams, the richest reds appear in elegant glasses, the venerable port winks ruby in the firelight. Does anyone do avant-garde Christmas? Damien Hirst maybe; the rest of us, it seems, stick with tradition. Why re-invent a formula that works so well?

It starts, of course, with Champagne. I've never understood how (or why) Champagne houses consistently threaten us with supplies running dry, amidst cries that the region must expand - and then offer us the latest bargain.

Should I worry, though, when the tried and true is offered at less than last time I bought it, just when I need it most? Whether I drink The Club's Champagne (exclamations of delight; how can it be that good), the delectable Haton (glasses stretched out for more) or a glamour brand (nods of knowledgeable appreciation) I have never known it fail to create a buzz.

Alternatives? There are lots. Christmas morning sees me sipping glorious dry rich sherry. On Boxing Day it will be English fizz: The Club's South Ridge gets everybody talking. And this year, Sparkling Shiraz! Yes really: deep red South Australian fruit, tannin and bubbles all together reach taste buds you didn't know you had. You'll never know until you try it.

This Christmas, even square old claret drinkers have to decide between juicy young wines or something more mellow. A few years ago no one dreamed of drinking two-year-old Bordeaux. Then came 2003 and 2005 with grapes so ripe the wines beg to be drunk in their first fruity bloom. In fact, with claret vintages from '99 to 2005 ready to drink this Christmas - you can hardly miss. Don't open the big-name '05's yet ... oh, all right then.

The vogue for big reds doesn't go away at Christmas. Chateauneuf? Absolutely. Fine Australian Shiraz? Why ever not? Or Italy's turbo reds, Amarone and Valpolicella Ripasso. I have Colheita port on my list, once-a-year vintage Madeira, Sauternes and my own Royal Tokaji Aszu. And just to show I haven't been dozing through life's great fashion show, Limoncello. Last year no one had heard of it; this year drink it or you're nothing. Or so they tell me.

Hugh Johnson,
Club President