Conal Gregory Wines
Celebrate the arrival of Christmas with Champagne. It creates a festive atmosphere. Charles Heidsieck Brut shows a lovely hazelnut and fruit character. CharlesCamille Heidsieck, who founded the firm in 1851, had such style that he was nicknamed “Champagne Charlie” by his American customers. Today their non-vintage is the only Champagne which states the year it started ageing in the cellars – look for Mis en Cave and the accompanying date on the reverse label (Waitrose £24.99).
If you are looking for a nonChampagne party sparkler, then Moët’s Californian arm makes a fresh fruity fizz from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. Eclipse is made in the Anderson Valley with a traditional secondary fermentation in the bottle (Tesco £9.99).
On a cold winter’s day, the most delicious wine is dry Madeira. Its smoky character derives from the unique heat treatment which simulates the days when wine from the island was shipped around the world as ballast. Lightly chilled with almonds, the 10year-old Sercial from Henriques & Henriques deserves to be better known (Majestic £11.99 per 50cl).
For a light dry white, either on its own or with poultry and oriental foods, Madeleine Angevine from England’s most northerly vineyard is worth seeking. Leventhorpe Vineyard, east of Leeds, was planted years ago by George Bowden, an enterprising former chemistry teacher. The 2002 shows an aroma of delicate peaches with stone fruits in taste (Cairns & Hickey 0113 2673746, £6). It would make an unusual gift.
To accompany turkey, look for a Cabernet Sauvignonbased red. For claret, 1995 and 1996 are drinking well, such as Cru Bourgeois Medoc. Two such examples are HautPeyrillat and Tour Haut-Caussan, both 1995 (Balls Bros 020 7739 1642 £9 and £14).
Further afield, the upfront fruit in Wolf Blass President’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia shows distinct quality. The 2001 is quite widely available (Asda £11.98).
If roast grouse is your taste, enjoy a rich, spicier red. Syrah – known often as Shiraz – accompanies well. Take a northern Rhone with its concentrated fruit and hint of pepper: both CrozesHermitage 2001 and the deeper flavoured Cornas 1999 from the Tain Co-operative are value for money (Davy’s 020 8858 6014, £7.60 and £15.95).
Normans Old Vines Shiraz 2001 from south-east Australia makes a strong challenge (Somerfield £7.99) and it would be enjoyable to compare with a bottle from France.
Once into cold meats and poultry, opt for a soft fruit Merlot. Most St Emilion and Pomerol use high amounts of Merlot and a fine Grand Cru example of the former is 1997 Chateau Larmande whose history dates from the 13th century (Berry Bros & Rudd, 0870 900 4300 £23.45, or £20.83 by the dozen).
For a well-priced southern Italian red, the tongue-twisting Aglianico del Vulture is made from the Aglianico vine and grown on volcanic soils. Its plummy fruit and light tannin are well matched. The D’Angelo brothers produce one of the best examples (Tanners, 01743 234455 £9.95).
For party wines, Inycon Chardonnay from Sicily is a popular choice. De-stemmed and fermented in stainless steel, its clean fruity character shines through (Morrisons £4.99). For a red with young vibrant cherry fruit combined with slight oak, Bethany Cabernet-Merlot, made in Australia’s Barossa Valley, is discounted until 2 January (Co-op £5.99 ).
For a glass or two of port, Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage has real depth of character while Warre’s Otima 10 years’ old Tawny deserves to be better known.
Finally, for that special bottle to give or open, Portugal’s Douro district is a fantastic source, producing wines such as Quinta do Vale Dona Maria, a rich, voluptuouslyspiced red (Lay & Wheeler 0845 330 1855, £14.95).
For a memorable sweet white, Chateau Suduiraut 1999 is a first growth Sauternes whose tiny yield balances richness and acidity (Tanners, £27).
Conal Gregory is one of fewer than 250 Masters of Wine in the world.