Olly’s best festive drinks
In this suits-all-tastes Christmas special, Olly picks his top seasonal tipples, including wine, spirits and bubbly.
BEST FESTIVE FIZZ
British bubbly: Wiston Estate Cuvée 2017 (12%), £40, wistonestate.com. I recently enjoyed a bottle with friends and it blew my mind. Lovely level of toastiness, plenty of zingy thrills. Outstandingly sumptuous, lingering elegance of flavours. Seriously good value.
Champagne: Les Pionniers Brut NV (12%), £19, Co-Op. With a smart new label, this looks the part and tastes like Champagne that costs twice the price. Richness, depth and elegant effervescence, this is what Cinderella would pop when she finally gets to the ball.
Party bubbles: Cava Prestige Brut NV (12%), £10, M&S. How is fizz this good quite so cheap? In a word – Cava. Get ahead of the curve and scoop up this Spanish splendour for its rich, silky power – a total bargain that can stand up to nibbles of all shapes and sizes.
Best all-rounder: Anspach & Hobday The Lager (4.7%), £10.50 for 4 x 440ml cans, anspachandhobday.com. Order a case of this properly made and naturally carbonated crisp lager. It’s fresh, fab and one of the world’s best. Stock the fridge to keep friends and family refreshed all season.
FAB WITH FOOD
Superb with shellfish: Château des Rontets Pouilly-Fuissé Clos Varambon 2018 (13.5%), £32.90, Theatre of Wine. Worth every penny: precision, exquisite purity, one of the top iterations of Chardonnay. As bright as a whistle carved from chalk. I tasted this with Tom Parker Bowles and it was a rare moment of silent reverence.
Turkey treat: Château Dasvin-Bel-Air 2018 (14.5%), £12.75, Co-Op. High-street Bordeaux can often feel like drinking the weather in February: mean and depressing. This is a steal: lovely complexity layered with delicious rich earthy spice. Go classic for your turkey without breaking the bank.
Winter rosé: Chinon Rosé 2020 Domaine Bernard Baudry (13.5%), £16.95, leaandsandeman.co.uk. I love drinking pink in winter; its red-berry brilliance feels festive. Made from Cab Franc, this has generous strawberry peachiness, fulsome texture, a jot of spice and lashings of complexity. Utterly gorgeous.
Beef’s best friend: The Best Amarone 2017 (14.5%), £16, Morrisons. If you’re cooking any kind of beef this season, deploy this big, full-throttle fruity and spicy wielder of joyful power. Horseradish is not a problem for this titan of a red with sleek, bold beauty. Irresistibly moreish in its mightiness.
Best with ham: Oliver’s Fine Cider Bottle Conditioned Medium Season 2018 (5.4%), £12, oliversciderandperry.co.uk. I’ve been a fan of Tom Oliver’s ciders for years. Loads of fruity fun as well as finesse here. There’s no better pairing with ham and it can stand up to pickles, relishes and chutneys too.
Scrummy with stilton: Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos 2018 (12.3%), £19.99, Waitrose. This thrilling wine has long been a festive favourite of mine. Imagine apricot jam with a zillion citrus volts running through it and you’re close to the impact. With Stilton, it’s a contrasting pairing to send your tastebuds into the stratosphere.
Duck and game: Scorpo Noirien Pinot Noir Mornington Peninsula 2019 (14%), £19.45, hhandc.co.uk. Go Australia! This corner of Oz feels like Pinot Noir’s second spiritual home after Burgundy. This bottle has a lovely concentration to the focused fruit with a smidge of oak. Single-word tasting note: exuberant!
Smoked salmon stunner: Bourgogne Aligoté 2019 Domaine Marquis d’Angerville (11.5%), £31.95, Corney & Barrow. Bubbly is usually brilliant but try this still white instead for flair and finesse on Christmas morning. Like a lemon rind coiled around a chalk wand, this is bright and magical stuff.
BEST PARTY WINE
Fridge-ready white: Classic Sauvignon Domaine Beauséjour 2020 (12.5%), £9.99, adnams.co.uk. This go-to bottle will suit anyone who drops by. Lemony freshness and passionfruit frisson to lift the mood thanks to amazing work from Philipe Trotignon’s boutique and hands-on wine growing.
All-round red: El Chaparral de Vega Sindoa Garnacha 2018 (15%), from £7.99, Majestic. I reckon this is the best-value red of the festive season. The scent is scintillating as white pepper and when you sip, it’s a cascade of fabulous fruitiness with a long-lasting warming feeling. Buy a case if you can.
BEST BOTTLES TO SHARE
Unmissable bargain: Pouilly-Fumé Les Clos du Matin 2020 (14.5%), £10 (down from £15.99 until 14 December), Waitrose. Sauvignon Blanc this good rarely costs £10. Breezy as a grapefruit in a windsock, this is stunning stuff – a wine of focus, texture and sheer charm.
Impress your guests: Jürgen Hofmann Grauer Burgunder Trocken 2020 (12.5%), £15.95, yapp.co.uk. If you’ve ever enjoyed a glass of Pinot Grigio, this is next-level loveliness. Peachy with flashes of mineral brilliance, this white gem has rare depth with a saline streak. I cannot believe how good it is. Liquid joy from Germany.
Great as a gift: Château Pibran 2017 (13.5%), £45.90, gerrardseel.co.uk. Made by the same legendary team as Pichon Baron (which costs a fair whack more), with its supple ripe blackcurrant character this top-notch red could easily command a heavier price. Ready to pour now or could age and evolve beautifully for the next decade.
BEST FORTIFIED WINE
Best Sauternes: Specially Selected Sauternes 2016 (13.5%), £7.49 (half bottle), Aldi. This is one of those ‘everyone must taste’ wines. It’s made by Château de Suduiraut and is a beautiful fusion of vanilla, apricot and sweet pine nut. Serve chilled with a crème brûlée or apple tart.
Top Port: Tesco Finest LBV Port 2015 (20%), £11. Big win for Tesco here, a Port for which I’d happily pay more than the price tag. Sweet and brambly with massive festive spices looping the loop around a core of richness. Crack a bar of dark chocolate and snuggle up with this cracker.
With Christmas pud: Don Zoilo 12-Year-Old Pedro Ximénez (18%), £8.50 (half bottle), The Wine Society. Sweet silky drink of my dreams! If all the world’s dried figs and sticky dates jumped into a pool and made an opulent alliance, this would be the scrumptious result. Delicious to sip with a box of chocolates.
Mighty Madeira: 5-Year-Old Medium Rich Madeira NV (19%), £10, M&S. A treat that tastes like liquid mince pies with that citrus tanginess – keep it chilled in the fridge and pour yourself a glass every time you open a door on your advent calendar.
White Port: Taylor’s Chip Dry (20%), £13.99, Waitrose. Gorgeous to switch out for the gin in a G&T or to splash into a martini. But try sipping it on its own, simply chilled over ice – wowser! This is the original white Port created back in 1934 and it’s still dazzlingly delicious today.
Rum to rock your world: The Salford Spiced Rum (40%), £35.95, thewhiskyexchange.com. A brilliant all-rounder for wintry cocktails or just to sip over ice. Distilled and made right here in Britain and utterly delicious, with orangey flair and warming spice.
Gin of dreams: Gyre & Gimble Callooh Callay (45%), £35, gyreandgimble.co.uk. Bold flavour, surging with juniper and a turbine of citrus-saline-spice, this top all-rounder from Norwich is great for martinis but try it in a G&T and you’ll be making a second round in no time.
Wow-factor whisky: Glencadam 15-Year-Old (46%), £57.95, thewhiskyexchange.com. This was recommended to me by Julie at Edinburgh’s Scotch Whisky Experience, and feels like a comparative bargain compared to other single malts. I bought it for its creamy cinnamon-sweetness and golden purity. Essential festive sipping. Santa will thank you!
Vodka with va-va voom: Aval Dor Original Cornish Vodka (40%), £37, colwithfarmdistillery.co.uk. What a find! My new favourite vodka with bright, beautiful refreshment and lush, creamy texture. Made in small batches from Cornish spuds, this is distilled 40 times and blended with local water – sip it over ice or stack it in your bloody mary.
A kicking cognac: Hermitage 20-Year-Old Grande Champagne Cognac by Chez Richon (42%), £109.90, brandyclassics.com. Imagine a giant pineapple given a toffee-apple dip and you get this ultimate festive spirit, hugely divergent in its range of flavours. Enjoy with your favourite Christmas movie. Worth it.