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Alastair's Noel Fuel

By Alastair Marshall, also posted in News on

Alastair in snowy SouthwoldSenior Wine Buyer Alastair Marshall selects his top wine choices this Christmas: Anxiety, hard work and stress can beset the planners and executors of a family Christmas but with the judicious application of the correct vinous therapy goodwill to all will definitely be on the menu.

The apéritif

Leonor Gonzalez ByassSherry – I am not talking about that medium-sweet rubbish but real Sherry, which must be one of the most underrated and best value wines available. A perfect example is the Palo Cortado ‘Leonor’ from Gonzalez Byass (£13.99). This has been cask-aged in the cellars in Jerez for over 12 years. Fill the bottom of a wine glass, swish it around and inhale an experience. Taste it and the full on, intense dry, nutty flavours are a revelation. This is a genuine sensory adventure that, if you haven't encountered it before, may leave you cursing the wasted years of ignorance. Salted almonds are a great match for good sherry and are sufficiently small as to not put a dent in your appetite for the forthcoming feast.

The Starter

Casa Rivas Sauvignon Blanc ReservaSauvignon Blanc – I know it is the ‘Ford Focus’ of grape varieties, so utterly reliable that it never fails to please and yet never quite delivers greatness, but sometimes simple pleasures are the best. I might have opted for examples from Touraine or Marlborough as a source of good quality but I have been struck of late by a barrel-aged example from Chile. 2011 Sauvignon Blanc Reserva, Casa Rivas, Central Valley (£9.99). This delivers the aromas of tropical fruits and vanilla oak with a full rounded mouthful of lime-edged ripeness. It is the hint of sweetness that makes this a great match with anything spicy or where salt flavours are dominant like 'Angels on Horseback'.

The Main Course

Monte Real RiojaRioja – As the occasion demands it, I am looking for tradition and maturity here and Rioja delivers both of these in spades. A Reserva wine is one that has spent two years in cask and a further minimum of two years in bottle before release and has therefore had time for the flavours of the wine and the oak to harmonise. The 2006 Rioja Reserva, Monte Real (£12.99) delivers full, complex, flavours that get better and better in your glass. This is not a wine to be had without food, a side of beef, a leg of lamb, are the order of the day as tradition meets tradition.

Finishing off

Balfour RoséBubbly – I know that it sounds like heresy to have a glass at this end of the proceedings and not at the beginning but a glass of good quality bubbly easily manages to find a corner in an already replete system and gives you the strength you need to snooze in front of the box. Should HRH the Queen appear delivering her Christmas message then toast her with a bottle of the 2008 Balfour Rosé Brut from Hush Heath in Kent (£34.99). Not only is this somewhat patriotic but it is also deliciously superior to most Champagnes that you can buy. Cheers!


Alastair Marshall