What to drink… Mas­ter of Wine Richard Hem­ming sug­gests three wines to get you in the Christ­mas spirit

Living France - - À La Maison -

Chocolate is a tricky in­gre­di­ent to match with wine. Only a few really do it jus­tice. In Rous­sil­lon, they have been qui­etly pro­duc­ing the sorts of sweet wines that make ideal bed­fel­lows with chocolate for many cen­turies. Three vil­lages lend their names to the ap­pel­la­tions con­trôlées that ap­pear on the la­bels of: Maury, Rivesaltes and Banyuls.

Tech­ni­cally, they are clas­si­fied as vins doux na­turels, which de­ter­mines the spe­cific meth­ods that must be fol­lowed in their pro­duc­tion. The most per­ti­nent is known as mu­tage, whereby dis­tilled al­co­hol is added to a wine shortly af­ter it starts fer­ment­ing. The ef­fect is to in­stantly kill the yeasts, stop­ping them from con­sum­ing all the sugar, as they would for a nor­mal dry ta­ble wine. The re­sult­ing con­coc­tion con­tains both plenty of sugar and plenty of al­co­hol, all thanks to the for­ti­fi­ca­tion process.

Sound fa­mil­iar? Port from the Douro val­ley in Por­tu­gal is the world’s best

Poud­er­oux, Se­ri­ously Plummy NV Maury £10.99/half Waitrose The best of the su­per­mar­ket of­fer­ings, this is fiery and rich with plenty of sweet, dark fruit flavour. Try serv­ing it very slightly chilled to mel­low that fiery char­ac­ter. known ex­am­ple of this style, and French vins doux na­turels share many sim­i­lar­i­ties. One main dif­fer­ence, though, is in the grape va­ri­eties used.

Vins doux na­turels come in two colours. The reds are based mainly on Grenache, the key in­gre­di­ent of the Rhône Val­ley stal­wart, Châteauneuf-duPape, while Mus­cat is the main grape for whites.

For this recipe, I’d favour the red ver­sions. Their rich, ripe berry flavour has a nat­u­ral affin­ity with chocolate, and of­ten dis­plays a nutty sort of char­ac­ter that would match the chest­nut purée. Plus, the spirit used for for­ti­fy­ing th­ese wines is brandy – nicely echo­ing an es­sen­tial part of the bûche de Noël. Spe­cial­ist wines such as th­ese can be tricky to track down. Many su­per­mar­kets don’t stock them, and those that do, tend to of­fer cheap ver­sions that are best avoided. There is one no­table ex­cep­tion, from Waitrose, which I have listed be­low along with two oth­ers that are worth making a spe­cial ef­fort to find.

Fontanel 2011 Maury £17.50 stonevine.co.uk Ex­em­plary stuff: over­ripe red fruit, with great in­ten­sity and a lovely smoky scent – full on but not over­bear­ing. A gen­tle gi­ant that will bring some wow fac­tor to your Christ­mas cel­e­bra­tions.

Cazes 2010 Mus­cat de Rivesaltes £9.95/half WineTrust100.co.uk and in­de­pen­dents na­tion­wide If you fancy try­ing white in­stead of red, this is a clas­sic ex­am­ple of sweet, for­ti­fied Mus­cat from a pro­ducer in Rivesaltes, with a spir­ity kick.

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