Raise your glasses

From buck’s fizz with break­fast to Port af­ter the Christ­mas pud, Harry Eyres ad­vises on the best bot­tles for fes­tive feast­ing

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Il­lus­tra­tions by Annabelle King

From fizz to Port, Harry Eyres picks the best wines for ev­ery mo­ment of Christ­mas day

MY fa­ther liked to tell a story that he claimed to have read in COUN­TRY LIFE, about a man who in­sisted he never let wa­ter pass his lips. ‘What do you do when you brush your teeth?’ the COUN­TRY LIFE in­ter­viewer in­quired. ‘For my teeth,’ replied the in­trepid gen­tle­man, ‘I use a lit­tle light Moselle.’

The green-ap­ple-glint­ing, sour-sweet Ries­ling wines from the Mosel and its trib­u­taries, the Saar and the Ruwer, are, in­deed, the per­fect way to com­mence any se­quence of drinks. They are so crisp and limpid that they surely dis­solve away any im­pu­ri­ties, whether around the gums or in the spirit.

They’re also mer­ci­fully light in al­co­hol, so well suited to a pre-break­fast glass, per­haps shared in bed when open­ing stock­ings.

Four of the finest pro­duc­ers of these wines are Carl von Schu­bert at Max­imin Grün­haus, Egon Müller at Scharzhof­berger, Willi Schae­fer and Fritz Haag.

For the Christ­mas break­fast it­self—an af­fair that, in our house­hold, tends to fea­ture panet­tone or brioche—buck’s fizz presents it­self as the ob­vi­ous liq­uid part­ner. Fresh orange juice will dom­i­nate the taste of the fizz, so there’s no real point in us­ing a rel­a­tively com­plex Cham­pagne, fine-grained English sparkling wine or even vin­tage Cava.

This could be the mo­ment to open that bot­tle of Prosecco that some­one mis­guid­edly brought as a present or you won in a mixed­dou­bles ten­nis tour­na­ment. How­ever, I can’t hon­estly rec­om­mend us­ing Prosecco in this con­text as its in­sipid quasi-sweet­ness isn’t a good match for orange juice.

What I would sug­gest here is ei­ther a good, rel­a­tively simple Cré­mant de Bour­gogne or, even bet­ter, Blan­quette de Li­moux, which I’ve al­ways liked for its fresh­ness, im­me­di­acy and def­i­ni­tion. A pause may be in or­der, here. For some, this will be the time for a morn­ing Christ­mas Mass or Eucharist, a solemn re­li­gious mo­ment dur­ing which the plea­sures of the flesh will be laid aside. Oth­ers may al­ready be open­ing presents—although, in our fam­ily, this was de­layed as long as pos­si­ble, into the mid af­ter­noon, in an ex­quis­ite kind of tor­ture. In any case, there will surely be a mid­morn­ing break, suit­able for nutty bis­cuits or a slice of le­mon cake served with aged amon­til­lado or Ser­cial Madeira. This will make the per­fect bridge be­tween the buck’s fizz of break­fast and the much more se­ri­ous fizz to fol­low, just be­fore the big Christ­mas lunch. Ev­ery­thing up to now has been a pre­lude. This is the mo­ment that re­ally sig­nals the com­mence­ment of Christ­mas, the open­ing of a re­ally fine bot­tle of vin­tage bub­bly. This can be English or French—i’m un­prej­u­diced on this mat­ter—but it must make a proud and tri­umphant state­ment, the vi­nous equiv­a­lent of Bach’s Christ­mas Or­a­to­rio, which may be play­ing through the sound sys­tem. The par­tic­u­lar tim­bre can vary, from cit­rusy in­ten­sity of blanc de blancs to the broader, meatier rich­ness and smok­i­ness that ripe Pinot Noir brings. And so to the ta­ble. A fishy first course will be the cue for a firm, stony Ch­ablis or per­haps a Godello from Spain. Turkey has a flavour

rang­ing from mild to bland—although prop­erly reared, free-range birds can taste de­li­cious— and needs a red wine that demon­strates del­i­cacy as much as power. Bur­gundy is my pref­er­ence: any­thing from a vig­or­ous, for­ward and fresh­fruited Marsan­nay or Maranges to a more sub­tle and com­plex Vol­nay pre­mier cru. For goose, a Côte de Nuits Bur­gundy would be more ap­pro­pri­ate. North­ern Rhône also works well and, if Her­mitage or Côte-rôtie are out of reach, then flo­ral St Joseph and Crozes-her­mitage from hill­side sites are ex­cel­lent al­ter­na­tives. Christ­mas pud­ding poses a well-known co­nun­drum to wine and food match­ers. The only com­pletely sat­is­fy­ing solution is Pe­dro Ximénez sherry. How­ever, for those (and they in­clude me) who find PX too sickly sweet, I sug­gest a re­ally rich Sauternes or Tokaji. The end of the feast, in our house­hold, has al­ways been the cue for a glass of vin­tage Port, prefer­ably of con­sid­er­able se­nior­ity. Af­ter a brac­ing con­sti­tu­tional in the dy­ing light of the late-de­cem­ber af­ter­noon (of­ten sur­pris­ingly mild in the south of Eng­land), it will be time for Christ­mas cake, but, here, in the in­ter­ests of health and safety, I sug­gest Lap­sang Sou­chong tea rather than any­thing stronger. Evening is the time for in­dul­gence to fade into con­tented re­flec­tion and, even­tu­ally, obliv­ion. If ‘in my be­gin­ning is my end’ from Eliot’s East Coker is your motto, I sug­gest re­turn­ing to the val­leys of the Mosel, Saar and Ruwer for the fi­nal pi­quant pick-me-up. To bring you gen­tly to­wards the land of nod, there’s noth­ing bet­ter than a mel­low, smoky sin­gle malt—my cur­rent favourite is Kil­choman from Is­lay. I would like to con­clude by sug­gest­ing that the above notes be taken more as gen­eral guide­lines than a strict pro­gramme. I wouldn’t like to see Fa­ther Christ­mas’s rein­deer drag­ging too heavy a box by the end of the day.

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