… once a year. Starting in September, complains Jonathan Ray. While no one wants mince pies before Guy Fawkes, stocking the cellar in advance is no bad thing
Don’t get me started. Do not get me started. But am I right or am I right when I say that Christmas gets earlier every year? there were mince pies (best before 12 october, for heaven’s sake), Christmas puddings, festively packaged bottles and Santa Claus chocolates in my local supermarket in the middle of September. the MIDDLE of SEPTEMBER! there were even – and I kid you not – festive bloody dog chews. I mean, what the heck is all that about?
‘Santa’s on his sleigh, Santa’s on his way!’ shouted one sign. ‘Christmas is coming, get ready!’ yelled another. Why on earth does everyone want to wish away autumn, one of the loveliest times of the year? Grrr!!
now, call me a grumpy old fart but when I were a lad there wasn’t a sniff of Christmas until long after Halloween and what I still call Guy Fawkes night. And it was considered very poor form even to think about the festivities until after Remembrance Sunday.
the only Christmas-related activities permissible before and during november were the lobbing together of the Christmas pudding (on Stir-up Sunday, of course), my mother’s spiced chutney-making and, crucially, my father’s meticulous preparation of his lethal fruit gins and vodkas and the ritual stocking of his cellar.
Much as I love my mother’s chutney – or any mother’s chutney, come to that, for I adore the stuff – for Christmas to run smoothly, really smoothly, then alcohol is the key. Happily, I learned from my old man and began preparations weeks ago and have some fruit vodka toiling away in the cupboard under the stairs as I write. It’s greengage vodka, since you ask, for which I used one of the prize-winning recipes from The Field’s competition earlier this year. I hope it will be ready in time.
there’ll be plenty of fizz come Christmas, of course. I try and avoid supermarket champagnes, which really aren’t worth the money even on their BOGOF deals. oh, except for the own-label champers from the Co-operative, a ridiculously underrated supermarket when it comes to vino. It has some excellent wines at great value, too, and its Les Pionniers Champagne really isn’t half bad. And nor should it be given that it’s produced by Piper-heidsieck, whose head winemaker, Régis Camus, has been awarded Sparkling Winemaker of the Year a record eight times at the International Wine Challenge.
otherwise, unless I can have Pol, Bol or Charles Heidsieck, I go for really good prosecco (the Wine Society’s own label is the best I’ve had recently) or, champagnemethod fizzes such as pretty much any English fizz (but ideally Ridgeview, Herbert Hall, Ambriel, Coates & Seely, Breaky Bottom or Black Chalk) or a crémant from France, such as that from the Cave de Lugny (see Six of the Best) or Majestic’s excellent Bouvet Ladubay from Saumur in the Loire (just £9.99 if you mix six).
I’ll stock up with some decent but not overpriced white. You can’t go wrong with the ned Sauvignon Blanc, a real crowdpleaser from new Zealand, or the Wine Society’s own label white rioja (£8.50), which is really scrumptious.
As for the reds, I was thinking of Ramón Bilbao’s 2015 Edición Limitada Rioja (£14.50; Great Western Wine) or the taste the Difference 2011 CUNE Gran Reserva Rioja (£13.50; Sainsbury’s). I’m really into Spanish wine at the moment and both would be perfect with turkey – if you’re unfortunate enough to be lumbered with such soggy cardboard this Christmas – or roast saddle of lamb or rib of beef (yum!)
As for the harder stuff, I always ensure that there’s some tawny port in the cupboard (deliciously nutty and no need to decant); some Baileys in the fridge (don’t laugh, folk might claim to loathe it but it’s gone in a trice); some Cointreau (perfect for all manner of cocktails); and some kümmel to combat the overeating. oh, and I’ll be drinking lots of gin (where does one start…?)
And as for gifts, it’ll be books this year. Wine tends to be made in very beautiful places and there’s no better companion to take with you than Chris Losh’s new book Where to Drink Wine (£22, Quadrille), a cracking guide to the best, most welcoming wineries in the world.
If you need no instruction as to ‘where to drink wine’ (the sofa will do, thanks), then grab a copy of oz Clarke’s excellent new primer, Wine by the Glass (£9.99; Pavilion). It tells you everything, absolutely everything, that you need to know about the fermented grape and it should be in every budding oenophile’s stocking.
Have a good one and see you on the other side. Cheers!
I ensure there’s some tawny port in the cupboard, Baileys in the fridge and Cointreau