… 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

The Field - - Contents -

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

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