RICHARD ESLING: Christmas reds for body and soul

A selection of red wines for Christmas
A selection of red wines for Christmas

Firm body, good legs, succulent and full flavoured. I’m not talking turkey, but the wines to go with it. Last week was all about a White Christmas, and after last weekend, the prospect is looking more and more likely.

But this week is the turn of the reds – supreme food wines, and of which there is an equally bewildering range to choose from. Below are a few of my choices from around the globe, designed to accompany your Festive Fare.

Personally, I am not one to drink a glass of red on its own, with a few exceptions. My exceptions are, naturally, exceptional wines – what I call ‘sipping’ wines. These are wines that are tremendously complex and deep flavoured, high quality, at least eight years old and made by top winemakers. Such wines may be Super Tuscans from Italy, Grand Cru wines from Burgundy or Cru Classé wines from Bordeaux, but can also come from the Douro in Portugal, Napa Valley (if they escaped the flames) and other places around the world.

But most red wines for me are to accompany whatever I am eating. The purpose of matching a wine with a dish is so that each complements the other to enhance the whole culinary experience. Components of the dish can bring out more of the flavours of the wine and vice versa.

The main concept is not to let one overpower the other. A full flavoured dish needs a full flavoured wine and don’t forget, it is often the sauce or accompaniments that have more flavour than the main ingredient. So here are a few suggestions.

A top winemaker with an international reputation from the Rhone Valley, Jean-Luc Colombo, sums up what red wines are all about.

A quote on one of his bottles reads: “ I want each glass to be like a song praising the simple but important things of life – observing nature, enjoying food, and sharing with others”.

His Cotes du Rhone Les Forots 2015, £16.49 online or from specialists, combines spicy Syrah from Northern Rhone with soft, fruity Grenache from the south. Smooth, velvety and balanced, a great accompaniment to roast leg of lamb with redcurrant sauce.

A wonderful alternative to turkey is, of course, a perfectly cooked roast rib of beef, with deep flavoured jus made from beef stock. Roast potatoes in goose fat and parsnips are called for, together with creamed horseradish sauce.

Wines based on Cabernet Sauvignon are particularly fine choices and here are three suggestions from the New World.

Robert Oatley Margaret River 2015 from Australia is full and luscious, with black berry fruit and ripe tannins, great value at less than £15 a bottle. A little more expensive is the Frei Brothers Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 from Sonoma County. However, normally £18, Waitrose has a current offer of £5 a bottle less, making this full-bodied, classic wine amazing value. The Esk Valley Gimblett Gravels 2015 is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet with some Malbec, in a Bordeaux style wine. Black cherries, plums and spice, available from independent retailers at around £15 a bottle.

For a little lighter red, we are back to France, with an often-forgotten region these days in Beaujolais. Chateau des Jacques 2013 is in the Moulin-a-Vent appellation, one of the Crus Beaujolais and made from the lighter Gamay grape. Made by Louis Jadot, a renowned Burgundy house, the wine is full and fruity with good balancing acidity. Great with roast duck and morello cherries.

But the real classic Christmas red still has to be a claret, namely a red Bordeaux.

A rising star from the Pessac- Leognan appellation is Chateau La Garde and the 2010 vintage can be found online at around £29 a bottle. From the stable of the dynamic Bordeaux producer Dourthe, it is a classic claret, deep, complex, yet elegant and refined. Perfect again with a rib of beef and I am also getting to one of my sipping wines.

Take a large glass, enjoy with the meat and sip the rest slowly by the fireside.

Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. An erstwhile wine importer, he runs a wine agency and consultancy company called WineWyse, is founder and principal of the Sussex Wine Academy, chairman of Arundel Wine Society and is an International Wine Judge. Twitter @richardwje. Visit

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