Our Picks: Wines to fuel the festive season
The winter months are imbued with ritual and tradition and, as days shorten and temperatures lower, thoughts turn to wine matches for celebratory meals, cosy nights and seasonal dishes. From a racy Mosel Riesling or textured Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, to a polished Brunello or supple Rioja, there are some wines that will never go out of style.
Recent trends show that consumers are increasingly willing to explore wines from lesser-known varieties and regions, as well as old favourites. For those seeking something less traditional, a Niagara Chardonnay – reminiscent in its tension and richness of top white Burgundy – or a fruit-driven red Bordeaux blend from one of Chile's finest sites may fit the bill. Why not try a fragrant and complex Eden Valley Shiraz paired with roast beef, or a crisp elegant Saumur Blanc as an aperitif with smoked salmon blinis, or a richly fruited red like Chianti Classico Riserva or Gigondas that can be enjoyed as much at the table as when curled up next to the fire? There are as many mouth-watering wines perfect for festive drinking as there are opportunities to enjoy them...
Domaine Rolly Gassmann, Riesling 2019, France
Located in the commune of Rorschwihr in Alsace, which has an impressive 21 variations of limestone soil, the vineyards of Domaine Rolly Gassmann are farmed using organic and biodynamic principles. Pierre Gassmann employs gentle pressing, a long fermentation with wild yeasts, and extended time on the lees; resulting in textured and concentrated wines. With a fragrant and citrus fruit character leading to a layered, saline finish, the Riesling 2019 works well as an aperitif and as a pairing for seafood and fish.
Maximin Grünhaus, Single Vineyard, `Abtsberg` Grosses Gewächs Mosel Riesling 2018/2019, Germany
Maximin Grünhaus’ historic Abtsberg vineyard in the Mosel is widely considered the estate’s most prestigious site. Its 14 hectares of blue Devonian slate subsoil, on a 75% gradient, produce wines particularly expressive of their origin with exceptional ageing potential. As such, the dry Grosses Gewächs ‘Abtsberg’ Riesling is one of the finest white wines of Germany. Fermented with indigenous yeasts and matured in Fuder barrels made by local coopers from wood from the estate’s own forest, this single-vineyard Riesling has a finely structured minerality combined with a delicate texture. The traditional racy Ruwer acidity cuts through the generous ripe quince, fresh grapefruit and green apple flavours, making it an excellent food accompaniment.
Tinpot Hut, `Turner Vineyard` Marlborough Riesling 2019, New Zealand
Sourced from winemaker Fiona Turner's 16.5-hectare home block vineyard, this Riesling is made in small quantities and has a distinct mineral quality that is characteristic of the Blind River subregion. The dry and
sunny yet cool-climate site accentuates fresh, vibrant and aromatic intensity in the fruit. The low-yielding vines were monitored closely and then handpicked at the right balance of flavour and sugar ripeness. Inspired by the wines of the Mosel. this lower alcohol style, with just 9.5% alcohol, is made using free-run juice, specially selected Riesling yeasts, and a long, cool fermentation. Light-bodied, it is bursting with fresh lime and grapefruit flavours that balance its 32g/l residual sugar.
Le Clos Jordanne, `Le Grand Clos` Niagara Chardonnay 2017, Canada
Surrounded by Carolinian forests and glacial ravines in the Twenty Mile Bench subregion of the Niagara Peninsula, the picturesque 10.45-hectare Le Clos Jordanne vineyard was originally selected for its cool climate and limestone-rich clay soils, resembling those of Burgundy’s Côte d’Or. This is a rich and elegant single-vineyard Chardonnay, fermented and aged in 228-litre French oak barrels. It displays aromas of acacia, lemon peel and a subtle spiciness, complemented by vivid acidity and creamy mouthfeel.
Domaine Jean-Noël Gagnard, Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune `Clos Bortier` 2020, France
Produced from the certified-organic Clos Bortier vineyard, which overlooks the village of Saint Aubin, this wine is a rich and vibrant expression of Chardonnay. Caroline, winemaker and daughter of Jean-Noël, manages the vineyards biodynamically and seeks to produce wines that express the character of each site. Layers of citrus fruit and lightly toasted brioche, from a small percentage of new oak ageing, are knitted together by bright acidity and a richly textured palate. An excellent choice for white meat, poultry or nut-based dishes.
Gabriëlskloof, `Elodie` Chenin Blanc 2020, South Africa
Fruit for ‘Elodie’ is sourced from five vineyards, all of which are estimated to be over 40 years old and have never been irrigated. They yield between one and three tonnes per hectare, resulting in immense concentration. The grapes are fermented and aged in 500-litre French oak barrels. This wine displays excellent old-vine intensity with aromas of honeysuckle, wild herbs and citrus peel. The palate is brimming with glossy stone fruit and hints of spice, complemented by a fine bead of acidity. It is an excellent match for creamy sauces, as well as roasted poultry dishes.
Tablas Creek, Esprit de Tablas Blanc 2017, USA
Tablas Creek was founded in 1987 by Château de Beaucastel’s Jacques Perrin and his friend Robert Haas. The estate, now certified biodynamic, has the same rocky and limestone-rich soils as the Beaucastel vineyards and was planted with cuttings from the historic property. The ‘Esprit’ is a blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul Blanc, Clairette and Picardan; fermented and aged in a combination of stainless steel and large, old French oak barrels. It displays complex aromas of acacia, cinnamon spice and jasmine. Notes of ripe stone fruit and baked pear emerge on the palate, supported by rich texture.
Famille Perrin ‘Les Crus’, Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc `Les Sinards` 2019, France
This Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc is made from grapes sourced from a 2.5-hectare plot, ‘Clos du Château’, located near to Château de Beaucastel. A blend of Clairette, Grenache Blanc and Roussanne, the grapes are fermented in demi-muids, with regular bâtonnage to lend roundness and structure to the finished wine. Notes of almond, citrus and peach are complemented by a racy acidity and elegant richness on the palate. This wine is a perfect match for both fish and rich poultry dishes.
Allegrini, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2017, Italy
Allegrini’s Amarone is a modern wine with a strong connection to tradition. The grapes are sourced from Classico area hillside vineyards and are dried for three months. The wine is extremely elegant and balanced, with classic dried cherry aromas, ripe dark fruit and spice. It is a great match for roasted or grilled red meats and aged cheeses. Amarone's distinctive character complements sweet and sour dishes, making it a good pairing for Asian and Middle Eastern dishes.
Pieropan, `Vigna Garzon` Amarone della Valpolicella 2016, Italy
In 2000, the Pieropan family, a name synonymous with Soave, purchased uncultivated land at 500 metres above sea level on Monte Garzon in the Cellare d’Illasi area, and transformed it into a vineyard. Two decades later, the Amarone and Valpolicella produced here demonstrate the quality and finesse for which the estate is known. This Amarone embodies the family’s goal of making a wine that combines richness and power with the characteristic Pieropan balance and elegance. Its intense aromas of black cherries and red summer fruits are accompanied by notes of pepper and sweet spice. On the palate, it is complex and rounded, with a powerful structure supporting the fruit and a lovely freshness on the finish.
Fèlsina Berardenga, `Rancia` Chianti Classico Riserva 2018, Italy
Fèlsina epitomises the powerful style of wines from Castelnuovo Berardenga, the southernmost commune of the Chianti Classico zone. Rancia is a six-hectare Sangiovese vineyard on sandstone, chalk and galestro soils, planted between 1958-1982 after decades of both clonal and massal selection. To best express the unique diversity of this vineyard, Giovanni Poggiali and winemaking consultant Franco Bernabei vinify individual parcels, which are only blended after fermentation. The wine is rich and spicy on the nose, with wild berry and floral notes. The palate is framed by tightly knit tannins with opulent ripe berry fruit and a long, spicy finish.
San Polo, Brunello di Montalcino 2016, Italy
San Polo’s Brunello comes from high-altitude vineyards (450 metres above sea level) in the heart of the region. This location gives a special elegance and fragrance to the wine. Produced organically (and certified from the 2017 vintage), this Brunello displays classic aromas of violets and red berries with hints of vanilla, cedar and coffee. Its full body and densely woven texture make it a perfect match for roasted red meat.
Casa Ferreirinha, `Quinta da Leda` Douro Tinto 2017, Portugal
Red wines need sufficient character to stand up to the rich flavours of a festive winter dinner. The hugely intense and complex ‘Quinta da Leda’, the product of low-yielding vines grown on poor schist soils, is up to the task. The Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Tinto Cão grapes are sourced from Casa Ferreirinha’s flagship ‘Quinta da Leda’ estate in the far eastern reaches of the Douro Superior. This impressive estate is also the main source of grapes for the famed Barca-Velha. Aged for 18 months in French oak, 50%
of which is new, this powerful yet elegant wine is multi-layered and marries flavours of ripe blackberry, black cherry and plum with spicy nuances and hints of tobacco box.
Izadi, Rioja Reserva 2017, Spain
This family-run winery was founded in 1987 by restaurateur Gonzalo Antón with the aim of producing modern and food-friendly wines. The vineyards are located between 400 and 600 metres above sea level with a wide diurnal temperature range, resulting in wines with complex aromatics and fresh acidity. This vibrant Rioja Reserva was aged in a combination of French and American oak barrels, 20% of which were new, for 16
months, followed by two years in bottle prior to release. Notes of raspberry, tobacco and rose are complemented by crunchy acidity and subtle, rounded tannins.
Bodegas LAN, `Viña Lanciano` Rioja Reserva 2015, Spain
The Tempranillo, Graciano and Mazuelo grapes for this hugely complex Rioja Reserva are grown in Viña Lanciano, one of the most spectacular single-vineyard sites in Rioja Alta, surrounded by a meander of the River Ebro and overlooking the ruins of the Roman bridge depicted on the label. Winemaker María
Barúa is an expert in the art of oak ageing. Twenty two months in a combination of French Tronçais and Russian oak have beautifully framed the intense red and black fruit flavours of this wine with a subtle spiciness, and a further 20 months in bottle before release has added tertiary complexity. This is a standout Rioja and the perfect accompaniment to festive fare.
Ata Rangi, Martinborough Pinot Noir 2018, New Zealand
Consistently ranked as one of New Zealand's best Pinot Noirs, in 2010 Ata Rangi’s flagship wine was awarded the ‘Tipuranga Teitei O Aotearoa’, New Zealand’s ‘Grand Cru’ equivalent. Only the oldest and most revered
parcels of fruit are used in this limited release. The fabled Abel clone, allegedly smuggled from Burgundy in the mid-70s, makes up 40% of the blend and produces a complex, beautifully perfumed wine. Stellar winemaker Helen Masters has been at the helm since 2003, using a simple, hands-off approach focused on conveying a true expression of place. Close proximity to the South Pacific Ocean results in an extended growing season, which allows the grapes’ tannins to fully ripen. This, supported by vibrant acidity, gives the wine impressive structure and longevity.
Thorne & Daughters, `Copper Pot` Pinot Noir 2019, South Africa
This bright, elegant Pinot Noir was produced from vineyards in the cool-climate regions of Shaw’s Mountain (just outside the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge appellation), Elgin and Stellenbosch. Sharing a cellar alongside
Crystallum’s Peter-Allan Finlayson, winemaker John Seccombe maintains a minimalist approach. He ferments up to 40% whole bunch grapes to impart natural structure and a subtle savoury component. The nose is bursting with vibrant redcurrant and cherry, as well as hints of juniper and hibiscus. On the palate, a juicy
core of red berry fruit is complemented by fine-grained tannins and lively acidity. This is a great wine for red Burgundy lovers.
Charles Melton, `Nine Popes` Barossa Valley 2017, Australia
One of the saviours of Barossa’s oldest vines, Charlie Melton's `Nine Popes` is a nod to the great wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and is as rich, powerful, and beautifully balanced as the best examples from France. A blend of 50% Grenache, 48% Shiraz and 2% Mourvèdre, the wine spends 24-28 months maturing in French oak (of which 60% is new). Densely aromatic with hints of star anise and liquorice, the palate has generous sweet fruit combined with herbs and spices before a long, savoury finish.
Henschke, `Mount Edelstone` Eden Valley Shiraz 2016, Australia
Now on its 64th release, Henschke’s Mount Edelstone is the longest continuously produced single-vineyard Shiraz in Australia. Farmed using both organic and biodynamic practices, the ancient Eden Valley soils are
deep red-brown clay-loam to clay, resulting in low yields from dry-farmed, ungrafted centenarian vines. After careful selection in the vineyard and winery, grapes are fermented in concrete, open top fermenters before being pressed to 80% French and 20% American oak (19% new and 81% seasoned) hogshead barrels. The wine matures in barrel for 18 months before blending and bottling and then spends a further three years in bottle prior to release. Fragrant, spicy aromas of black pepper, sage, bay leaf and star anise are interwoven with vibrant plum, blackberry, and blueberry. The palate is complex and textured and the finish is beautifully balanced, with long, velvety tannins and excellent depth.
Montes, Alpha `M` Apalta Vineyard 2018, Chile
From the recipient of the IWC’s Lifetime Achievement Award 2021, Aurelio Montes, comes the Alpha ‘M’ 2018, the pinnacle of premium winemaking in Chile. Grapes are sourced from the best parcels of Finca
Apalta, arguably one of the finest sites for red wine grape growing in Chile. Low night-time temperatures prolong ripening, allowing for the slow development and retention of varietal aromas and acidity. This blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 5% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot shows complex notes of ripe red and black fruits, cherry syrup and figs on the nose. On the palate, the wine is balanced with extremely silky tannins, well-harmonised acidity and a long, vibrant, fruit-forward finish.
Kaiken, `Mai` Mendoza Malbec 2017, Argentina
Meaning 'first' in the Pehuenche dialect, `Mai` is Kaiken's top wine, sourced from 100-year old vines in Vistalba, Luján de Cuyo. The biodynamically farmed old vines are naturally low yielding, producing small quantities of fruit with extraordinary concentration of flavour. An elegant and complex wine with aromas
of plum and cherry, combined with spicy notes of tobacco and cinnamon. Structured and powerful, with soft tannins and a long lingering finish.
Domaine des Bosquets, Gigondas Réserve 2018, France
One of the rising stars of Gigondas, Julien Bréchet’s wines are known for their finesse. His 26 hectares are divided by soil type and altitude, with the individual parcels all harvested, vinified and aged for 12 months
separately before blending. The resulting blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault is then aged for a further six months before bottling. A complex profile of concentrated blackberry fruit, cocoa and violet with a hint of sweet spice is framed by firm but supple tannins and lifted by a bright acidity on the long finish.
Cullen, `Diana Madeline` Wilyabrup Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2019, Australia
From Wilyabrup in Margaret River, Western Australia, Diana Madeline is Cullen’s flagship Bordeaux blend and is named after the matriarch of the Cullen family. Frost in 2019 led to a very low-yielding vintage, producing fruit with incredible flavour intensity and acid retention. Deeply perfumed on the nose, with delicious aromas of violets, wild rose, mulberry, and cigar box, the wine is both refined and opulent, with great fruit intensity, balance and poise. The fine tannins float across the palate, revealing notes of plum, rose and chocolate. Delicious now, it will also reward those patient enough to allow it time in the cellar.
Château Fleur de Lisse, Saint-Émilion Grand Cru 2016, France
The Château’s vines, with an average age of 45 years, lie on a rocky outcrop of calcareous silt soil in Saint-Émilion, which gives this wine excellent freshness and acidity. An unusual blend of 50% Cabernet Franc, 49% Merlot and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon, this Saint-Émilion Grand Cru is a polished wine, which showcases a purity of fruit underpinned by fine-grained tannins and a liquorice spice finish.
Main photo: Maximin Grünhaus