So, at last, the “holiday season” is upon us. Every year after the 1st of January the Western consciousness begins its inexorable march towards the next Christmas period. One waits with bated breath and slowly building excitement as one holiday passes the other and indulgence and consumption come back into fashion.
As an American, your author finds the UK holidays in between Summer and Christmas rather Spartan. It is some comfort then that the Christmas holidays begin in mid-November. This gives you approximately five weeks to plan what you plan to drink for Christmas, drink that in the intervening period, then rush out and buy more just in time for your favourite/creepiest uncle to finish his first glass.
There is really no such thing as “Christmas” wine, beyond matching something appropriate with a Christmas pudding, though this is a decidedly UK-centric issue. Instead, think of this as an exercise in economics and taste.
When buying wine, the very first question you need to ask yourself is, what exactly are you looking for? What style, what grape, what nation, what region, and at what price? If your answer is, “I just want wine”, or “what are those things?” then it’s off to the supermarket with you!
The most obvious choice for better wine over Christmas if you are willing to start spending around £20 is a bottle shop, which come in many forms, and offer many varied wines.
- Oddbins is reliable, if unimaginative, in its selections of wines, champagnes, and liquor. The cheapest wine is always on the bottom, usually starts at £8-9, and things then can easily range up towards several hundred pounds depending on the bottle. (Usually mid-range Bordeaux or vintage Champagne). Oddbins also offers a diverse selection of different nations and regions within them (for example, if you want a wine from the US, unlike the supermarket there is a much wider selection than Echo Falls).
- Nicolas is a similar type of chain, though it specifically focuses on French wines, and they are typically more expensive. However, you can get quite a number of large-format bottles not found in many other run of the mill stores – magnums of Bordeaux, Burgundies, Champagnes, and so on. They are owned by Spirited Wines, so you can buy their ranges online. In the Christmas spirit I would suggest getting a magnum of Champagne Deutz at £78.20)
- Lea & Sandeman is my personal favorite in this range, typically slightly more expensive again, but offering a much greater diversity in products, from higher quality producers. Unfortunately, there are only four of these stores and they are all in west and south-west London, so unless you happen to be taking a stroll through Kensington, you probably won’t encounter one. That said, if you are traveling to London for or before Christmas, I highly recommend stopping by.
For the genuine Christmas experience, though, the best options in town are Fortnum & Mason and Hedonism. Here one can find wines not only worth having over your Christmas Eve dinner table but also as a present.
On selection alone, Hedonism might well be unparalleled globally around the world. It has every wine you have and haven’t heard of, and nearly as many spirits. I could write (and probably will) an entire article on this shop alone, but suffice to say the wine sold there is of very high quality. Want a bottle of £30 Chianti? By all means! Want to spend £45,000 on a Methuselah of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild? Right this way sir.
Although Hedonism can and does cater (rightly without shame) to the well-heeled of the world, there are many wines at any price point. Hedonism is very much worth the extra expense at Christmas.
Fortnum & Mason, while it has a much smaller wine selection, offers some gems at a reasonable price without sacrificing quality. While it doesn’t quite have the modern, almost “Silicon-Valley meets wine” feel of Hedonism, it is nonetheless sleek and sophisticated, a product of renovations in the last several years.
One of my favorite things about F&M is their Champagne selection. This ranges from bog-standard (own brand, Moet et Chandon) to small-grower wines like Jacques Selosse. Again, it’s a smaller selection than Hedonism, but it also will cost you much less. One of my personal favorites to pair with food is Jacquesson 738 (£45), a high quality grower champagne.
If nothing else, F&M doesn’t do half measures when it comes to Christmas charm. Frank Sinatra’s rendition of the Christmas Waltz and seemingly endless decorations make for a fantastic shopping experience.
Whatever your choice this year, have a merry Christmas – and drink wine.
Image: Heather Katsoulis