Thursday 23 November 2017

It's dark…Christmas must be coming

An e-mail arrives from a PR, announcing ‘Last-minute gifts with a difference’. ‘Last-minute’? It’s November! Perhaps we are supposed to wait until lunchtime on Christmas Eve, just to raise the tension, and then open the e-mail to see what it is they’re offering.

But Christmas is clearly coming. The geese are getting fat etcetera, and the ads are beginning to appear for Christmas wine. Because this, of course, is the one time of the year when everyone suddenly becomes aware of wine, and gets themselves into a right old paddy about which one to buy for Christmas dinner. So the advertisers want to get in early, because, like the manufacturers of nutcrackers and turkey basters, this is their one chance in twelve months to flog most people their wares.

It may be hard for aficionados of the grape to accept but, for many people, wine is a one-off, annual event, like Christmas itself. It’s simply part of the tradition, a little once-a-year indulgence. Christmas wine is like Christmas pudding, deemed an essential part of the proceedings – but, again like Christmas pudding, most people have no real idea of what it is, what’s in it, or how to discern one version from another except by its price.

This presents something of a dilemma for those of us who do actually love wine. Is Christmas the excuse to bring out a much-loved, long-awaited bottle which has been kept for a “special occasion”? Or will that result in a tedious educational session over the turkey? “Well yes, Burgundy is Pinot Noir, but…” Just when you want to enjoy your bottle, you find yourself having to explain it. Whereas you don’t have to “explain” the roast potatoes.

And is your much-treasured wine going to disappear down the neck of that guest who would be perfectly happy with a glass of Ribena? Because even if they actively dislike wine, like brussel sprouts, this is the one day of the year on which people feel duty bound to consume it.

Or for which, of course, if they’re hosting the event, they feel duty bound to purchase it. So out roll the ads, aimed at the majority of the population who will not enjoy my largesse, but will have to go out and buy their own sodding bottle.

And the key, it seems, to making a bottle of wine look suitable for Christmas is to shroud it in darkness.

Majestic to the Wine Society, Christmas wine photography is clearly inspired by

Caravaggio. The bottles invariably stand in a darkened room, glowing in reflected candlelight, or with out-of-focus lights in the background suggesting Yuletide decorations. Never mind the problems of serving it; Berry Bros present their bottles in such stygian gloom you would need a torch to find it.

In candlelight, any red looks dark and inviting, any white a fool’s gold. (Very few of these images contain rosé; you probably wouldn’t drink rosé at Christmas but, given that 90% of its appeal is its colour, you certainly wouldn’t drink rosé in the dark.)

And when you think about it, this is absurd. Because most people in this country, prior to slumping in front of the Queen’s Speech, actually have their Christmas meal in daylight.

But there’s clearly some suggestion that the posh people, the real claret-drinkers, who spend a teensy bit more than £5.99, dine in the evening; and so if a wine’s going to make your Christmas meal a special occasion, it must be shown as suitable for evening consumption. Even if you’ll be drinking it during the day. And even if it does only cost £5.99.

Just as the panic sets in, a clearly illuminated mixed case offer appears from Avery’s.

12 delicious wines hand-picked for Christmas. Well, that should set some minds at rest.

Its three reds are a Gran Reserva that you should “set aside for a Sunday roast”; a French Syrah Grenache that’s “great with casseroles”; and a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo to be enjoyed “with Italian favourites like lasagne”.

That’s the Christmas dinner sorted, then. Casserole? Or lasagne?



  1. Are there any fond recollections of Great Xmas wines? I can only recall one. I was in my 20s, and the year was approximately 1977. I'd developed a pretentious interest in wine and from heaven knows where, possibly Spain, as I was going there at every opportunity, I produced a bottle of Vega Sicilia Valbuena for a year that might have been 1968. Or something. My Dad, whose palate was easily pleased, and for whom every wine was "very nice, very smooth", let me open it with the meal and we drank half each. It was the finest red I've ever had and all I can say is that after half a bottle I went upstairs to bed for a couple of hours. Beyond that, I have no recollection and I don't believe any Xmas day tipple has ever come close. Very nice, very smooth.

    1. Well for me it was opening a bottle of this port after a quarter of a century…


  2. Thank you. An enjoyable read in these times of so many wasted words...


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