Lifestyle column: Festive celebrations with claret and port

Peter Homer
Peter Homer

As the countdown to Christmas continues, the first of two options for drinks to adorn the festive dinner table is suggested today – with the other to follow in next month’s column.

It features two of the world’s most civilised tipples – claret and port.

The great Bordeaux red wine is suggested for the main course and the ports for desserts, good cheeses, and maybe a few nuts after the meal as well.

The two reasonably-priced clarets are from Dourthe, one of the French region’s most prestigious producers.

For those with a bottomless purse, the sky’s the limit as far as claret is concerned, of course, but I would be quite content with a bottle of Diane de Belgrave Haut-Medoc 2009 (13 per cent, £15, Oddbins).

This is the ‘second wine’ of the Chateau Belgrave – a ripe, full red, with a supple blackcurrant flavour and hints of oak. The dry edge is just right for rich Christmas fare.

The chateau is in a location well-known for its game, and bottles reflect this with a picture of a ferret, wearing a collar, on the labels. The Diane – named after the goddess of hunting – and the chateau’s first wine, would also go well with pheasant, partidge or venison, as I can testify from meals in the past.

Particularly good value for money, given its quality, is Chateau Pey La Tour Reserve 2009 (14.5 per cent, £10.69, Cambridge Wine Merchants, £5.50 for 37.5cl, Wine Society).

The famous chateau has been owned by Dourthe since 1990, and has undergone extensive remodelling.

This is a sound Bordeaux superieure – 95 per cent merlot, four per cent cabernet sauvignon and one per cent petit verdot.

There are up-front tastes of plums and black berries, with touches of chocolate and coffee.

With 14.5 per cent alcohol, it’s a powerful red wine, robust enough to complement the turkey and trimmings.

On to port, for the chocolatey desserts, Christmas pud, and strong cheeses.

Taylor’s ten-year-old Tawny Port (20 per cent, from £23, Majestic, Morrisons, Sainsburys, Tesco and Waitrose) is mellow and fulsome – the best-selling 
ten-year-old tawny in the UK.

It is bottled for immediate drinking, and certainly my own personal favourite – lovely silky, elegant notes of red berries, nuts and dark chocolate. Tawny port takes its colour from the casks in which it is aged – the hue has been compared to that of a tiger’s eye.

Taylor’s Vargellas Vintage Port 2001 (20.5 per cent, £30, Tesco) comes from a remote estate in the wildest, highest part of Douro – regarded as one of the world’s great wine estates.

Although fine for drinking right now, it can be kept in the sealed bottle for years, improving with age. It should be decanted before serving.

There are tastes of black berries, spice and liquorice, and an aroma of violets.

This single estate vintage port is very deep purple in colour, and a classic drink for Christmas.

Fonseca Bin 27 (20 per cent, £12.99, in a wooden box,Tesco) is especially fruity, with blackcurrants, plums and cherries, and a soft texture.

I enjoyed a glass on its own, but it would go well, like the others, with puds and cheeses.

This blend is sold all over the world, and reported to be particularly popular in America. It doesn’t quite hit the heights of the other two ports in this small list, but is still a good buy at the price.