We dream of a white Christmas, Jack Frost nipping at our nose, but more often than not it’s a wet one, the puddles soaking our toes. Yet come the festive season, not even the British weather can dampen our spirits because, let’s be honest, indulgence helps us through it.
Those of us fortunate enough to own a cellar have the ultimate reason to raid it, so the winter solstice, the official start of the season, turns into the longest day, as I don the thermals to ‘audit’ my own wines, ready for Christmas. As any curator will confirm, spending time with your collection is something akin to a spiritual experience and it certainly sets the tone for the festivities, throwing up surprises and also the occasional shocker: I learnt the hard way that even top end Puligny Montrachet has a ‘best before’ date when I found a forgotten brace of bottles – our kitchen sink had the time of its life.
I rarely drink during daylight hours but Christmas Day is an exception and, after a healthy start of freshly squeezed orange juice, buttered sourdough with lashings of Marmite and a gallon of coffee, the festivities begin late morning with devils on horseback accompanied by my favourite rosé Champagne, Billecart-Salmon Rosé NV (£67.99, Wanderlust Wine). With its seductive nose of alpine strawberry, delicate yet persistent mousse and perfect poise, balancing succulent red fruit, firm acidity and a delicate doughiness, you could argue that it doesn’t get much better than this… yet, on this day, it does.
The long lunch has a gentle start, with a just-about-seasonal salad, featuring the last of this year’s crop of conference pears, bitter red endive, Roquefort and toasted hazelnuts in a honey mustard vinaigrette. In days of yore, I’d have chosen a vintage Champagne but this year we are sticking closer to home because nothing suggests an orchard like an English sparkler. Hambledon Première Cuvée (£38.99, House of Malt) offers wafts of russet apple, hawthorn blossom, waxy lemon and subtle spice, while the palate tantalises with tarte tatin, balanced by greengage and pithy grapefruit.
As regular readers will know, I have a passion for winter pink so my Christmas table, bedecked in seasonal greenery, will be glimpsed through rosé-tinted glasses. Orkney smoked salmon, with horseradish crème fraîche, smattered with dill, will be served with Domaine Mirabeau La Réserve Rosé (£28, Harrods), a small-production masterpiece from Stephen and Jeany Cronk, who have done so much to cement this country’s love affair with Provence rosé. The nose of honeysuckle, raspberry and peach melba evokes memories of summer, while the juicy red fruit acidity and mellow oaky notes are a fabulous foil for the fleshy, oily fish.
A velvety velouté offers wow factor as well as winter comfort, so I tend to spend the afternoon of Christmas Eve in the company of a Le Creuset casserole pot, hoping to produce a showstopper. Cauliflower used to be my go-to but catastrophe struck last year when my motorised salt grinder disintegrated mid-seasoning, disgorging its contents of Maldon salt crystals and Duracell AA batteries into the pan. The memory is still rather raw (‘anyone for salted battery acid soup?’), so this year I’m opting for cream of celeriac instead. We all need some crispness at Christmas so Simonnet-Febvre Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2021 (£29.99, Waitrose) hits the spot with its combination of crunchy green apple and plump citrus with the signature struck-match-flintiness of Chablis and, dare I say, a hint of salinity, to plunge a knife through the creamy opulence of the velouté.
Turkeys might sometimes vote for Christmas but chez Kermode, rare roast beef wins by a landslide. If I was opting for the big bird (an American import, of course) and its trimmings, I would probably opt for a Côte D’Or Burgundy but as we’re having a slab of finest fillet, my thoughts naturally turn to Bordeaux or at least its world-conquering grape varieties. Though I may be tempted to raid the cellar for a millennium year Margaux, there are plenty of ready-aged options on the market for drinking during the festive period and my choice would be Château Lassègue 2015, St Emilion (£45, Nickolls & Perks). Enticingly fragrant, with sweet-scented black forest cherry and foraged blackberry, subtle notes of sandalwood, plush tannins and fresh juicy acidity, this delicious Merlot-led wine, from a very good vintage, is friendly enough to satisfy those who might usually shy away from Bordeaux.
Controversial, perhaps, but I believe that a cheeseboard should always precede the pudding – as in France – and ours will feature wild garlic Cornish Yarg, aged Stilton and something stinky like an Epoisses. I shall pass on the port, on this occasion, in favour of a textural white that will also be a talking point: Yangarra Estate ‘Roux Beauté’ Roussanne 2020, McLaren Vale (£40, Lay & Wheeler) is such a wine. Certified biodynamic, made in a ceramic egg, with half of the cuvée enjoying half a year’s contact with the skins, there’s a rich and delicious textural feast from flavours you might actually enjoy on a cheese board, including quince, ginger, apricot and honeycomb, balanced by a waxy citrus acidity.
Finally, to accompany Christmas pudding, steeped in (any old) brandy, with a whipped Grand Marnier Chantilly (much better than brandy butter, in my humble opinion), I have lined up a relatively youthful Sauternes. Château Quincarnon 2019 (£19.95 (half bottle), Hennings) offers a ballet of candied lemons, ripe peach, frangipani and mountain honey, dancing around a pole of firm, fresh acidity to balance not just the concentrated sweetness of the wine, but also all that figgy-pudding fruitiness.
A glass of Cognac or Armagnac will probably follow before bedtime and then, of course, it is all over for another year. The longest month, January, with its 90 or so days, lies in wait. So, enjoy every moment of this festive season and have a merry Christmas.