In the heart of the Highlands of a very stormy Scotland, my family and I enjoyed our traditional Christmas of good craic, good food, and good wine. Having slightly overdone it on the plonk at the office Christmas do, I'd stuck to cocktails and ginger beer for the remainder of the party season, so it was a joy to dive into the selection box of wines we'd chosen specially for the Christmas holiday.
There were several gems in there. On Christmas morning we went for a sparkling Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, £20/bottle from Avery's. Instead of the richness of the traditional champagne, we had the citrus, apple and grassy notes of this New Zealand classic, now fizzy and fabulous, dancing on top of some lightly lemoned smoked salmon. The delicacy of the pairing was lost amongst those who added bagels and cream cheese into the mix, but since I always prefer my salmon naked, I had no complaints. Staying down under, an excellent Central Otago Pinot Noir - Chancet Rocks, £16/bottle from Avery's - accompanied the Christmas lunch. Light and fruity, with just a touch of earthy grip, it added plum, berry and subtle oak to the assortment of flavours already delighting our palates from the festive repas. For dessert, an 'unofficial' (from the vineyard, just not labelled as such) Chateau d'Yquem was sweet and sophisticated and perfect with the Christmas pud, and at a fraction of the usual price of the Sauternes star (just £25 from Berry Brothers and Rudd), it was a real treat.
For me, however, the real champion wine of the box we drank on Boxing Day, with Christmas Dinner number 2 - the Leftover Edition. An evening meal this time, we went heavier than the pinot of the previous day... much heavier, to the Musella Amarone, £29.99/bottle from Virgin Wines. I have spent some time wondering how to adequately express how good this wine is, and here's my best attempt: Bam - you're hypnotized by the intense, sweet, red fruit aromas; Bam - your tongue is massaged by the thick velvety texture; Bam - the solid tanins squeeze your tongue and palate and then BAM - you become lost in the brilliantly infused whirlpool of oak and cherry and eucalyptus. At the end, you're left with a finish so sublime you have to stop your conversation, hold off on that next forkful and just savour. Bam Bam BAM, this wine is big, bold and beautiful, and at 16.5%, certainly not for the faint hearted!
Amarones are, by their very nature, fundamentally remarkable wines. Taking the ripest of the Valpolicella crop (made up of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes), Amarone is made by spreading the grapes out on mats in a cool, dry room for 3-4 months. As they shrivel, the juice becomes concentrated. This juice is then fermented until dry and aged in oak, producing a typically rich, heady, robust wine which usually takes at least 10 years to fully mature. It's a real winter wine which goes best with roasts, game, and mature cheeses. Over the past 2 years, I've had more and more people asking me about Amarone. Big, thick and fruity, it seems particularly appealing to the British palate. But higher demand has inevitably led to that curse on quality - overproduction. Time was you wouldn't have been able to find an Amarone for under £25/bottle retail. Nowadays there are some down in the £teens, but for the real showstoppers, you have to add in that extra tenner. It's a lot I know, but as the Musella so dramatically reminded me, it is so worth it.
Christmas may be over, but winter rolls on, so if you're looking for a very special treat to snuggle up with on a windy weekend evening, I have 4 words for you: Amarone. Bam. Bam. BAM.