A Victorian Christmas – claret and whisky in the same glass

Here’s my annual Lady Christmas bumper wine extravaganza. It should be up on their site soon. I’ve annotated it slightly for the blog: 

Most of our festive traditions such as Christmas trees, sending cards and mince pies back to the long reign of Queen Victoria. So this year I thought it would be fun to have Victorian-themed Christmas: we’ll buy the biggest turkey in the shop, ice skate on the Thames and send our three year old daughter up chimneys to pay for it all.

Queen Victoria’s drink of choice was a mixture of claret and whisky.  Luckily for our guests, her subjects had much better taste. All the world’s great drinks were available in London and they had more or less assumed their present form by the end of Victoria’s reign. Champagne had gone from being a sweet syrupy drink to the bone dry aperitif we know today, gin became smooth and aromatic and claret entered its golden age. (I’m subtly trying to plug my book here.) 

Thanks to William Gladstone’s Single Bottle Act of 1861, for the first time ordinary people could buy wine by the bottle. Previously they would have to have bought at least a case and visited a specialist merchant. Grocers’ shops and the new department stores that were founded at this time were now selling wine and it led to boom in consumption fuelled by the first mass marketing (and here).

So here’s what we’ll be drinking. There are a couple of expensive table wines to serve if you’re expecting a big Christmas bonus and a couple if you aren’t. I’ll be in the latter boat.

Churchill Unfiltered LBV 2005 (Oddbins £16)

It wouldn’t be a Victorian Xmas without port (God this is such a cliched phrase. We have just been watching Nigella  Lawson and apparently Christmas isn’t Christmas without chestnuts. With Jamie Oliver it’s clementines. He puts the zest in everything). This is one to give those who say they don’t like port because it’s not cloyingly sweet. In fact it tastes almost savoury with the most amazing floral aroma. So good you’d think it was twice the price.

Harvey Nichols Sauternes 2010 (half bottle £15)

This is made by one of the best estates in Sauternes, Chateau Coutet. It’s in a light fresh style with an intense aroma of marmalade, dried apricots and honey.

Quinta do Carvalhais 2010 (Tesco £8.99)

It wasn’t just port, a huge percentage of the wine drunk in Britain during the 19th century would have come from Portugal (probably pushing the Victorian theme a bit here). It’s leathery and spicy with lots of red fruit; just the thing to have with turkey (I’ve drunk about fifteen bottles of this recently and in some of them there’s quite prominent oak. It’s worth decanting and after a while the vanilla taste disappears. Other bottles don’t taste oaky at all. I assume this wine is made in such vast quantities that the bottles vary.)

Cliffhanger Riesling 2013 (Tesco £9.50)

You’ve got to have something German in honour of dear old Albert (and here). This is perfumed and floral. There’s a hint of sweetness but with such mouth-watering acidity that it’s dry enough to serve with savoury food.

Sainsbury’s Blanc de Blancs Champagne NV (£20)

This is fresh and lively with a distinct chalky taste like a good Chablis and a long nutty finish. Good price too and look out for bulk discount offers in the run-up to Christmas (top consumer advice!).

Gonzalez-Byass Dos Palmas Fino NV (Lea & Sandeman £17.95)

Think of this one as Tio Pepe turned up to 11. There’s lots of marmite on the nose and in the mouth it’s fresh and piquant with a distinct taste of almonds. I’d like to drink this at 11am on Christmas morning whilst opening presents.

Sarget de Gruaud Larose 05 (Tanners £35.40)

If you want to treat yourself then this is the wine to do it with. It’s perfectly poised between youthful fruitiness and mature tobacco notes; a real treat for claret lovers.

Exhibition St Aubin 12 (Wine Society £14)

What better wine to serve alongside the claret than a white Burgundy? Initially it’s very fresh, clean and lemony with mouth-watering acidity. But there’s richness here too, a lovely savoury nuttiness starts to build and lingers a while. A subtle wine that gets more interesting with each sip.

Completely off her head on whisky and claret.

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About Henry

Henry Jeffreys was born in London. He has worked in the wine trade, publishing and is now a freelance journalist. He specialises in drink and his work has appeared in the Spectator, the Guardian, the Economist, the Financial Times, the Oldie and Food & Wine magazine. He was a contributor to the Breakfast Bible (Bloomsbury 2013) and his book Empire of Booze: British History through the Bottom of a Glass was published in November 2016.
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