Limited funds this Christmas doesn't necessarily mean skimping on wine. Natasha Hughes reports
As you may have noticed, there's a recession going on - even if the stats haven't yet made it official. According to the latest Nielsen data, 250,000 consumers have dropped wine off their shopping lists in an effort to save money, although th is is mainly affecting the high street end of the market.
At the top end, merchants are just about keeping their heads above water.
"Things are holding up for us at the moment," says Alun Griffiths MW, Berry Bros' wine director . " But the next few months may be more challenging as the impact falls on consumers rather than banks."
The question now has to be whether Christmas, traditionally a strong trading season, will put wine sales firmly into the black.
"Christmas is an opportunity," says Pierpaolo Petrassi MW, senior product manager for Tesco . "But we need to make it work for us rather than just letting things drift. Wine is now more of a discretionary spend and we have to make the wine offer so compelling that people will buy wines rather than spend their money on something else."
So what can retailers do to ensure their wine sales provide them with a Christmas bonus? The key, as ever, is having a great selection at an appropriate price. While last year consumers might have splashed out on Bordeaux or Chablis, this year they' re likely to be looking for something to create a sense of occasion without putting a dent in their wallets. However, even the most fiscally conservative among us know that wines costing under a fiver won't bring much sparkle to the festive table. Arguably, the most competitive price zone in the UK market lies between £7 and £12, and wines at this level usually deliver an awful lot of bang for relatively few bucks - so this is where the smart money should be spent.
At this price level, for instance, your customers could start their festivities with a glass of dry sherry, one of the world's most under-appreciated wines - and therefore a bargain in terms of value for money. Valdivia's fino and manzanilla La Rubia (£7.99 for 50cl, Laymont & Shaw) are both light and refreshing - a great accompaniment to the usual pre-lunch nibbles. Alternatively, you could opt for
a richer, nutty amontillado, such as Bodegas Hidalgo's Napoleon (£12, Mentzendorff).
Finding the perfect match
But the highlight of Christmas Day is always the meal, with a main course of turkey, goose or beef. Turkey needs a fairly full-bodied white to help wash it down. I'd be tempted by a Bordeaux wine such as Ch‚teau Ducla Entre-Deux-Mers 2007 (£7.99, Freixenet), but Burgundy offers the most traditional white choices. Louis Jadot's M ‚con-Azť 2007 (£8.49, Waitrose) is quite lean and mineral in style, while those who prefer their Chardonnay with a bit of fat could opt for a bottle of Errazuriz's Max Reserva Chardonnay 2007 (£9.19, Hatch Mansfield).
Burgundy is also the obvious choice for a red, but a price ceiling of £12 puts most of the region's wines out of the running. The sensible thing to do is to look to the New World, where wines such as Cable Bay's Culley Pinot Noir Marlborough 2007 (£8.99, Stratford's) and de Bortoli's Windy Peak Pinot Noir Victoria 2008 (£7.99, Sainsbury's) hit the spot nicely, albeit without the Burgundian complexity.
More intense than either is Anakena's Ona Pinot Noir Casablanca 2007 (£8.99, Oddbins), an eccentric blend of Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah and Viognier. Its mouthwatering acidity would also help it take on roast goose, which is fattier and richer than turkey, and needs a wine that can stand up to it on its own terms. Other reds that would fit the bill are Masi Tupungato's Paso Doble Mendoza 2006 (£9.49, Berkmann) or the perfumed Quinta dos Roques Tinto D „o 2005 (£9.50, Raymond Reynolds, 01663 742 230). In terms of whites, look to wines from the southern part of France, such as Paul Mas La Forge Estate Marsanne Reserve Vin de Pays d'Oc 2006 (£7.99, Majestic) or the complex Preceptorie de Centernach Coume Marie CŰtes du Roussillon 2005 (£7.95, The Wine Society).
A roast rib of beef, however, deserves a hearty red, and my choice would be Les Quatre 2006 from Mont Tauch (£8.99, Waitrose), a potent Languedoc red with herby fruit, or the pepper-laden Vidal Syrah Hawke s Bay 2006 (£9.72, Matthew Clark). Alternatively, a Bordeaux-style blend such as Esk Valley's 2006 blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec (£10.19, Hatch Mansfield) or Stonehedge Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 (£8.63, Eurowines) would please traditionalists.
Finally, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a bottle of something sweet to wash down the tidal wave of cheeses, choccies and steamed puds.
Those who favour lighter wines will enjoy Dindarello's Maculan 2007 (£8.49 for 37.5cl, Berkmann), a fresh, floral take on Muscat from the Veneto. Port doesn't come cheap, so the budget would have to be extended slightly to take in Taylor's 10 Year Old Tawny (£12.98 for 50cl, Asda), and the alternative - a 10-year-old Malmsey from Henriques & Henriques (£11.99, Mentzendorff) - isn't much cheaper. The upside is that both are fabulous matches for pudding, cheeses, nuts and chocolates, and a little goes a long, long way.
Special Christmas offers
The port houses often have seasonal gift packs and Taylor's A Century of Port is the most creative of these. It offers four 50cl bottles of tawny port
- a 10, 20, 30 and a 40 Year Old, in a presentation box (£120, Harrods).
Berry Bro s & Rudd has a range of gifts, from a box containing a bottle each of red and white for £29.50 to
the Chairman's Selection of top wines presented in an aluminium drinks chest - a snip at £1,500.
Online retailer thedrinkshop.com is going for the flexible option by offering gift boxes (from £10.49), which can be used to package the wine of your choice.
Suppliers' contact details
Laymont & Shaw 01209 310 770
Mentzendorff 020 7840 3600
Freixenet 01344 758 500
Hatch Mansfield 01344 871 800
Stratford's 01628 810 606
Berkmann 020 7609 4711
Matthew Clark 01275 891 400
Eurowines 0870 162 1420