The Spirit of Christmas Present
Posted: 2nd January 2019
Christmas is certainly not what it was. Even in my callow twenties I recall one year in Paris when we drank 1966 Château Margaux (currently £500 a bottle) out of whisky tumblers, and another when I was all alone with a friend and I bought a bottle of 1971 La Tâche (400 francs or forty quid then, now a modest £4,418 a bottle). Life was pretty good! When I look back on it, on the second occasion I was in seventh heaven because the girl got drunk on the champagne before dinner and I had most of the bottle of burgundy and a haunch of wild boar to myself.
If I still had a repository of these things now I dare say someone would tell me to sell them and in mitigation it is true that Christmas has a lot more meaning when you have children and you are not just indulging yourself; you happily accept that their happiness is what it’s about even if the wine and food is perhaps not all it was. The worst of all worlds is when you aren’t happy, and the children aren’t either.
I am glad to say that I don’t think we quite reached that level this year, although we have been close in the past. This Christmas was more sociable than many previous occasions and only Christmas Day was completely free of guests or trips to see friends. So it kicked off with a blazing fire and the decoration of the tree on Christmas Eve while we waited for the arrival of a couple of guests for dinner. I decanted a bottle of 1985 Warre’s port I had been given as a present and put some slightly underperforming white burgundy in the fridge. We had a predictable but otherwise undistinguished bottle of Perrier Jouët before we sat down the terrine of foie gras I’d made over the weekend. The burgundy was intended for the baked sea bass and beurre blanc, then a friend’s Saint Emilion, 2007 Château Petit Faurie de Soutard went with the cheeses, including a sensational vacherin mont d’or. It was a really lovely wine, quite creamy and modern in style, but without that clunking sweetness of so many Saint Emilions today. Then there were meringues and mince pies with brandy butter and what proved to be a truly lovely, classic port.
Suitably fortified with went to Midnight Mass. As we ambled back after 1.30 on Christmas morning we surprised a fox tucking into his Christmas dinner: a takeaway jettisoned in the street. He wasn’t drinking wine.
Later that day we had a bottle of Mumm around the tree and slices of a Venezuelan pan de jamon I had made on impulse because it looked nice in the picture. The bread dough is enriched with eggs and butter and rolled up with ham, bacon and olives. I was supposed to add raisins too but one child won’t eat them and I wasn’t certain they added that much. It proved remarkably popular, and I may have to make it again. We were just three drinkers at dinner, which was a wonderful heifer forerib (we had baptised it ‘Simon’). I had decanted the oldest Bordeaux I had left: a 1988 Château Lynch Moussas for which I had no great expectations.
As it was it turned out, it proved to be a model pre-Parker claret with just 12.5 by volume, a lovely balance together with an enchanting redolence of cedar and cassis. There was no sign of decay. Then there was cheese and treacle pudding. After that we took the port upstairs to watch Scrooge.
My brother-in-law had brought up a couple of cooked lobsters from Devon on Christmas Eve, and these formed the centre point of the meal on Boxing Day when a couple of friends came to dinner. They brought an orange Khikvi wine with them from the Vazisubani Estate in Georgia. That afternoon my daughter and I had done sterling work with a hammer and skewers and I had turned the lobsters into a salad by whipping up some mayonnaise. The brown meat was incorporated into the leftover beurre blanc and served with toast. The wine for this was 2013Meursault Clos du Cromin from Patrick Javillier which was as magical as the other white burgundy had been flat. There was some roast pork and cabbage afterwards for which the intended partner was the 2000 Domaine du Grand Tinel Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This was a disappointment: it was distinctly on the wane. I had had the 2001 earlier in the year and it was a great deal more robust. I had always suspected the millennial wines had been over-hyped. More cheeses came out later, including an interesting camembert that had been enhanced with ceps.
For the next few days we managed the leftovers and on New Year’s Eve we had our Italian feast of stuffed pig’s trotter or zampone with lentils and potato purée. There was even a bit of foie gras left too which we ate with a 1997 Weißburgunder Auslese from my friend Johann Münzenrieder in Apetlon. Once again the star was a 1997 Prunotto Barolo, a wine that kept throwing out new faces, sparkling like the fireworks that even then were starting to illuminate London’s Southbank.
We had no champagne on New Year’s Eve this year. We’ll have champagne again when there is something to celebrate.