Our Christmas dinner

Christmas tree 2019

Very, very best wishes to you on this Christmas Day as we steel ourselves for whatever the third decade of this new millennium will bring. Stay cool. Especially if you are in the southern hemisphere.

I hope you are too busy celebrating with family and friends today to have time to visit JancisRobinson.com but just in case you seek some wine tasting note nourishment, I thought I would share with you what I wrote about the wines we served at this year's Christmas dinner for the JancisRobinson.com team.

It was held unusually early this year, on Saturday 30 November, because Walter was in London to host our Valtellina Night the next day and it had been ages since he had been able to attend. Of course many of our correspondents are too far-flung to get to London for this evening of good food and wine, particularly Max in Australia and Alder and Elaine in California – although Alder has already said in an email, 'My New Year’s Resolution? To make it to next year’s Purple Pages holiday party in person!'

Michael has often been able to attend because, although he is based in Germany, his daughter lives in Surrey, but this year golden wedding anniversary celebrations kept him in the Ahr Valley. (He also added, when explaining this, 'Another reason for not coming is that I can't see you serving a German Spätburgunder two years running.')

Ferran had to teach a WSET class in Spain – bad timing – although he will be in London next month to attend the WSET graduation ceremony at the Guildhall, not least because, embarrassingly for me, he has been shortlisted for the Alumni Award sponsored by JancisRobinson.com. (Shortlist and winner are decided by fellow alumni, not me.)

Partners' birthday parties also got in the way, precluding attendance by both Ali Cooper MW and Tom Parker MW, while Tam was specifically invited to her partner's work do and Rachel Shaughnessy, our membership supremo, had promised her son a treat that night.

So this year we managed, for the first time in many years, to squeeze round our dining table instead of having to extend it. 

For no particular reason except that it was the thirtieth anniversary, I decided to make 1989 the theme for the majority of the wines – and got rather a shock when our developer Scott announced that this was his birth year. That's the world of IT for you. (Advise your children that this is a lucrative avenue to explore.) Tom Parker explained later that this is his birth year too.

The first wine, a magnum of champagne, reversed the numerals. And of course we had to have an Italian wine for Walter and I hope, as an Etna enthusiast like me, he enjoyed it. 

Perhaps the grandest 1989 was the Yquem, but by the time it was served (after enjoying some of the finest leftovers from my recent tasting for my Late 2019 portfest), I fear it did not quite receive the attention it deserved. Very interesting to see how different the two halves from the same case were – mirroring my earlier experience with Climens 1988.

Oh, food? What did Chef Nick prepare for our delectation? We nibbled on some mixed truffled nuts beforehand with the champagne. Then quarters of fresh gem lettuce with Ortiz anchovies. Marinated duck breasts with confit potatoes and creamed leeks. A whole and deliciously à point Rollright cheese, England's superb answer to brie from the Cotswolds, and finally winter syllabub, a thoroughly decadent but not too sickly concoction involving sherry-soaked raisins, lashings of cream and pomegranate seeds for texture.

My picture shows the appropriately tipsy Christmas tree we managed to decorate just in time for our JR.com guests.

Rare 1998 Champagne

Magnum. Régis Camus' favourite vintage and the current release! 
Pale yellow. Nicely mature with some sweetness and lemon fruit. Clean and resolved though not that much evidence of autolysis. Complete, composed and fine and sophisticated rather than dramatic or showy. A hint of smokiness on the long finish.


Planeta 2016 Etna

Magnum. Carricante grapes partially fermented in barrique at their Feudo di Mezzo winery. Described on the back label as 'a contemporary take on this noble grape variety grown in the marvellous and unique terroir of Etna'.
Lemon and minerals on the nose. Sweetness and blossom with admirable spine on the palate. This seems a very good point at which to tackle this wine in bottle. In magnum it's still a little tight on the palate but beautifully nervy and with a smoky pungency. Very clean and citrus. Great balance and finish.


Ch Siran 1989 Margaux

Magnum recorked in 2011.
Dark blackish ruby. Quite powerfully aromatic and sweet with tannins all receded and some 1989 burly sunshine in the glass. But very nice Margaux perfume on top of that flattering fruit. Just the stage of maturity you want to encounter in a claret. Note the relatively low alcohol. Presumably a higher-ranked 1989 would have a little more complexity but this is lovely drinking and very true to the appellation.


Ch d'Armailhac 1989 Pauillac

Dark with some Pauillac structure still in evidence. High-toned, classic Pauillac nose with some dryish tannins still showing. Dry finish definitely needs food. Bit of a dry old stick on opening. Will it take on flesh and charm in a decanter? Amazingly unfleshy for a 1989!

16.5 +

Ridge, Monte Bello 1989 Santa Cruz Mountains

'Imported by Geoffrey Roberts' printed on the label of this bottle bought from the late Bill Baker's cellar.
Deep blackish ruby. Very fragrant indeed. Lovely Cabernet nose that's fully evolved. Sweet, pure, minty nose. Clean as a whistle with a hint of balsam. Dry but not drying finish. Overall particulary savoury and nuanced and still in great nick.


Ch d'Yquem 1989 Sauternes

Two halves tasted towards the end of the JancisRobinson.com Christmas dinner were surprisingly different. They were both deep golden amber hue but with different intensities. The paler one was definitely simpler than the darker one. The former had an intense impact of sweetness beautifully counterbalanced by just the right amount of acidity and the special depth of Yquem with glossy satin texture. Candied-lemon flavour. The darker one, on the other hand, was much more intense and savoury in flavour with more complexity. Really intense and long. The score applies to the darker example, which continued to reverberate on the palate for minutes.