The Festive Red Wine Guide 2021


Welcome to my annual roundup of red wines. Ranging freely across styles, regions and grape varieties, it's designed to cover all occasions and eventualities through the festive season. There are wines to suit the absolutely-nothing-is-happening evenings, wines for the 'this deserves something special' dinners and lots of inspiration for gifts. All these wines are ready for drinking, but some will also continue to develop.


They're listed in ascending order of price, going from £5 to £60-plus. You'll find a few bottle weights (empty bottle) along the way, but not all that many. That's because some wines were tasted at tasting events, some were mini-bottle samples, or it was before I had started weighing all bottles that come into the house.


In addition to a plea to all producers to reduce the weight of their bottles if they haven't already, I have a plea for wine drinkers: don't serve your reds too warm. They really will taste fresher, brighter and more detailed if they're below 19ºC, and the lighter the red the cooler it should be. Read on and a merry Christmas!


£15 and under

Tesco Claret 2020, Bordeaux, France

I didn’t expect to be including a £5 red Bordeaux, but this is bright, clean, soft and plummy. There’s a slightly tinny edge, but it works as a package: medium-bodied, simple but balanced. 100% Merlot. 13.5%

£5, Tesco


Moonseng 2020, Côtes de Gascogne, France

A unique blend of Merlot and the obscure Manseng Noir, producing a red of energising freshness with succulent sour-cherry and blackberry fruit and a touch of spicy liquorice. The usp of Manseng Noir, which was saved from extinction by the pioneering Plaimont group, is freshness, soft tannins and low alcohol. That said, the 2020 blend is higher in alcohol than its two predecessors. Try it with bresaola, smoked duck breast, other dried and cured meats and goat’s cheese. 14%. Bottle weight: 422g

£7.50, The Wine Society


Waitrose & Partners País 2020, Maule, Chile

Made with the País grape variety, this is pale, light-bodied and juicy with strawberry and white pepper flavours and a swish of orange zest and minerals. Think of it as an alternative to Beaujolais and, if you ever need a red wine for smoked salmon, try this. Serve cool. 13.5%

£7.99, Waitrose


Wakefield Promised Land Shiraz 2019, South Australia

Bright, fresh, bramble-jelly fruit with a sprinkle of pepper and the softest of oak-smoothed tannins – a great value crowd-pleaser that goes well with spices and would take turkey and all the trimmings or a festive vegetarian feast in its stride. Not only that but it comes in an eco-friendly lightweight bottle from Australia’s first independent winery to commit to Science Based Targets that align with the Paris Agreement. Wakefield has committed to reducing its emissions by 50% by 2030. Bravo! 14%. Bottle weight: 375g

£8.50, The Wine Society


Dom Martinho by Quinta do Carmo 2018, Alentejano, Portugal

Full-bodied, approachable southern Portuguese red making the most of the enticing black cherry and earth-sweet flavours of local grape varieties, plus a modest 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Warming yet fresh. 14.5%

£8.99, down from £11.99 until 2 January, Waitrose


Domaine Barrau Cabernet Franc 2019, Pays du Gard, France

Combining raspberry, red cherry and red currant fruit with the spiciness of fresh bay leaves and smoked paprika and the creaminess of cappuccino, this organic, southern French red shows why Cabernet Franc is an increasingly popular variety. Very good value. 13.5%. Bottle weight: 597g

£9, Booths


Viña Mayor Tinto Roble 2019, Ribera del Duero, Spain

Young Ribera del Duero briefly barrel-aged (3 months in French and American) to infuse the ripe, crunchy bramble fruit with lightly toasted, vanilla-scented oak. An inviting balance between ripeness, freshness and oak. 14%. (If you like this, it’s worth looking out for Viña Mayor’s top of the range Secreto, which The Wine Society sells but is out of stock of currently.)

£9.39–£15.48, Bonafide Wines, Aitken Wines, Mr & Mrs Fine Wine, Blas ar Fwyd, Market Hall Wines, Amazon UK


Integro Organic Primitivo 2020, Puglia, Italy

For anyone who wants a big mouthful of spicy plum-jam, black-cherry fruit and toasted sweet oak to go with the punchy sweetness of roast spiced pumpkin or sweet potato, barbecue sauce or an action-packed pizza, this is it: Primitivo, aka Zinfandel, from the south of Italy. I’m not pretending it's is my kind of wine, but it’s a good example of a popular style. 14%

£9.65–£10.99, Booths, Abel & Cole, Ocado


De Martino Gallardia Cinsault 2019, Itata, Chile

Light bodied, juicy and supple with red-berry and cherry crunch and stony, salty minerality – spot on for granite-grown Cinsault. Serve cool. Doesn’t demand food, but pairs well with dried and cured meats, chorizo, Persian spice mixes and herbs and is a good red to try with fish. Serve cool. 12.5%. Bottle weight: 592g

£9.99–£12, Virgin Wines, Booths


Vergelegen Premium Cabernet Merlot 2018, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Another winner from André van Rensberg at Vergelegen. Sweet and crunchy blackcurrant, currant-leaf freshness, smooth dark chocolate, black tapenade and background oak all come together with purity and balance. 14%. Bottle weight: 572g. Makes a good pair with the equally good Sauvignon Blanc (same price, lighter bottle).

£10, Tesco


Finca Constancia Entre Lunas Organic Moon Wine 2019, Castilla, Spain

This is an old favourite: Tempranillo from a biodynamic (hence Lunas/Moon) single vineyard. Full bodied with raspberry and black fruit, edged with spice and nutty oak, and a velvet texture. 14%.

£10, Sainsbury’s

Famille Perrin Cairanne Peyre Blanche 2019, Rhône, France

Precision and brightness combine with plush, rich fruit and concentration in an effortlessly harmonious southern Rhône blend of Grenache and Syrah (60:40) – raspberry, oregano, milk chocolate and peppery spice overlaying a backbone of superfine tannins. A model Cairanne that could almost stand in for Châteauneuf-du-Pape. 14.5%

£10.95, The Wine Society


Vertiges 2020, Vallée du Paradis, Languedoc, France

Syrah with splashes of Grenache and Carignan grown at a lofty 800m in the Pyrenees. Made without oak, giving maximum clarity and expression to the fruit and the cinnamon, nutmeg and turmeric spiciness. Succulent and supple. 14%

£10.99/£9.99, mix 12, Laithwaites


Douro Eagle Superior Red 2018, Portugal

From two acclaimed Portuguese winemakers, J Portugal Ramos and José Maria Soares Franco, whose Douro plantings allow the threatened Bonelli Eagle to nest. And the wine is good too: powerful and structured with ripe, black-cherry fruit, peppery grip and freshness; firm, ripe tannins within a framework of oak. Best with food – meat, dark game or a warming bean casserole – or could be kept for five years. 14%

£11.99, Majestic


Masi Campofiorin 2018, Rosso del Veronese, Italy

The perfect halfway house between the lightness of Valpolicella and the fruitcake concentration of Amarone. Campofiorin is enriched with some semi-dried grapes in a now trendy process developed by Masi called appassimento. It gives generous, velvet-textured depth to the spicy, chocolate-coated cherry flavours. Very food-friendly. 13%.

£12.99, Majestic, Waitrose


Viña La Roncière Licanten Idahue Estate Cabernet Franc 2018

A seamless, svelte Cabernet Franc from the only producer in the new Chilean coastal D.O. (appellation) of Licantén. Flavours of blackcurrant leaf, sweet tobacco, a sprinkling of pepper and pristine raspberry fruit. 14%

£13.95, Corney & Barrow


Redheads Coco Rôtie 2019, McLaren Vale, Australia

Oak-aged, old-vine Shiraz and Viognier in an Australian take on the northern Rhône classic. Fragrant, floral, smoky, peppery with briary black fruit and a touch of apricot from the Viognier. Power and succulence with precision. Great value. 14.5%

£13.99/£12.59, mix 12, Laithwaites


Proyecto Garnachas de España La Garnatxa Fosca 2019, Priorat, Spain

From 60-year-old Garnacha in Priorat’s slate-rich soils, a wine that sings of its terroir with a soaring perfume of cherries, blackberries and wild herbs, rocky, mineral freshness and savoury depth. Deeply satisfying and original. 14.5%

£13.99, Majestic


£18-£29

Weingut Mehofer Neudeggerhof Zweigelt Neudegg 2018, Wagram, Austria

Not the snappiest of names for non-German speakers but an organic wine worth getting tongue-tied over. Vibrant, juicy and silky with vivid, briary fruit modulated by notes of sweet leather and black pepper. As refreshing as it is packed with interest. Comes in a lightweight bottle with a sustainable produced twist-top. A good wine for Boxing Day cold collations. Zweigelt is also a wine you can pair with meaty fish. 14%

£18, Private Cellar


Château de Mascaraas Madiran 2016, France

Intense purple colour, smouldering damson aromas and a darkly fruity palate with liquorice, black pepper and an iron-rich earthy tang. The tannins make their presence felt, but they’re comfortably integrated and entirely at ease. Magret de canard, T-bone steak and any cockle-warming winter stew come to mind. 14.5%

£18.50, Cambridge Wine


Scorpo Noirien Pinot Noir 2019, Mornington Peninsula, Australia

Pale, enticingly perfumed, graceful Pinot Noir with cherry, rose hip, subtle smokiness, and lovely definition, from a vineyard planted in 2000. Aged in just 5% new oak for 12 months to preserve the fragrance and purity. 14%.

HH&C also has a very good value cheaper option from Languedoc: Racine Pinot Noir 2020 (£12.40).

£19.45, Haynes Hanson & Clark


Castello Nipozzano Chianti Rúfina Riserva Vecchie Viti 2018, Tuscany, Italy

This beautifully aromatic Chianti from Rúfina, the smallest and highest sub zone, is a field blend of old vine, predominantly Sangiovese, saved at the eleventh hour from being pulled up ten years ago. Aromas and flavours run with impressive intensity through floral, sweet wild plums, hedgerow berries, spicy cocoa, tobacco leaf and fresh eucalyptus to a balsamic note on the finish. Intense and stylish with refined tannins. No hurry to drink it, but if you can't resist it was a delight with sautéed wild mushrooms and a veal chop. Morrisons has the standard Riserva, which has less intensity but is also very polished and is on offer until 1 January (£16, down from £17). 14%

£20.80–£25, Vinvm, Strictly Wine, Shelved Wine, Noble GreenWines; £128.02 for 6, Corking Wines

Sesti Rosso di Montalcino 2019, Tuscany, Italy

Lissome, expressive Sangiovese with captivating aromas of raspberries, cherries, garrigue herbs and hints of juniper and mace. Impressive depth and intensity on the palate for a Rosso di Montalcino (aka baby Brunello) and fine, taffeta tannins. Lovely, and will be for another three or four years. 14%

£21, Booths; £28–£29, Theatre of Wine, Armit, Petersham Cellar


Château de Cérons Graves 2018, Bordeaux, France

A blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon from a Bordeaux region (Cérons) better known for its sweet whites. Stylish and approachable claret with scented raspberry fruit against a classic cedarwood background and supple tannins. 13.5%

£21.95, Lea & Sandeman


Quinta do Crasto Reserva Douro 2017, Portugal

Intense berry fruit and stony mineral freshness around a firm structure of fine, ripe, chewy tannins. This is as complex and layered as you might hope for from a blend of more than 25 grape varieties and vines averaging 70 years old. Decant to drink now or cellar to 2031. 14%

£24.99, Adnams; £25, Great Wine Co


Jesús Madrazo Rioja Crianza 2018, Spain

Powerful, polished Rioja with fragrant, floral, strawberry fruit, sweet spice, discreet toastiness and a silky texture wrapped around a firm backbone. The man behind it is the former head winemaker of Contino. One for the cellar or one to decant if drinking this Christmas – and there’s a tempting two-bottle offer. 14.5%

£26/£22 for 2 or more, Tanners


£30+

Three Crows Syrah 2019, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

New Zealand’s answer to top Crozes-Hermitage, showing just how successful its Syrah can be in the right place and with the right vines – in this case old vines and exclusively old Rhône clones. Generous and polished with red-berry and dark cherry fruit, white pepper spice, savoury wet-rock minerality and a glorious satin texture. Delicious now but will develop over the next six or more years. 13%.

£30–£34.95, The Wine Society, The Oxford Wine Co, The Artisan Wine & Spirit Co, Wall2Wall Wine


L’Epiphanie de Margaux 2019, Bordeaux, France

A fabulous Christmas bottle – any Christmas up to 2029. Cedar-sweet, perfumed dark fruit, velvet tannins, soft oak, spicy, bay-leaf freshness. Classic Margaux from the appellation’s top château – yes, top – although Laithwaites Bordeaux buyer and head winemaker, Jean-Marc Sauboua, is at pains to stress that it’s not the grand vin or the the second wine, it’s wine that didn’t make it into either and was sold off in bulk to select people. J-M S ages it in Laithwaites’ cellars, trying, he says, “not to interfere with any of the liquid they give us, except to polish it a bit.” 14.5%

£35/£30, mix 12, Laithwaites


Obliqua Carmenère, Apalta, Chile

Top-class Carmenère from vineyards lying at 500m on red clay over granite surrounded by forest in the Apalta region. Bright, blackberry and blueberry fruit is lifted by the spicy green-herb notes of fresh bay leaves then wrapped in mocha-chocolate richness and smoothness. A good partner for the turkey fest, but also versatile with spicy dishes and with cheese.

£38.50–£41.99, Sandhams, Vino Fandango, Drinkfinder


Domaine Vacheron Sancerre Rouge 2019, Loire, France

Gorgeous organic, biodynamic Pinot Noir from vines aged 30–50 years old and one of the great Sancerre estates. Plush and fleshy (in line with the vintage), yet lithe and elegant with fragrant raspberry, cherry and pomegranate, a twist of cranberry, a delicate mineral note and the silkiest texture. This isn’t even the family’s top Pinot Noir – and don’t miss the Sancerre Blancs either. 14%. Bottle weight: 570g

£39.40, Hedonism


Patrick Jasmin Côte Rôtie La Giroflarie 2017, Rhône, France

A classic Syrah and Viognier blend (95:5) made in a traditional way to give a textbook Côte Rôtie – expressive and aromatic with violets and roses, dark fruit and woodsmoke notes and a silky texture hiding a fine tannic structure. Delicious now or any time in the next ten years (if cellared). 13.5%

£49, Yapp Brothers


Roc de Cambes 2014, Côtes de Bourg, Bordeaux, France

Old-vine Merlot, with a smidgen of Cabernet Franc, on cool clay-limestone soils from maestro François Mitjavile of Tertre Rôteboeuf. Wonderful intensity, ripeness texture and refinement with flavours of blackcurrant, mulberry, sandalwood, mocha and fresh bay leaf. 13.5%

£63.95, Corney & Barrow

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