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The Festive Red Wine Guide 2023



Welcome to my roundup of 25 red wines for the festive season. Ranging freely across styles, regions, grape varieties and prices (two Greeks, plenty of French, both hemispheres, et al), it's designed to cover all occasions and eventualities.


There’s lots of inspiration for gifts, there are wines for ‘this deserves something special' dinners and there are reds you can pull in for the ‘nothing is happening but what the heck’ evenings. All are ready for drinking, but some under the Fuller Bodied Or More Complex banner will continue to develop.


Lighter to Medium Bodied Reds precede Fuller Bodied Or More Complex wines, but take it as a rough guide not an exact science. Within these two categories, the wines are in ascending order of price.


You'll find a few bottle weights along the way, but most wines were tasted at events and sometimes, when at home, I simply forgot to get the scales out. (You can’t imagine how many times I’ve been outside the back gate early on waste-collection morning rooting through to retrieve a bottle I’ve forgotten to weigh.)


In addition to a plea to all producers to reduce the weight of their bottles if they haven't already done so, 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. 16º is a pretty good average, and the lighter the red the cooler it should be. Read on for a merry Christmas.


LIGHTER TO MEDIUM BODIED REDS

Adnams Carmenère 2021, Central Valley, Chile

This textbook Carmenère made for Adnams by Ventisquero won’t be everyone’s idea of a lighter red, but it’s no more than medium bodied and it’s crunch-fresh and super-smooth making it very approachable. It has the grape variety’s signature spicy, fresh bay-leaf aroma together with burnished black fruit, dark chocolate, a hint of soy sauce and easy, soft tannins. Very good value. An affordable party wine, or an option for turkey and all the sweet, sharp, meaty, spicy accompaniments, or a match for lamb, sausages, Middle Eastern spices, ratatouille or roast vegetables. 13.5%

£8.49, Adnams


M&S Found Agiorgitiko 2021, Peloponnese, Greece

Deep ruby colour, vibrant, plum and tangy cherry fruit, hints of smouldering bonfire and liquorice – it all adds up to a medium-bodied red that's a great way to ease into Greece’s distinctive wines and grape varieties (in this case, the grape is Agiorgitiko). Among other things, it would be a effortless partner for Greek lamb dishes, spaghetti and meatballs or bolognese, moussaka, meaty and spicy sausages, ratatouille, or a meze. 13.5%. Empty bottle weight: 476g.

£9 (in-store, not online), Marks & Spencer


Karavitakis Kompsos Liatiko 2022, Crete, Greece

Another Greek red, but a very different one: pale in colour, strawberry-scented and sweet-fruited, with fresh tomato and herb flavours and light tannins mingling with the fruit. A wine full of interest made from Crete’s Liatiko grape. 13%

£10.95, The Wine Society


Carvalho Martins Pacto Palhete Douro Tinto 2022, Portugal

Not all Douro reds are dense and darkly fruity. This Touriga Franca-based red, from high-altitude vineyards (550–600m) upstream in the Douro Superior, has the valley’s characteristic mineral expression but shows the juicy, joyful, lighter side of the Douro in mouthwatering raspberry fruit. Drink chilled with charcuterie or a meze. 12.5%

£13.20, Tanners


Cantina Menegotti Bardolino 2022, Italy

From the family-owned and run Menegotti near Lake Garda, the purest, prettiest Bardolino imaginable. Pale, fragrant, flowery and supple with gliding red-cherry fruit and delicately mineral freshness. This would be a great party wine, but if it’s too good for parties, think fish (almost any kind), burrata, Caprese salad, meze or light pasta dishes. Or Boxing Day. And remember to serve it lightly chilled 12.5%

£13.50, Corney & Barrow


Koyle Costa Pinot Noir 2022, Colchagua Costa, Chile

Salty, sea breeze minerality, red berry intensity and slinky texture. Very good value. If you want to trade up to a more fragrant, silkier, slightly more complex Pinot Noir, go for Neudorf’s Tom’s Block Moutere 2020 from New Zealand (£20.50, The Wine Society). 13%

£13.50, The Wine Society


Domaine Vavril Gamay Noir Beaujolais Villages 2022, France

Plums, violets, mineral precision, light tannic grip and a satin texture – a gleaming ruby-purple, arrestingly expressive Beaujolais produced from 60-year-old Gamay vines on the hillsides above the town of Beaujeu. Delightful. Serve with cured meats and patés, goat’s cheese, fish baked in pancetta, roast chicken, or any time on Boxing Day. 13%

£14.25, Haynes, Hanson & Clark


Fiorano i Paoli Sangiovese Marche 2022, Italy

From an organic estate in the Marche region, this is a juicy, rounded, medium-bodied Sangiovese with ripe red cherry fruit, hints of marzipan and vanilla and a tangy, bitter-cherry twist. A really attractive, food-friendly crowd pleaser for serving with the likes of roast peppers, tomatoes, aubergines, shallots and spiced pumpkin, with tomatoey pasta dishes, your best pizza, or black bean stew with chorizo/Italian sausage. 13.5%. Empty bottle weight: 378g

£14.95, Stone, Vine & Sun


Framlingham Nobody’s Hero Pinot Noir 2020, Marlborough, New Zealand

For those who don’t want a big red or for white wine drinkers who want a stepping-stone red, this silky-smooth, bright, fruity Pinot Noir should be spot on. It smells of an English rose garden and is humming with strawberry, pomegranate and cherry fruit flecked with Earl Grey tea, cardamom and a hint of oak. A good bottle for Christmas turkey and all the trimmings (especially if you’ve got guests who usually drink white), or roast gammon, roast chicken, Persian spiced salmon or tuna. Or cheese straws. 13.5%. Empty bottle weight: 425g

£15.99 (mix six), Majestic


Piekenierskloof Grenache Noir 2021, Piekenierskloof, South Africa

A crowd-pulling Cape red from a large estate high above Citrusdal that has more Grenache planted than any other in South Africa. The vines are a good age, too, averaging 25 years. Jewel-like ruby colour matched by an ethereal, raspberry perfume and luminous, silky, medium-bodied palate with raspberry and cherry fruit, earthy sweet spice and white pepper. Irresistible. 13.5%. Empty bottle weight: 650g

£16.50, Stone, Vine & Sun


Van Niekerk Vintners Rebellie Grenache 2020, Bot River, South Africa 

Once considered the poor relation of Shiraz in Australia, of Tempranillo in Spain and only fit for blending in France and everywhere else, Grenache (or Garnacha) has become something of a star, fitting the zeitgeist for less heavy reds. This pale, aerial beauty has a gorgeous scent of spiced red berries and cherries, glistening, fresh fruit and polished texture. 13%

£24.50, or £21.95 in a mixed dozen, Lea & Sandeman


FULLER BODIED OR MORE COMPLEX WINES

Enate Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2020, Somontano, Spain

Aged for six months in oak barrels and with time since in bottle, this has emerged brimful of succulent, briary black fruit. A wash of softly toasty oak and streaks of acidity and gently grainy tannin give grip to the luscious fruit. It should be able to handle most of the riotous Christmas trimmings and accompaniments as well as the sweet intensity of roast Mediterranean and root veg. I wouldn’t have guessed the alcohol: 15%. Empty bottle weight: 528g

£10.89–£14.99, Gourmet Hunters, St Andrews Wine Co, Eynsham Cellars, South Downs Cellars, Latitude Wine


Bodegas Arloren Spirit of Monastrell 2020, Jumilla, Spain

Dark, meaty, characterful Spanish red made from Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre or Mataro) and packed with smoky liquorice, bramble, plum and prune flavours lifted by a nippy, herbal fresh finish. What’s it for? Steak, herby lamb shoulder, cassoulet, venison casserole and hearty pulse dishes. 14%. Empty bottle weight: 438g

£11– £12.50, Wine & Something, Ultracomida, Chosen Wine Co, St Andrew’s Wine Company


Domaine de Mourchon Séguret Tradition 2021, Séguret-Côtes du Rhône, France

The Mourchon estate in Séguret lies high enough (350m) to have escaped the devastating April frosts in the southern Rhône in 2021, but even so it wasn’t the easiest of years. Not that you’d know it from this wine. There’s a vein of fresh bay-leaf, where usually the herbal note is more like sun-warmed rosemary and garrigue, but there’s the characteristic intensity of raspberry and black fruit, the velvety roundness, chalk-dust fine tannins and energising lift. It makes a very good, cheaper alternative to Châteauneuf-du-Pape that you could drink with the Christmas feast, cotecchino with lentils, cassoulet, roast duck, game birds, roast pumpkin and root vegetables, slow-cooked pork or lamb. 15%. Empty bottle weight: 552g

£13.50, The Wine Society


Domaine Rousset Crozes-Hermitage 2018, France

Perfumy red fruit, white pepper and wet stones. Generous, ripe and savoury – very characteristic of Crozes-Hermitage Syrah but with an extra dollop of charm. It will shine with game birds, venison or herb-crusted lamb. 14%

£17, The Wine Society


Achaval Ferrer Mendoza Malbec 2021, Argentina

Aged for 9 months in used French barrels, this is sleek, sophisticated, approachable Malbec from the very good 2021 vintage. Lush purple colour matched by equally lush plum and blueberry fruit, subtle cream, chocolate, liquorice and graphite notes, tranquil tannins and bitter-herb freshness. It would make a good wine for a festive table groaning with either turkey or beef alongside vegetarian options. Beyond Christmas, think of rare steak or magret de canard, or baked red peppers stuffed with tomatoes, feta, olives and pine nuts. 14.5%. Empty bottle weight: 543g.

£18.95 on offer (down from £22.50), Jeroboams


Château Milhau-Lacugue Saint-Chinian Les Truffières 2017, France

Red berries, black berries and sweet, minerally earth tones in a fleshy, mellowed-by-age blend of Grenache and Syrah from limestone hills 12km to the west of Béziers in the Hérault. Southern warmth with style. Call on this for warming casseroles of almost any kind (veg, pulse or meat), roast lamb, pork or duck, spicy sausages or steak. 14%

£19.45, Yapp Brothers


Áster Ribera del Duero Crianza 2020, Spain

Even at Christmas, there’s more to Spanish wine than Rioja. Ribera del Duero is made from the same grape variety, Tempranillo (aka locally as Tinto Fino or Tinta del País), but Ribera is Tempranillo with attitude. It trades the mellow oaky character of Rioja for a darker colour, more intense fruit, firmer tannin and more vibrancy, thanks to the much higher altitudes that give very hot summer days followed by bone-chilling nights. Áster Crianza is all blackcurrants and blackberries, liquorice, clove and mocha, graphite freshness and firm but polished tannins. Just the thing for red meat, roast duck or goose, game birds, roast vegetables, or firm and semi-firm cheeses. 14.5%

£19.49 (mix six), Majestic


Cedro do Noval Vinho Tinto 2020, Vinho Regional Duriense, Portugal

From vineyards on the same river as Ribera del Duero, but downstream in Portugal and here renamed the Douro, Cedro do Noval Tinto is the junior of the two red wines produced on the celebrated Quinta do Noval port estate. Made from port grape varieties but with some Syrah in the mix, and matured in oak (mostly used oak), this is a powerful but approachable wine: dark purple in colour with a scent of violets, generous sweet plum, tangy damson, chocolate, vanilla and black olive flavours and a lick of liquorice and wet rocks to close. A friend of lamb, duck, slow-roast pork and casseroles with aubergine, anchovies, black olives or chorizo and it will take 5 years in the cellar. 14.5%. Empty bottle weight: 656g

£22.50, Berry Bros & Rudd, £21.95, South Downs Cellars, £23, Street Wines, £24.50, Amps Wine


Château du Moulin-à-Vent 2020, France

Flesh and generosity from an outstanding vintage, complemented by complexity and precision from 60-year-old vines, traditional winemaking and 18 months’ ageing at one of the foremost estates in Beaujolais. Sweet blackberry and wild strawberries, black peppery spice, stony, herbal freshness and supple, fine-grained tannins. A match for mushroom dishes, roast chicken or turkey, veal chop with rosemary, tuna steaks with soy sauce, coq au vin, or agrodolce roast-vegetable, butter bean and feta gratin. Owner Edouard Parinet’s favourite match is roast Bresse chicken with asparagus and morels (I’m only a phone call away, Edouard). 13%. Empty bottle weight: 673g

£25.06–£27.95, Shelved Wine, The Fine Wine Co, The Wine Reserve; £132 for 6, Wine Trust; £140 for 6 Millésima UK


Domaine Font de Courtedune Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2019, France

Beautifully perfumed, layered Châteauneuf with sweet, ripe fruit – strawberry, cherry pie – a touch of dark chocolate, savoury notes of black olive and effortless fine tannins. It’s an old-vine field blend of mainly Grenache from vineyards next to Château Rayas and it was whole-bunch fermented and aged in concrete. Graceful and very accomplished. While I usually recommend more mature wines with roast goose, I’d be very happy to serve this. I’d be equally happy to have it with roast duck, venison, slow-cooked lamb or pork, or a vegetarian cassoulet. 15%

£31.90, Haynes, Hanson & Clark


Lopez de Haro Classica Gran Reserva Rioja 2005, Spain

A great example of the joys of mature Rioja and old bush vines. Minty sweet fruit (not unlike an aged Coonawarra Cabernet) and complex, creamy rich palate with fresh cedary oak. The epitome of power with elegance. Lamb is an ideal partner; Christmas goose is another. 14%

£36, The Wine Society


Tedeschi Marne Amarone della Valpolicella 2019, Italy

Compelling Amarone with confident structure, depth, length and mouthfilling, intricate flavour – black fruit, kirsch, vanilla sponge, spicy fruitcake, bitter chocolate, balsamic and raisin. Enjoyable now with dark game and mature, hard and semi-firm cheeses, but it will gain from cellaring and will then come into its own with a stuffed, roast goose. Christmas sorted three or four years down the line. 16.5%

£31.45,–£40.45, Amazon, The Wine Society, Fareham Wine Cellar, Vinvm


Château Lanessan 2012, Haut-Médoc, France

Deliciously aromatic, mature Bordeaux with mellow berry fruit and graphite flavours and silk-velvet texture. Perfect now but it will be good for four more years in magnums. Calls for a leg of lamb or beef sirloin. 13%

£41 magnum, The Wine Society


Domaine Henri Richard Gevrey-Chambertin Aux Corvées 2019, France

A glorious, soaring Burgundian Pinot nose of roses, incense and spice, joined on the palate by orange peel and red-berry purity. With lovely silkiness and seamless structure, it’s discreetly opulent and complex – and ready now, but there’s no hurry over the next five years. From a fourth generation, family-run, biodynamic domaine. Drink with game birds, mushrooms, truffles, loin of venison, veal or roast guinea fowl. 14%

£50, Yapp Brothers


Photographs by Joanna Simon


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