There can be a unique joy in planning ahead, though — taking a long weekend to draw up a detailed itinerary of everything that might enter your mouth over the festive period, and then lovingly crafting what is essentially a wine pairing menu. “We’ll sup on this sparkling as the kids open their presents, open a bottle of this to start the meal...” the thoughts go. “We’ll nurse this gentle Chinon during the Boxing Day hangover, open a rosé with the life-affirming curry…”
But what happens when those best laid plans go awry? What if the sparkling wine well runs dry, or grandmother's been left alone with the sherry? More supplies are always needed.
In September, research from M&S Food found that Brits collectively spend 50 million hours each year in the wine aisle trying to single out the wines that actually taste good. But the supermarket aisle is not just where mid-priced wines go to die; there are treasures to unearth, if you know where to look. So below, I’ve taken some of the hard work out of the search, with 10 wines that I’ll definitely be braving the supermarket rush for. Needs must, after all.
Aldi Specially Selected Pedro Ximénez Sherry
I’m in my sherry era, so while I’m an advocate for enjoying this fortified wine year-round, there isn’t a better time for a pedro ximénez than at Christmas. This is a silken, sweet wine, but the finest styles aren’t cloying. At their best, they compete on the palate with Roquefort and other veiny, intriguing cheeses. This example is astonishingly cheap but revered by wine experts for being plump and sweet, with a tiramisu creaminess that begs to be poured over ice cream.
£6.29 (37.5cl), groceries.aldi.co.uk
Waitrose Fino Sherry
Been scarred by several generations of relatives and think sherry can only be sweet? Forget it. There is a wide spectrum of sherry styles but this, fino, is one of the driest on offer. It has a decidedly savoury character, with a nutty, broad palate. Zesty and enlivening, this is a pick-me-up to sip alongside olives and cured meats while watching the Muppet Christmas Carol for a 37th time.
Ken Forrester Wine's Misfits Cinsault
Wine professionals sometimes talk about a great wine being spherical — everything in balance and accord with one another — and this wine is just that, and surprisingly so given its price point only just touches the double digits. Gentle tannins tug at the palate, washed over with swathes of red and dark fruit. If you stock up on just one wine over the festive period, make it this one.
Dr Loosen Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett
Riesling has a bit of a reputation as a grape for wine nerds, so consider this wine your gateway drug. It’s all to easy to spend a lot of money in Waitrose, but this wine is easily justified. Dr Loosen is heralded as an icon of the Mosel Valley — a German wine region considered the home of life-changing riesling. Ürziger Würzgarten is the name of the precariously steep vineyard the grapes are grown from, yielding a wine defined by mineral apricot note. Shockingly good value. Drink this with your Boxing Day turkey curry.
Marks & Spencer Crémant de Bourgogne
If your local supermarket at Christmas is an M&S, lucky you — and buy this. I begrudge the use of the term “Champagne alternative”, but crémant — a French sparkling wine made using the exact same method — can be just as good. This crémant from Burgundy has certainly achieved hidden gem status for me. A blend of chardonnay and pinot noir, with the addition of aligoté and gamay (two other grapes permitted in the Burgundy region), this oozes briochey charm, bright berries, and the orangey acidity of an easy-peeler.
Babich Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
If you’re getting tired of New Zealand sauvignon, turn to this wine to reignite the passion. I’ve seen a lot of people in the wine industry getting excited about this one: this producer is New Zealand’s oldest family-owned winery, it's from sustainable vineyards, and fermented in stainless steel to preserve the natural aromatics. As a result, this is less classic gooseberry and more pineapple and grapefruit. A good one for the dry Christmas turkey.
Tesco Finest Central Otago Pinot Noir
Fabulous value at £14, especially considering the last impressive New Zealand pinot I remember drinking was £35. Made by an icon in the Kiwi wine game, the wine spends 10 months in oak, imbuing the red berry fruit with a silky texture. Look, it’s a brilliant value wine, but I also find pinot to be one of those great catch-alls for the festive season. Its vital red fruit lends itself well to cranberry sauce, its gentle tannins match turkey and pigs in blankets, but it’s just as delicious savoured on the sofa.
Villa Cafaggio Chianti Classico
This is one for the dusty claret drinkers – but in a good way. It’s classic and reliable, like The Good Life Christmas special, but it also speaks to those from a certain time, like The Good Life Christmas special. Made by a villa with roots that go back to the sixth century (so it undoubtedly knows a thing or two about making Chianti), this wine is powdered with spicy cloves atop dark, fleshy plums and a tight-knit structure. Also available in magnum, if you really fancy impressing the in-laws.
Tesco Finest Sancerre Rosé
Rosé is not just for summer, and this bottle is proof. Sancerre is known for its iconic white wines, but its rosé isn’t given much airtime, perhaps due to a lack of notable examples especially at this price point. This rosé, however, is bucking the trend. Made by historic Loire producer Domaine Fournier Père et Fils, it’s got a creamy wild strawberry driven by the pinot noir, which was picked early in the morning to keep the grapes' freshness.
Sainsbury's Chablis Vieilles Vignes
Own-label wines are often a fabulous place to turn to for wines of a reliable quality. A supermarket's wine buyers will typically work directly with producers to either ensure high-quality parcels, or to create their own wine. J.Moreau & Fils is one of the oldest and largest producers in Chablis. “Vieilles Vignes” means “old vines”, which, when speaking of Chablis, tends to mean over 40 years of age. A sculpted minerality cleanses the palate and readies it for another bite of something fresh from deep in the sea. You’re not getting a brilliant Chablis for any cheaper.
Winemaster's Lot Classic Cuvee Brut
English winemaking has come a long way in the past few decades, but prices mostly remain over the £30 mark for the good stuff. Enter Bowler & Brolly, Aldi’s own-label English sparkling. It’s chardonnay dominant (with the rest pinot noir and pinot menuier) so expect a steely citrus flavour, like biting into a Granny Smith apple. Good English fizz doesn’t come much cheaper.