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The Claret Guide to Christmas

Have you ever wondered why turkey is synonymous with Christmas Dinner? And why Claret is the traditionally wine of choice to accompany it?

We have been enjoying turkey at our festive feasts for over 400 years. It’s said that turkeys were brought to Britain in 1526 by Yorkshireman William Strickland . . . he acquired 6 birds from American Indian traders on his travels and sold them for tuppence each in Bristol. Turkeys caught on amongst the nobility and upper classes, making Strickland a wealthy man. By the time Queen Elizabeth I was in power Strickland was a member of parliament, with a turkey emblazoned on his coat of arms and a stately home in Boynton, near Bridlington.

Claret, on the other hand, has been around for much longer. The British have been quaffing it since the 12th century. King Henry VIII was the first King to have turkey served at his banquets and at Hampton Court Palace Claret spilled from a magnificent fountain as part of his lavish entertaining. Claret was already the tipple of choice when turkeys arrived in Britain. The tavern ‘The Pontacks Head’ in London was famous for its Claret and is a good example of how Claret has been part of our society for centuries. Sir Christopher Wren, Samuel Pepys, Daniel Defoe, John Locke and Jonathan Swift all drank there. Incidentally, ‘The Pontacks Head’ was established by the onetime owner of Premier Cru Chateau Haut Brion, or ‘Ho Bryan’ as Samuel Pepys called it.

Before turkey became widely available, goose, capon and pheasant were eaten at festivities. Royalty would have dined on swan and peacock. Claret pairs very well with feathered game, and as was subsequently discovered, pairs beautifully with turkey too. Turkey is actually a variety of pheasant. Being a big, juicy, fat bird it soon replaced other feathered game on the table.

By 1720 around 250,000 turkeys were walked from Norfolk to London. They were separated into small flocks; had their feet dipped in tar to protect them and began their long journey to market in August. Nowadays we get through over 10 million of them!

By the time Queen Victoria took the throne in 1837 turkey was becoming more widespread. The Queen had it served for Christmas dinner. Needless to say, her cellars also contained 16 hogsheads of Claret (Chateax Lafite, Latour, Gruaud Larose and Margaux). Charles Dickens was also a fan. His book ‘A Christmas Carol’ was an instant sensation in 1843 and thanks to his tale of Scrooge buying a large turkey for the Cratchit’s Christmas dinner, turkey’s popularity had another boost. Dickens had excellent taste in Claret too; his cellar held Clarets from Chateaux d’Issan, Brane Mouton (now Premier Cru Mouton Rothschild), Margaux and Leoville amongst others. As well as giving more recipes for turkey than other birds, Mrs Beeton’s famous cook book from 1861 also has a section on Claret for the discerning housewife.

Turkey was associated with feasting at Christmas right from the very beginning, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that it became synonymous with Christmas dinner. This was down to the advent of freezers and fridges which made turkey more accessible and affordable. You can say the same thing for Claret . . . there’s a good one available for every pocket nowadays.

Claret tips

The bottle
Claret comes in a Bordeaux Bottle. These have straight sides, pronounced high shoulders and usually have a deep ‘punt’ at the bottom of the bottle. The bottles are made from green coloured glass. This distinctive shape dates back to the 1840s and evolved with storage in mind. As Claret is aged on its side to keep the cork moist, the high shoulders and punt trap and keep sediment away from the cork.

The glass
Purists will argue that you need a specific glass to be able to enjoy each different style of wine to perfection. Generally Claret, as with most red wines, is drunk in a large glass with a tall bowl that narrows slightly at the glass opening. This type of glass allows the aromas to come through and the bowl shape gives a larger surface area which makes the wine taste smoother.

The label
A Claret ( a word introduced by the English to described a red wine produced in Bordeaux), won’t have ‘Claret’ on the label (unless it’s been bottled with instruction from a UK a wine merchant as a house wine). Claret comes from Bordeaux and labels will show either ‘Bordeaux’ or the appellation that the claret comes from (e.g. Fronsac, St Emilion, Margaux etc). The label will show the name of the chateau, the vintage (year the claret was made) and sometimes the winemaker’s surname in small print at the bottom. Most Claret labels have a monochrome drawing of the chateau and its vineyards on the label, although a small minority do go in for coloured artistic labelling instead.

The cork
Most Clarets have traditional corks as stoppers but some use plastic corks to avoid cork taint. If you spot a green, blue or red stamp on the foil over the top of the cork/bottle this means your Claret was destined for the French market. The stamp is a sign that the French duty has been paid (equivalent of 2p a bottle in 2015). Traditionally, wines destined for the UK market have no stamp on the foil, however, bottles do appear with this stamp in the UK which has no meaning. Duty in the UK has to be paid to HRMC (the tax office) prior to the wine being received by any wine merchant’s point of sale. This is dealt with by recognised and qualified shippers operating on an importers licence. The purpose of foil on a bottle incidentally is for decoration and traditionally to stop cork weevil!

How to buy
There are Clarets for every pocket. At Bordeaux Undiscovered we don’t sell them for less than about £7.50. There is a reason for this. According to a recent survey out of a £5 bottle bought in the UK less than 20p is allocated to the cost of the wine. The remaining £4.80 is absorbed into the costs of the duty, vat, shipping, labelling, cork, production, bottling and the bottle. The duty cost plus vat alone amounts to £2.50. If all the costs involved in producing a bottle of wine other than the wine itself are deemed to be fixed costs, it comes to reason that for every £1 spent above £5 . . . 83p (£1.00 less 20% vat) will be attributed to the cost of the wine. Which means in theory, the quality of the wine should be more than 4-fold! This is also where quality comes in. Claret is not mass produced in the way New World Wines can be and Bordeaux has had centuries of refining its winemaking and legal control techniques (appellation controlle). Bordelaise Clarets are among the most sought-after wines in the world. The Clarets we choose to bring to the UK have all been rigorously (and enjoyably, I might add) tasted with and without food, time and again. They are all of superb quality and come from amazing chateaux that we have taken the time to research and track down.

Clarets and Christmas Dinner

Clarets pair well with most meats (venison, duck, pigeon, pheasant, guinea fowl, goose etc). They are superb with roast beef and roast lamb. We have selected a few of our Clarets that will pair beautifully with turkey. If turkey is on your Christmas table this year, why not try a selection from the list below and experience the delights of your meal with a Claret and turkey pairing? Enjoy!

Chateau Pradeau Mazeau 2015 – Gold Medal £7.99
Rich and smooth Left Bank style Claret with a beautiful palette of aromas. Fine tannins and good structure. Nice ripe flavours of blackcurrant, black cherry and plum with notes of oak, laurel, liquorice and leather. Fresh, very smooth in the mouth with a long lingering finish. Cellaring potential 2 – 5 years.

Chateau Chadeuil 2015 – Gold Medal £7.99
Classic Right Bank Claret and a customer favourite. Medium bodied, supple and smooth with well balanced tannins. Flavours of ripe blackberries, roasted coffee beans, spice and black cherry with a touch of vanilla.

Chateau Fougere La Noble 2015 – Gold Medal £8.99 (reduced from £10.99)
Vibrant, rich and juicy Claret with good structure and silky tannins. Right Bank in style with lovely layers, intense aromas and great depth. Flavours of blackberry compote, plum and liquorice with delicate notes of blueberry and baked cherry underlined by nuances of oak. Fresh, lively and very moreish in style

Chateau Pierrefitte 2014, Lalande de Pomerol £16.99
Beautifully rich Right Bank Claret from Lalande de Pomerol. This is the Second Wine of Chateau Perron and it smacks of class. Graceful, perfumed and complex with good tannic backbone. Layered flavours of ripe blackcurrant, black raspberry and black cherry with notes of truffle, sweet anise and oak. Lovely floral and fruity nose. Buy it whilst you can, this is bound to be extremely popular amongst Claret lovers!

Les Caleches de Lanessan 2010, Haut Medoc £18.99
Sumptuous Left Bank Claret. This is the Second Wine of Chateau Lanessan and its quality really stands out. Full bodied, juicy and smooth. Lush flavours of ripe blackberry, damson and juicy blackcurrant with warm notes of oak, cedar and vanilla. Lovely faint hint of rose petals on the nose. Great length and richness. Cellaring potential 6 years.

Saint Julien 2006 – Saint Julien £19.50
A Declassified Bordeaux from top a flight, prestigious Left Bank Grand Cru Classe Chateau. Anonymously made (we must keep the secret) and truly superb; this wine has the same pedigree and provenance of the chateau’s Grand Vin but is a fraction of the price. Sophisticated, smooth and brooding, ‘Saint Julien’ has exceptional structure. Cabernet Sauvignon dominates the blend and brings flavours of black cherry to the fore; followed by cassis and blackberry with smoky hints of dark chocolate, forest floor and spice. Undertones of tobacco and toast. The finish is elegant and long. Cellaring potential 12 years.

Chateau Soussans 2011 – Margaux £20.49
A great representative of the Margaux appellation. Supple and seductive Left Bank Claret with luscious flavours of blackberry liqueur, blueberry and mulberry. Notes of truffle, graphite and violets. Plush, perfumed and lively. Cellaring potential 15 years.

Pauillac 2011 – Pauillac £23.99
A Declassified Bordeaux from top a flight, prestigious Left Bank Grand Cru Classe Chateau. Anonymously made (we must keep the secret) and truly superb; this wine has the same pedigree and provenance of the chateau’s Grand Vin but is a fraction of the price. Sophisticated and subtle with deep flavours of cassis (blackcurrant liqueur), black cherry and ripe raspberry. Notes of cedar, liquorice and spice. Complex, well layered and satiny smooth

One thought on “The Claret Guide to Christmas

  1. Perfect and the most amazing guide on Christmas I have ever read. This will be a great one for all the people at work as they are planning a Christmas party.

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