Venison stew and a cheeky little number…

Soon it will be Christmas. We are surrounded by ancient trees. Massive trunks covered in lichen and moss. Its chilly and fallen leaves rustle underfoot as the procession moves deeper into the forest. Soon we are heading down a slope – in front of us, a perfectly constructed circle of twisted, knarled branches.

Leading the procession is a young man and woman. He is slim with shoulder-length hair wearing no clothes except for flimsy trousers tied at the waist. He is barefoot. His ribs clearly visible above a flat stomach which shows no signs of the ravages time will bring. The woman is tall and elegant and wears a beautiful, tightly fitting, full length, strappy dress of silvery material with patches of wispy gauze here and there. As she moves forward the pieces of ghostly mesh flutter, shimmering like fishy scales of silvery brightness. On her head is a garland of forest foliage dotted with orange and white berries interspersed with dark green, waxy leaves. Her milky-white skin and bare shoulders accentuating the simplicity of her leafy tiara and freezing surroundings. The air is heavy; the only sound that of distant crows announcing they are leaving the forest to roost as night-time approaches.

The young couple walk into the centre of the circle where a middle-aged woman, wearing an Aztec hat, waits for them. Her dress of silky purple material, layered hither and thither, make her look like a forest blue-bell though her legs end with sturdy boots. Soon she is calling on the spirits of the east and the west and that of the south and the north.

The young man’s face looks impassive whilst his torso visibly shivers as the temperature falls.

Soon the vows are read and the couple are man and wife and we clap joyfully and we head back out of the forest to a tent of circus-proportions where an enormous stew of wild venison, lashings of mash and black kale and as much wine as we could wish for wait for us.

Like marriages, one is never sure how wine from Pinot Noir is going to turn out. In this case the Domaine de Valmoissine 2015 by Louis Latour proved an excellent accompaniment to the venison stew. Lovely perfumed nose with cherries and strawberries on the palate and a very refined finish – cheekily mimicking good Burgundy for £10 a bottle! The wine comes from the Vars region in France. Who would have thought that refined Pinot could be made so near the Mediterranean?

I was delighted to discover that Anglos in Main Street stock Laherte Freres Champagne. This is what is known by enthusiasts as a Grower Champagne. In recent years many smaller growers, who use to sell their grapes to the Grande Marques, now make their own wines.

These wines considered artisanal, made in small quantities, can offer outstanding value for money. Anglos have their Les Empreintes Non-Vintage for £33.50 and Les Vignes d’Autrefois 2009 for £37.50. Ironically the Laherte wines are displayed next to Mumm Champagne the largest producer in the world.  It is reckoned that 1 in 10 bottles of Champagne consumed worldwide is Mumm.

After a holiday in northern Spain, a good friend of mine – a knowledgeable wine geek with an impressive cellar – complained that modern Spanish wines tend to be strong, over-extracted and simple, and couldn’t wait to get back home to drink some “proper wine”. He went on to say that the only decent wine he had tasted during his stay was Viña Alberdi from La Rioja Alta. I agree wholeheartedly with his sentiments and I will be writing about this next month. If you want to see if you agree with my friend Viña Alberdi Reserva 2011 is on sale at Anglos for £11.70. Other wines I particularly like at Anglos are Tondonia Reserva 2005 £22.75, Peppoli Chianti 2016 £12.95, La Gitana Pastrana Sherry £10.9. Anglos also have a good selection of French wines including some expensive, top notch, clarets.

Marks and Spencer rarely disappoint. Whether you buy socks or wines you are likely to get excellent value for money. Their wine selection is small but many regions are represented and its clear their wines have been hand-picked by very knowledgeable tasters.

In the past I have bought German Rieslings, excellent-value Bordeaux and seriously good white Burgundy. All at fair prices.

The Wine Cellar in Irish Town is another good hunting ground for Christmas wines. They have a wide selection from Clarets, Riojas, English Sparklers to Burgundies and some very good German Rieslings. Their staff are very helpful but their range is so varied you may want to check out some of the wines out yourself before you buy.  The last time I asked, the Cellar did not provide a wine list which would have made choosing wines from your armchair simple. Perhaps they do now. Some of the wines worth looking include are Gassies (Margaux) 2011 £18, the second wine of Rauzan Gassies and   Vincent Dampt Les Lys 1r Cru Chablis White £24.00.

The other Main Street stalwart, Lewis Stagnetto, have a good selection of wines. Actually, I should sound more enthusiastic about this family-run business as they have wines affording serious value for money. Their CUNE Imperial Reserva 2011 £18 is a wonderful example of the Rioja style and professional ratings place the 2011 amongst the top wines in Spain costing ten times as much! Other bargains include CUNE Gran Reserva 2009 £13.50, Monte Real Reserva 2009 £10.50. I recently tasted several Imperials from the 1940s and Monte Real from the 50s showing how long-lived these wines can be.

Sacarellos seem to have a smaller selection than usual this year though by the time you read this, more wines may have been added in preparation for Christmas. If you prefer modern- styled wines their Roda range can provide mouth-filling voluptuousness with their fruit-driven qualities. Roda I 2010 Reserva £32.50, Roda 2012 Reserva £19.50

Look out for their Barbadillo range of sherries.

Every visit to My Wines has been a positive experience. I do like to browse wine lists before I go to restaurants unfortunately My Wines give no indication on line of the wines they stock. Nevertheless, their range of wines is good and they are happy to guide your choices dependant on what you like. Their tapas are excellent.

I always feel Christmas is a justifiable excuse to open a bottle of Port. We have a good selection of port in Gibraltar including top-of-the-range Vintage Ports.

Expect to pay north of fifty or sixty pounds for Vintage Port. If your budget doesn’t stretch that far do not despair – there is a comparable, delicious alternative. It’s called Crusted Port – a British invention! (See November 2017 Gib Magazine – available online.)

Crusted Ports are blends from several vintages and will not designate a year on the label though there may be an indication when it was bottled. They would have been bottled unfiltered, which like Vintage Port, will require decanting. Like Vintage Port it has the potential to mature and improve in bottle for decades. All the top producers now make Crusted Ports. Morrisons have Grahams Crusted Port for around £18. A bargain!

That’s it for 2018. I hope I haven’t bored too many of you with my scribblings. If I have sparked an interest in wine in just one person, I consider my job done.