This is the season and time of year above all others when we get together to eat, drink and be merry. As far as the eating goes, we hope you will be shopping locally from any of the many wonderful food shops in Topsham. We urge you, too, to drink outside of the box and to consider buying your Christmas and holiday wines not from the supermarkets but from our equally wonderful Topsham drink suppliers.
Jim Kingston from Topsham Wines as always offers sensible advice. “At Christmas, there is no point in going super-specialised, overly clever or too left-field in your wine selections. You need to discover wines that everyone — family, friends — will all enjoy. This isn’t a time of year when we necessarily want to be discussing the nuances of vintages over our turkey. We just want wines to drink and enjoy which will bring pleasure and good cheer. That’s what Christmas is about.”
Geoff Bowen at Pebblebed Wines says that the wines he himself likes to drink are “wines that will put a smile on my face.” His own wonderful wines do just that, and for so many of us.
Darts Farm offers a good selection of wines, both from local vineyards as well as from around the world.
The wines that I seek at Christmas, above all, are wines that bring comfort, wines made by friends, wines sold by friends who believe in them, familiar wines that are as comfortable and warming as sitting in front of a fire or wearing your favourite slippers.
Here are some suggestions that include some gorgeous sparkling wines (who doesn’t love bubbles at this time of year?), whites and reds to accompany the showpiece meals, as well as a couple of wonderful fortified wines for either after the meal, when friends drop in, or just to enjoy yourself once everyone else has gone home (yes, in front of that fire, wearing your slippers).
Pebblebed sparkling rosé £24.95
Pebblebed sparkling rosé is without doubt our favourite fizz. This lovely pink sparkler has won countless awards and is always delicious; more than that, for so many of us, it is personal and special to enjoy drinking Pebblebed, hand-produced by our good friend Geoff (who has done so much for the Topsham community). The wine is made from Seyval Blanc and Rondo grapes cultivated on the red earth of Devon at the Pebblebed Clyst St George vineyard, harvested with the help of many from our community. The bubbles come from the laborious method of secondary fermentation in the bottle resulting in a wine that is fresh and invigorating, the grapefruit acidity of the Seyval balanced with the red fruit of the Rondo.
Pebblebed white 2015 £11.95
This fresh, zesty white wine, produced from Seyval Blanc and Madeleine Angevine, is Devon’s riposte to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, says Geoff. The Seyval lends a backbone of steely acidity, the Madeleine an attractive aromatic fruit, while the relatively low alcohol content means it’s a wine you can easily and happily drink until the cows come home.
Pebblebed red £14.95
Pebblebed red is made only in years when the Pinot Noir Precoce and Rondo grapes ripen sufficiently. Light in body and structure, and with none of the aggressive tannins that put some people off red wines, it’s a surprisingly easy and pleasant red wine to enjoy with lighter foods.
Les Cordeliers Crémant de Bordeaux Brut n/v £15.99
An unusual sparkler from Bordeaux, made by the traditional method of secondary fermentation in the bottle utilising Sémillon, one of the great white grapes of Bordeaux (and source for not only dry whites from Graves and Entre-Deux Mers but also the great, luscious sweet wines of Sauternes). This classy sparkler has a fine mousse, lovely creamy, peachy fruit, and an elegant, persistent finish. “Bloody amazing,” says Jim.
A Mano Bianco 2016 £10.99
This wholly modern Italian white is produced from ancient indigenous grape varieties that were cultivated by the Greeks and Romans. The wine is honeyed, rich and round, with a minerally dry finish that is generously full of sun and warmth. It’s just the ticket to have as an aperitivo when friends drop in, or to enjoy with rich shellfish or full-flavoured spicy foods.
Riorret 2013 £23.75
Look closely: the name spells ‘terroir’ backwards, for this is very much a reflection of wine produced from the cool climate vineyards of Australia’s Yarra Valley. The approach is Burgundian, with minimal intervention, and utilising organic and natural methods of cultivation and winemaking. The result is a silky stunner that has structure, tannin and acidity yet which is restrained and well-balanced, with flavours of cherry, plum and spicy notes. “It’s gorgeous and classy,” says Jim. “Treat your guests; treat yourself.”
Barbeito Boal Madeira £14.50 50cl
Madeira is one of the great undervalued wines of the world and this is a wonderful example. Historically, Madeira wines gained their character through passage at sea over the Equator once and sometimes twice. The rocking motion of the ships combined with the excessive equatorial heat both ‘maderised’ as well as stabilised the wines, which consequently have traditionally been among the most long-lived (I have tasted Madeiras over 100 years old which are still fresh and invigorating). Boal is a sweet style; rich, complex, with notes of caramel, wood and dried fruits, and a luscious raisiny sweetness, the wine has an underlying piercing acidity that keeps it from cloying. Have a bottle on hand to offer when guests drop in, perhaps with a piece of Christmas cake (from Topsham Cakes). Or simply sit and sip on your own. Bliss.
Jim is happy to deliver locally.
Vincent Bouzereau Crémant de Bourgogne £15.99
Vincent Bouzereau is a small and highly regarded producer in Meursault, in the heart of Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune. In addition to his acclaimed white burgundies, he produces an excellent sparkling wine from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. Enjoy at any special celebratory occasion, or as an apéritif, perhaps with salmon canapés. A great alternative to good Champagne.
Vincent Bouzereau Bourgogne Chardonnay 2015 £14.99
Vincent’s straight white Burgundy (there are also villages and premiers crus appellations available) is a serious and well-made wine. Fermentation takes place in used oak barrels and the wine is bottled unfiltered. I adore this wine: it’s fresh yet well-structured, with hints of the richer flavours of fruit and honey that will develop with age. It is the perfect wine to enjoy with roast turkey, and it also pairs well alongside a local soft cheese such as Sharpham brie. Mike and Jim Dart have been over to visit Vincent and family on a number of occasions, and the Bouzereau’s numerous children have successively come to work and learn English in the Darts Farm Food Hall.
Chase Cuvée Amphorae 2014 £15.99
William Chase produces his exceptional wines in the picturesque village of Lourmarin, in the heart of Luberon. The Grenache and Syrah grapes are harvested entirely by hand. After fermentation, the wine spends some time ageing in clay amphorae, hence the name, resulting in a red wine that is rich and smooth with an intensity and purity of fruit. It is superb paired with red meats, pasta dishes, and hard cheeses such as aged Quickes Traditional cheddar.
Churchill’s Crusted Port bottled in 2005 £24.99
Christmas is definitely one of those times of the year when port, a fortified wine from northern Portugal, appears on the table, traditionally served with the Stilton or else enjoyed on its own after the meal. This superb example comes from Churchill’s, a small house founded by John Graham and named after his wife Caroline Churchill. Crusted port is most usually a wine of vintage quality, but blended from perhaps 2 different harvests rather than a single year, aged in cask then bottled for at least 3 years prior to release. It should be handled with care since, as the name suggests, it will throw a heavy sediment. Decant carefully and use the natural sediment at the bottom of the bottle to add to your gravy.
Darts Farm is open for late night shopping.
Mario Fontana began bringing his wines to Topsham more than 25 years ago when he used to supply the legendary Nello’s Ristorante. Kim and I started Vino as a way of keeping this important connection, not least because we love the wines so much ourselves. Today Cascina Fontana is considered one of the Barolo region’s top traditional producers, its wines regularly winning numerous awards and the highest accolades from prestigious guides. We are proud to be able to continue to bring these great wines direct to Topsham. Mario makes wines that are very natural and pure, using no chemical fertilizers or herbicides in the vineyard, and natural yeasts for fermentation, cold stabilisation, and minimal sulphites.
Cascina Fontana Barbera d’Alba 2015 £15
Barbera grapes cultivated in the Barolo vineyards of Alba are naturally high in acidity but with no harsh tannin, resulting in a medium bodied, perfectly balanced red that is just wonderful with food, a plate of pasta al ragù, a good juicy steak, or a hunk of Devon cheese such as our favourite Little Stinky (from Country Cheeses). Mario’s Barbera for me is the ultimate comfort wine.
Cascina Fontana Langhe Nebbiolo 2015 £20
The grape name Nebbiolo comes from ‘nebbia’ – fog – because this late-ripening, temperamental variety is often harvested in late October, even November and well into the season of mists. Nebbiolo is the great grape of Piedmont’s most famous and prestigious wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco. Langhe Nebbiolo is somewhat lighter in style, with shorter maceration on the skins and ageing in small French oak barrels not large traditional botte. It is a beautiful and elegant expression of this great grape and one of my favourite wines. We’ll be enjoying this on Christmas Day to accompany our prime forerib of beef from Arthurs.
Cascina Fontana Barolo 2013 £35
The King of Italian wines, Barolo is produced from Nebbiolo grapes cultivated in designated Barolo wine zone (in the case of Cascina Fontana from crus vineyards of Castiglione Falletto and La Morra). Fermentation and maceration on the skins is a long and slow process (upwards of 40 days) to fully extract tannin, colour, richness and flavour. In spite of its relatively light colour, this is a big wine in every way that demands patience and careful consideration. Open a few hours before and decant to enjoy at its ethereal best. We’ll be sipping Mario’s Barolo in front of the fire, perhaps with just a hunk of Devon aged sheep cheese or a few walnuts. It’s what the Italians call a ‘vino da meditazione’ — a meditation wine to share with your best friends, or perhaps to enjoy as a treat just on your own, after the guests have gone and the hullaballoo of Christmas is over.
If you are interested in sampling or purchasing Vino wines, please contact Marc firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 0777 5724573. The wines are also available at Pebblebed Cellar, The Galley Restaurant, and Lympstone Manor.
— Marc Millon