The Devil's Advocate Has One Last Post Before Christmas

Robert Joseph swaps his horns for antlers and shares a few thoughts about how to approach wine over the holiday weekend.

Reading time: 2m 30s

Robert Joseph with antlers
Robert Joseph with antlers

At a time of the year associated with words like goodwill and kinship, it’s worth remembering that these are also intrinsic to what makes wine special. For thousands of years, countless generations have shared cow horns, tankards and glasses of fermented grape juice with one another.

A very small number of them gave a passing thought to how the liquid they are drinking was made, or whether it faithfully reflected any kind of terroir.

They simply consumed a beverage that may have tasted young or old, delicious or dilute, or mouldy or vinegary. They were often happy to have it “improved” by seawater, honey, lead or brandy, diluted with water, or turned into a punch and heated over the fire.

They weren’t concerned about the shape of the receptacle or whether anybody was holding it by the bowl or the stem—if, indeed, it had one.

They didn’t worry about finding the ‘right’ words to describe the wine, or whether anyone thought it worth any kind of score out of 20 or 100.

They—apart from a tiny set of snobbish, aristocratic aesthetes—weren’t fussed over whether anyone served sweet red wine with fish or a white wine with steak.

What they did was drink and relish.

And they appreciated the buzz it gave. They loved the way it made them and their companions feel less inhibited and more relaxed. They enjoyed stories that would otherwise never have been told, jokes that would never have provoked laughter, songs that would have gone unsung and, yes, they celebrated the existence of children who, without a few nocturnal glasses, might never have been conceived.

Do you need another recommendation about what to drink?

These are the thoughts I have when I read yet another article about the “right” wine to drink with turkey or goose or ham, or indeed the plum pudding or chocolate Yule log.

I’m sure there are wine enthusiasts for whom this kind of advice is useful, but I struggle to see how it applies to most of the extended families who are going to gather around the lunch or dinner table this Christmas. It doesn’t matter how perfectly matched the Chardonnay, dry Riesling or Pinot Noir is with the food, there will be guests who simply don’t like these styles and won’t appreciate the wine, however painstakingly it has been selected and purchased. And, of course, there is a growing number of vegetarians for whom the meat-and-wine marriage-made-in-heaven is irrelevant in any case.

My ideal Christmas meal is one where people get to eat and drink however little or much of whatever they want. Maybe, given the other challenges of the day, there’s a single roast—and whatever any vegetarians might prefer—but the drink is varied and generous. People who like off-dry rosé would have a bottle of Mateus or whatever, while beer drinkers would be offered a good range of ales. And, if bourbon barrel-Zin or natural Palomino pet-nat really is the only stuff cousin George or Georgina will drink, why not splash out on a bottle to keep them happy? And, of course, there will be plenty of liquid with no alcohol for those who don’t want the buzz.

But that—like everything else I’ve offered here this year—is simply my opinion, and one I’ve no doubt will encounter disagreement or, at the very least, a bit of thought and discussion. Because that’s why I do what I do.

And whether you’ve shared any of my views, or been annoyed by them, I wish you a very happy Christmas in good company, relishing whatever you choose to serve and drink. And a peaceful and prosperous New Year.




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