It's party season, and the time of year for your household to be full to overflowing with wines and bubblies. Start stocking up - the prices these days are bargains
Wine has always been associated with Christmas. Good King Wenceslas commissioned it for 'yonder peasant', Cliff Richard sings about it in partnership with mistletoe, and even people who seldom drink it generally have a glass or two with Christmas lunch or dinner.
Wine appears in many guises during the festive season.
Hot punch - generally made with cheap and undistinguished reds - is a must for most seasonal parties, and champagne, or a quality sparkling wine, and a serious bottle of red to go with the turkey is customary on Christmas day itself.
Because Christmas is a sociable time, and wine the pre-eminently civilised social lubricant, households like to stock up on the stuff for the season, and generally expect it to be all gone by the first week of January. This makes December a competitive time for wine suppliers, so it is worth shopping around now for bargains.
Watson's Wine Cellar is offering substantial discounts on a number of wines priced from less than $100 to $1,000 and above, Oliver's is offering a 12 per cent discount on orders of 12-bottle cases, and Italian food and wine specialist Castello del Vino is offering the same deal and a 5 per cent discount on six-bottle half-cases.
Other suppliers are also offering attractive incentives to give wine lovers a bit of extra exercise with their corkscrews over the festive season.
So what does the well-prepared household need to stock up on?
Well, this is the time of year for vintage ports, and good dessert wines certainly bring out the best in Christmas pudding, but these days both are a minority taste. Good red wines can stand in for port, while champagne can double as an aperitif and dessert accompaniment.
Sparkling wine will serve for mixing with orange juice and free pouring at parties, but a good champagne is essential on Christmas Day and for important toasts.
You cannot go far wrong with the best-known houses - Bollinger , Moet & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Krug, Louis Roederer, Lanson, et al. But lesser-known producers such as Deutz, Billecart-Salmon and Gosset can offer better value for money.
At least one reliable red and one equally steady white will be required for both parties and meals but, ideally, to suit all tastes, you should have two of each: one for old-world palates and one for those who prefer the often bolder new-world flavours.
Good-value wines are available from Italy, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and other countries, as well as France. But it is worth remembering that for many in Hong Kong red wine still means bordeaux, and it is wise to have a few bottles to hand.
Bottles of wine, especially valuable ones, also make excellent gifts.
Whatever combination you decide on, make sure you buy a little more than you think you will need. Nothing can be worse than running out of wine in a time of festivity and generosity.
Amarone di Zenato 2000 at $408 a bottle from Italian food and wine specialist Castello del Vino outlets in Central and Wan Chai (tel: 2866 0577) is eminently suitable as a gift, and an ideal match for the turkey or, indeed, any roast meat. This king of Veronese wines is ruby red with deep spicy, dried-fruit aromas. It is rich, velvety-smooth and elegant, and serves magnificently as an alternative to port with the cheese.
Villa Antinori 2000 Chianti Riserva from Italy, available from Oliver's in Prince's Building (tel: 2869 5119), at a seasonal price of $169, down from $189, is a good party red that goes well with a variety of foods. Hints of dark cherries and vanilla and a whiff of aged tobacco and cedar give a fine finish to a well-balanced, general-purpose wine.
Z de Zede Bordeaux 2000 from Watson's Wine Cellar outlets (including Great at Pacific Place, tel: 2526 2832) will be reduced from $115 to $99 until the end of December. A good-value basic bordeaux red (fruity, very elegant for the price and accessible), it will appeal to both bordeaux-lovers and those unfamiliar with the style. The wine makes a good accompaniment to turkey.
Majella Cabernet Sauvignon Coonawarra 2000 from Watson's has been reduced from $348 to $275. It is a well-structured Australian red with agreeable mint and blackcurrant flavours. A favourite in Australia, the wine is likely to cost a great deal more when the importer orders the next batch. It makes a suitable gift, and is certainly good value for the turkey.
Chateau Malescot St Expury 1995 is a fragrant Margaux 3rd Growth wine, now reduced from $650 to $550. A gift of the silky, elegant, well-made wine in the classic Margaux-style would be appreciated by any serious bordeaux-lover and it certainly has the gravitas to be the central wine of a great Christmas lunch or dinner.
Prosecco di Conegliano Cuvee Brut (from Carpene Malvolti) offers value for money from Castello del Vino at $108 a bottle. The wine, from the region of Venice, has a fine and fruity bouquet and is softer and less acidic than champagne. Full-flavoured yet delicate, fresh and appealing, it is ideal as a casual glass of bubbly for visiting friends, an aperitif, or an accompaniment to Christmas pudding.
Piper Heidsieck Champagne Brut from Oliver's normally costs $369 a bottle, but you can pick it up for $298 in this season of goodwill. The wine has a fresh, easy-drinking, fruity style. Suitable for toasts and as an aperitif, perhaps on Christmas Day.
Codorniu Cuvee Raventos proves a Spanish cava can be a good low-cost alternative to champagne, and offers value for money at a promotional price of $119 at Oliver's (down from $135). The creamy wine, with lightly toasted notes and a hint of vanilla, is a good party-pouring sparkler at a price that will not break the bank.
Champagne Beaumet Brut NV, reduced to $249 from $299 by Watson's, is a well-made champagne from a relatively unknown house. Outstanding value for money, it offers good length, concentration and acidity, and makes a great aperitif wine for the season.
Celebris Brut 1995 from Gosset, which joined the ranks of champagne's Grandes Marques only back in 1992, would be a welcome stocking filler for any champagne lover. Reduced to $699 from $798 at Watson's, this fine vintage offers a very reasonably priced alternative to premium-priced champagnes like Dom Perignon and Krug.
Bottega Vinai's Trentino Pinot Grigio 2002, priced at $128 a bottle from Castello del Vino, offers an intense nose and an elegant balance of flavours with a pleasant touch of acidity that gives freshness and heightens sensation in the mouth. A good party or aperitif wine, it can be served to advantage with finger food or after Christmas with cold turkey.
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand was the wine that put the country on the map as a serious wine producer, and demand continues to outstrip supply. Even at Oliver's seasonal $248 a bottle price (down from $295 for the 2002 vintage), this may be too expensive a wine for free pouring at parties, but it makes an excellent gift for new-world enthusiasts. It is also a good aperitif.
Oyster Bay 2002 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is proof that not all New Zealand wines are expensive. Discounted by Oliver's over Christmas to $129 from $159, the wine is a versatile, affordable party white with a crisp acidity, gooseberry and lime flavours, and a creamy lemon finish. It should be poured liberally for friends.
Domaine Auffray Chablis 2002, reduced to $158 from $199 by Watson's, is one of the season's bargains. Ham and chablis are a classic combination, and this - from a quality small producer - is a local bestseller. The well-made, well-priced, intense, mineralic wine is crisp and refreshing, and is ideal as an aperitif or with smoked salmon.
Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Herrenweg 2001 is a fine, concentrated Alsace wine, reduced from $398 to $299. Wine adviser Robert Parker gives it 90 points for its 'boisterous' aromas, and its relative dryness for an Alsace Pinot Gris. He calls it 'concentrated, complex and well balanced'. Well-suited for spicy mince pies, perfect as an aperitif and a welcome gift for lovers of European classics.