12 blockbuster reds for Christmas

“Right, can you give me one more recommendation… I want a big winter-warming red that will knock my novelty Christmas socks off as I roast my totesies by the fire.”

I’ll get a version of this ten times a day between now and Christmas so I thought I’d write it down and print a copy for myself. Some old, some new, my 12 blockbuster reds for Christmas below.

#1 Mosquita Muerta ‘Cordero con Piel de Lobo’ Malbec 2020

We were a teensy bit nervous about this new shipment as the previous vintage was 2018 and the winery blasted through all remaining 2018 and 2019 during the first lockdown, so we got the freshly released 2020 vintage, barely time for six months in oak before we were shipping it. We lashed in as soon as it came off the boat and beamed like a ray of sunshine across the Lee on tasting, a testament to both grape selection and winemaking that it’s drinking so well so young. Fresh and lively, with a knitted tannic and acid structure, this grabs you by the nostrils and screams in your face “quit your drooling and give me steak!”.

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#2 La Tellería Mencía 2018

This crept in under the radar in late October but it’s one of the best new reds I’ve tasted this year. It’s from 85 year old vines overlooking the Camino de Santiago, with a minimalist approach to the winemaking so what you get is down to those old vines and the clayey soils their roots penetrate deep into. Aromas of hedgerow fruit, dark berries and dried fruit, smoky notes tangling with toasted nuts, wild fennel and hints of balsamic, minerality on the palate is most impressive, a glossy, silky texture aided by silty tannins… *dribble*

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#3 Don Jacobo Rioja Reserva 2015

Do you remember how really good Rioja used to taste, way back in the day before supermarket consumer demand moved much of the winemaking towards younger, fruitier, easier-drinking wines? This is proper old school and WOW. 2 years in American oak and you can tell immediately you stick your neb in. Plush and dense, sweet tannins supporting oodles of dark fruit with chocolate, coffee and caramel notes peppered with those toasty oak spices through to the finish. Oh mama.

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#4 Schola Sarmenti ‘Cubardi’ Primitivo 2017

The amount we sell of this, plus the adoration from those that buy it, makes the Cubardi worthy of its own fan club. If you haven’t tried it yet it’s high time you did. Gnarly old Primitivo vines, dry grown amongst wild herbs and flowers (everything is pretty much organic, just not certified), it’s a massive red, heavy and velvety-smooth with warm, super-ripe scents of berry jam and chocolate, loaded with luscious mouthcoating flavours of black fruit, raisin and burnt sugar.

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#5 Benazzoli Valpolicella Ripasso 2017

Sisters Claudia and Giulia Benazzoli make this traditional Ripasso by combining the Valpolicella base wine with the leftover pomace (skins, pulp and seeds etc.) from the family’s own Amarone. The resulting second fermentation adds flavour, structure, colour and alcohol before the wine is put into oak barrels for two years for maturing. Sweet alcoholised berries reminiscent of cassis liqueur coat and warm the mouth and throat, with immaculately integrated tannins providing a smooth, chocolately mid palate, and finishing with a refreshing lift of red berries and bright floral notes. This is Ripasso in thigh-high suede boots.

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#6 The Islander Bark Hut Road 2018

The most special place I’ve been privileged enough to visit, The Islander’s 11 hectares of vineyards on Australia’s Kangaroo Island were devastated in January’s bush fires, 2 hectares completely destroyed with the remaining 9 hectares of vines razed to the roots where it’s a wait-and-see as to what vines will survive. Yale and Jacques have been busy rebuilding the farm, offices and sheds—incredibly the winery and the small visitor’s centre survived the fire—reestablishing water supply and replanting vineyards. There’ll be a few vintage gaps as a result so treasure this all the more while we have it. Estate-grown Cabernet Franc and Shiraz aged separately for 18 months in a mix of new and old French oak barrels, it’s a very special wine.

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#7 Munia Especial 2014

Epic Gran Reserva-style Tempranillo from century old vineyards in Rioja neighbour, Toro, this is a breathtaking mix of dried fruits on the nose—figs, plums and blueberries—with garrigue and wild herbs and hints of smoked meats, leather, cedar, cigar box, clove and nutmeg. Rich fruit leavened by luxurious minerality running through the mid-palate, silky smooth tannins oozing cacao and coffee bean, tobacco and aromatic spices gently unwinding, with rounded acidity providing a freshness to the warm fruit. Sounds good, huh? It’s sensational.

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#8 Viña von Siebenthal ‘Carabantes’ Syrah 2018

Our flagship for Chilean fine wine, Viña von Siebenthal is situated in Aconcagua, one of Chile’s most northerly wine regions and home to some of the best Cab Sav, Merlot and Syrah in South America. Syrah (with around 10% Cabernet) is organically farmed and aged in French oak for 18 months prior to bottling, the viscous palate boasting sweet blackcurrant, blueberries and plum, with notes of pencil shavings, cedar, black tea and chocolate. Chile baby back ribs, indeed.

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#9 Criatura 2019

This is the other best new red I’ve tasted this year, a literal beast and our next cult wine I reckon. It’s from the little known Tinta Miúda grape, as tricky in the vineyard as a box of monkeys in a magic shop apparently. Massively concentrated, opaque cherry red in colour with glass-coating viscosity and big, bloody tears, the nose is rich and thick with damson, black cherry, raspberry ruffle and crème de cassis, the taste filling the mouth with dried fruit, cassis, dark chocolate, fruitcake and caramel. It sounds sweet—your sugar-receptors will ring like a church bell when the toller’s slept in ahead of morning mass—but it’s actually fermented dry and is just bloody gorgeous. We don’t have loads of this, it’s a first ever batch and numbers were limited, so move quickly if you want to try.

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#10 Ben Schild Barossa Valley Shiraz 2017

The Schild family have a few Shirazes but this is the sweet spot in terms of not over-the-top in price and classic, boots on, blockbuster Barossa. Free run and pressed juices are fermented and aged separately in French, American and Hungarian oak hogsheads, matured for two years then blended prior to bottling. Sinister and dark as Darth Vader right to the rim, black plum and Ribena fruit waft up with hints of billtong and dried tobacco leaf, mouthcoating berry liqueur is balanced by dusty tannins with dark chocolate and coffee bean lining the finish.

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#11 Don Jacobo Rioja Gran Reserva 2008

So, ding ding ding! What I said about the Don Jacobo Reserva 2015 a few wines up, with big reindeer bells and flashing coloured fairy lights on. It’s a real treat to get an aged wine like this these days, 2008 vintage aged in American oak barrels for three years with another nine years in bottle, it’s a snip at the price. Just wait til you get a whiff of this: dried black fruit, dark chocolate, leather, coffee and pencil shavings galore, with warm spice notes including cinnamon, clove, vanilla and sweet tobacco. It’s phwoooooaaaarrrrrrr!

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#12 L de Lescours Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2000

Vying for both our best red and worst label in one go, and who cares about the latter, particularly when you get a glass of this in your brass bands. The top cuvée of petit Château de Lescours is taken from vines of up to 140 years old, this rare millenium vintage drinking superbly after 20 years’ ageing. With aromas of black plum and date, leather, mocha, cigar box and fruitcake, the palate is dense and concentrated, and immaculately framed by a fresh acidity, minerality and powder-fine tannins. Rugby-mad Pierre is also one of the nicest guys I’ve met in the business and his wife Anaick prepares the finest white asparagus you’ll ever taste in your life.

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Schild Estate Moorooroo Shiraz 2015

Ok, I said 12 blockbusters but I lied, this is what I’ll be drinking on Stephen’s Day because, feck it, I know it’s pricey but it’s been a helluva year, and I’ve never worked so hard, and when I eventually sit down and am only thinking about the glass in my hand, apart from Jürgen Klopp this is the closest thing to God I know. The vines were planted by the Jacob brothers (of the famed creek) in 1847. Eighteen forty-seven! 170 years of root growth, the yields are now tiny from what James Halliday describes as an “infinitely valuable and rare block” of ancient Shiraz vines. It is even more rare that I think a bottle at 90 quid is worth it but this is the exception.

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