Chez Lea – A London Christmas

by Charles Lea

This is it then, the last chance to order on the website for delivery before Christmas (deadline is Saturday close of business). As we said earlier this ‘guaranteed’ delivery is subject to force majeure of weather conditions, but our amazing drivers will be doing all they can. Of course if you are in London or coming up to do a bit of last-minute Christmas shopping we will be here in the shops until 5pm on Christmas eve.

In the meantime we too are looking forward to Christmas with keen anticipation.

The extraordinary thing is that this will be the very first time Helena and I have ‘done’ Christmas, and the first time I’ve ever been in London for the whole time too. Not for this year the mad dash after closing on Christmas Eve to a magical candlelit carol service in the tiny church on the Oxfordshire-Warwickshire borders. Nor the slightly more relaxed queue on the M4 to my mother’s house in north Hampshire (lucky thing, she is going with my sister to Tresco this year). Well given the weather that’s probably just as well. So closing time will bring a leisurely bike ride to freezing Fulham, and the prospect of a warm house and a gentle lead-in to the festivities.

You’d think I’d reach straight for the Champagne, one of the full-flavoured and gently mellow ones high in Pinot Noir. Candidates might be the amazing value Barnaut Blanc de Noirs, the really very grand (if understatedly named) Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition, or if I was feeling very generous to my mother-in-law, the top Egly-ouriet Cuvée, the Blanc de Noirs Vieilles Vignes. But as it happens Helena says she has gone off Champagne, so it’s going to have to be one of our other top apéritifs, the Engelgarten (Riesling blend) from Domaine Deiss. This dry, quite full, slightly spicy, fresh and succulent wine is so perfectly balanced the bottle will be gone in no time.

I don’t even know what we are planning to eat on Christmas Eve, but some red wine will probably be necessary to make sure we all sleep through until my son wakes up for his stocking – which could still be quite early. So nothing too heavy, we need to be in peak form. It will probably end up being something quite modest like our favourite standby Chianti Classico Poggerino, or the Spanish Alconte. Unless I have a rush of blood to the head and decide to try an old Burgundy.

On Christmas day we will be joined by Helena’s twin and family (they will have done the candlelit service the night before) and luckily my brother-in-law is quite keen on the good things in life which gives a good excuse. I have to say the mother-in-law is no slouch either, having produced pan-fried foie gras on toasted brioche while we unwrapped the presents when we last did Christmas with her – and then had the temerity to ask me “so tell me Charles, when did you become greedy“. (This, it became clear, was meant in the sense of gourmand.

It seems likely that we will be going to church by Putney Bridge, and will follow that by a walk or maybe somemore energetic activity at Hurlingham, before getting started. Christmas lunch (rather than dinner) this year, so inevitably it will be pitch dark by the time that is over, and no one is going to want to go out again. So although I’d be severely tempted to (and may yet) open a bottle of Verdelho Madeira, it might be more sensible to start with a very refreshing and invigorating Champagne – I was thinking of Larmandier-Bernier Terre de Vertus. This will give a breathing space while the first presents are opened and since at least one of these will have been keenly anticipated, have six strings with an amplifier attached, I expect a rather noisy basement for the hour or so while we put the finishing touches to lunch. Luckily I think my nephew will not have brought his drum kit with him.

Turkey, of course, with all it’s bits. It ought to be Pinot, but actually its going to be claret – 1996 Grand Puy Lacoste. I think The sweetness of all his roast stuff needs a dry counterpoint. Christmas pud (which only I like, as far as I can make out) actually made by us on stir-up sunday (well I told you it is the first time we’ve ever had to ‘give’ Christmas). With a glass of Claude Papin’s amazing Coteau du Layon.  And probably cheese and nuts and and so on, That’s when I’d open a bottle of Burgundy. Or Port. Will there be an obvious gap between lunch and dinner? Not sure, it rather depends on how good the Queen and the afternoon movie are.

A light supper, a bit of smoked salmon? The 2008 Pouilly Fuissés from Daniel Barrraud are just the right combination of roundness and crystalline zip. A glass of red, perhaps. Seems inevitable. This is probably when some old bottle of burgundy gets dragged out, but failing that it is hard to ignore the charms of a wine like Pommard Charmots from Laurent Pillot, which still has the freshness of youth and a velvety purity. There are still a few bottles of his amazing 2005 left too, but hurry.

Boxing day. The need to get outside – a walk by the river, but it’s going to be cold, so a hot bullshot may be a better bet than bloody mary. Either way you need to have a bottle of Fino Inocente around (yes, I know its a bit of a waste to use this delicious stuff in the mixes, but you might want to drink it on it’s own too). Patrick gave me a good pointer on this – if you put Clamato juice in with the consommé, it does lighten the blend as well as giving it a nice pinky tinge. Lunch of cold turkey and ham needs juicy young Pinot. There are lots of New World examples, but I might go for one of the spectacular, sappy 2009 reds like the Mercurey les Naugues from Paul Jacqueson.

By then we will all be packing the ski kit and making sure that all is ready for my escape from end-of-year stock-taking. See you in January for the 2009 Burgundy offer.