An Estuarine Christmas with the Sandemans

by Patrick Sandeman

An Estuarine Christmas with the Sandemans

The Sandeman family are heading to the depths of South Devon to spend another Christmas in the Goodshelter estuary, inland from Salcombe. Not actually ‘in’ the estuary, of course, but in the beautifully secluded and remote cottage which sits on the edge of the water at the head of the creek.

Forward planning is essential, since the chances of buying decent wines locally are limited, and access to the cottage is either by water (tide dependent and not fun at this time of year)聽or down a perilous slope, and once you have risked life and limb carrying cases of wine down the hill, you do not want to carry them back up. So, we take with us聽whatever we plan to drink, and make sure we do so.

Christmas Eve sees the start of festivities with a glass of fizz before dinner, and because it is such a聽very pretty, pale pink, yet packed with wild strawberry fruit, Legras Ros茅 is the choice. Dinner will be seared fillet of beef with salad, and for once a very affordable, quite modern Merlot based聽claret聽makes it聽into my Christmas choice in the form of Chateau Montfollet ‘Valentin’聽2007, from a small property in Blaye. After dinner a bracing two mile聽walk up and over聽the hill to South Pool, for聽those of us feeling strong enough, for carol singing in the Millbrook Inn. I suspect the others will settle into the first bottle of Sandeman Twenty Year Old Tawny,聽hopefully leaving a glass or two for ‘Santa’ having聽braved it back across the estuary from the pub.

After a slightly fuzzy start to Christmas morning last year,聽when I looked out to see what I thought was seagulls walking on the water, it turned out that the entire estuary was frozen solid and the landscape a sea of white ice. As stunning as it was, we are hoping for a milder start this year. Our tradition of salmon fishcakes for breakfast will continue, and I look forward to starting the day with聽 a wonderful magnum of Larmandier-Bernier’s ‘Terre de Vertus’, which has been hidden away in the boathouse since last year. Not only will it taste awesome, but it helps to put that feeling of聽crepe soles under ones feet for the rest of the morning.

It is a聽healthy walk along the estuary to church at East Portlemouth, and I continue to embarrass everybody but myself by walking in聽my Ramsay tartan kilt, which I will wear for the entire day. Last year it was especially bracing, but I also like to believe the kilt only enhanced the spirit of Christmas at both the packed聽church and the pub, as it was much admired, by grown-ups and children alike. Furthermore my sporran neatly and discreetly聽carries聽a hipflask, filled with Foxdenton’s Sloe Gin, an especially dry version that warms the parts others cannot reach when sitting in a cold pew.

Lunch聽will be聽a light affair of smoked salmon and game terrine,聽with Bert Salomon’s bracing Gr眉ner Veltliner Wachtberg, and the juicy, almost healthy tasting Domaine de la Rochette’s Beaujolais R茅gni茅. Both light enough to keep us well focussed for the evening ahead. We will spend the afternoon walking along the estuary, combing the shores for driftwood and cockles, and walk as far as we can go before the open water聽where we will聽see the twinkling lights of Salcombe in the distance. By the time we return to the cottage聽the fading聽light in the skies聽above the hills leave the estuary in all but聽darkness, and the fires are lit as聽preparations for聽our Christmas dinner resume.

The turkey has been cooking in the Aga almost all day, basted with a bottle of Palo Cortado sherry, and as we lay up the table and make final preparations, it is time for a quick聽sharpener before ‘dressing for dinner’.聽A glass of Valdespino’s bone dry Inocente Fino hits the spot and enlivens that palate.

Presents by the fire brings more champagne, and our family favourite on these occasions has become Barnaut’s Grande R茅serve Grand Cru from Bouzy; stylish, satisfying and so easy to enjoy amongst all the excitement. In reserve, there will be a bottle of Chablis (personally I like just one glass of fizz and then a bottle of Chablis…) and what is聽drinking so well聽right now is Moreau-Naudet’s 2007 Premier Cru For锚ts; bracingly dry and mineral but with lovely fruit too. With dinner this year we will drink聽a new Pinot Noir to our range,聽packed with elegant juice and聽 flavour, full enough to stand up to all the flavours of turkey and all the trimmings (including this year black pudding with wet walnuts and caremelised apples). Charles’ latest find in Burgundy is the small Domaine de la Douaix and their 2009 Hautes C么tes de Nuits is simply delicious and will be perfect for the job in hand.

We have long since given up the idea of a traditional Christmas pudding (even if it聽might contain a whole orange) and all I miss, apart from the brandy butter, is the pyrotechnical display when parading it into the room. Mince pies, fruit and聽walnuts are all washed down with a bottle of vintage port, or two, with a bottle of聽Graham’s 1999聽Malvedos in reserve.

Boxing Day聽will be聽a slow start, before a long and bracing coastal walk round the headlands to Prawle point and聽on up to the Pig’s Nose, for a pint of beer and to listen to the annual bell ringers display. A late lunch of baked potatoes and ham聽back in the cottage gives me the opportunity to open one of the two Italians of choice,聽either聽Fuligni’s brilliant value 2009 Rosso di Montalcino聽or Sottimano’s exceptional ‘baby Barbaresco’, the 2009 Langhe Nebbiolo, probably both.

There will be other bottles that find their way down the hill, but I dare not mention them all, since聽I would be at risk of being told (again) that we drink too much over Christmas. But then we will have the Mother-in-Law with us (again), there is no television in the cottage,聽and there is always plenty of outdoor activity and聽walking, with each of the聽pubs聽a good few miles each way. Take the car? Not likely, I might have to forgo the chance of another drink.

3 thoughts on “An Estuarine Christmas with the Sandemans

  1. Patrick Sandeman Post author

    I liked your Christmas blog. I thought it was very good. It made me want to go to salcombe for Christmas.
    Sadly I have to be content with Antigua.
    Marc Weaver, Guinevere Antiques (King’s Road)

  2. Patrick Sandeman Post author

    Terrific stuff, Patrick! Thoroughly good read, and makes fell very hungry 鈥 and thirsty.
    Very best wishes for your active, well-lubricated Christmas!
    Charles Metcalfe
    Co-Chairman, International Wine Challenge

  3. Simon Greenly

    Patrick – another atmospheric, interesting and well written insight into the combination of exercise and wine/fortified wine consumption (all reasonably priced) that is the Sandeman Christmas! Very entertaining. I will certainly try some of these – wonder if the Douaix Cotes de Nuits is quite ready yet…

    The kilt will certainly turn some West Country heads!

    Best wishes


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