Hands down, the most festive grape of them all is grenache. It can lock away the sultry heat of summer sunshine, so it’s perfect poured into your glass on a cold winter night. It makes wine that has a sumptuous quality, like crushed crimson velvet; that tastes like confit of red berries, and that has a teasing flare of alcohol that dances up and warms you even as you raise the glass to your lips.
It wouldn’t feel like Christmas to me if I didn’t have grenache stowed somewhere in the house. This evocative grape is found around the world but three places are particularly worth knowing about. Grenache is the most important grape in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, as well as being a stalwart of the entire southern Rhône region. Here, grenache often has a trace of flavour that reminds me of pumice, and dried thyme, and the tindery dryness of the Mediterranean scrub. The hillsides of north-eastern Spain are another superb source; here garnacha – as it is known locally – tastes more plush, and less herbal. Its juicy, baked strawberry, quality comes more to the fore. The third place that does grenache extremely well is Australia. Let me narrow that down a bit to McLaren Vale and the Barossa Valley in Australia, where old grenache vines make wine that is intensely succulent, with a saturating mulberry flavour that envelops you at first sip.
So how best to deploy grenache as part of your Christmas alcohol artillery? Its soft, welcoming quality makes it a perfect glass of red for winter drinks parties. Look to the DO of Campo de Borja in Aragon, in Spain, for inexpensive versions such as Tesco Old Vines Garnacha 2016, Spain (£5, Tesco). This grape can rise to the occasion, too: grenache is fruity enough and spicy enough to take on the cacophony of flavours on the Christmas dinner table.
It is also superb with that festive season classic, the roast joint of ham. I particularly enjoy the richness of fruit you find in Australian grenache with pink slices of clovey roast gammon: try Yalumba Barossa Bush Vine Grenache 2015 (£10.99, Co-op), made from the fruit of vines planted between 1898 and 1973. That heritage really shows in the wine. If you prefer to drink white, then try riesling with roast ham: it will emphasise the succulence of the meat. Try Cono Sur Reserva Especial Riesling 2016, Chile (£9.75, Tesco).
Finally, the combination of easefulness with a savoury thread make grenache-based blends from the Côtes du Rhône or Costières de Nîmes in France my go-to cold night kitchen bottle. Try Le Clarion des Anges 2015 Costières de Nîmes, France (£8.50, Booths) for a wine you’d be happy to drink every day.
Victoria Moore is an award-winning wine columnist and author. Her new book, The Wine Dine Dictionary (£20, Granta), is out now.