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Nothing says Happy Christmas like the right bottle


Paolo's wine

Paolo's wine

Paolo Tullio, photographed at his home in Annamoe, Co. Wicklow.

Paolo Tullio, photographed at his home in Annamoe, Co. Wicklow.


Paolo's wine

By the time we get to the last week before Christmas, we're punch-drunk with the continual assault on our senses that has been coming our way from retailers since early September. 'Come and buy, buy, buy. Look at this, you know you want it. Come and buy it.'

And so the assault continues, until even the most hard-hearted of us, the most Scrooged, relent and end up buying the festive goose. Such is the power of a three-month advertising campaign.

I find myself in the week before Christmas walking the aisles of supermarkets, looking for inspiration for foodie and wine presents. What I don't want to buy is a bottle of wine that could be mistaken for a bottle bought on a garage forecourt as an afterthought. Nor do I want to spend time wrapping. I want my gift already packaged for Christmas. And if you look carefully, that's exactly what you can find.

Let's be honest, you're not likely to buy foie gras or caviar when you're doing the weekly shop. But at Christmas time really fine gourmet fare makes its way into the trolley. It's those little jars with all the goodies inside that hook me first.

Paté with truffles, dried porcini, marinated chanterelles, fancy terrines, aged balsamic vinegars, they all tempt me enough that I simply give in and do what everyone else is doing - buying and panicking. Who have I missed out? What if he doesn't like truffles? What if she hates balsamic vinegar? It's a minefield, that week before Christmas.

Apart from fancy foodstuffs, a supermarket is also a good place to buy gift-packaged alcohol. From the very simplest bottle in a wooden presentation box to quite complicated packaging, these are purchases that both please the palate and also look well.

And just like the fancy foods, Christmas time is a perfect time to experiment with wines and spirits that you haven't had before, or your intended recipient hasn't had before. Try out some fortified wines - that's stuff like sherry, port and Madeira, or a liqueur that's new to you. Be adventurous: you might find there's a bottle out there that's exactly to your liking.

At its most simple a bottle given in a wooden box is always going to look like a lot more of a present than a bottle in a bag. It says, 'This is a bottle good enough to box', not just any old bottle pulled from a shelf and bagged.

Two bottles in a wooden box looks just a little bit more of a present. Look out for these, they make excellent presents.

Other drinks that often come with fancy packaging are whiskeys, Cognacs and Armagnacs, rum and Champagne.

A bottle of Champagne makes a lovely present, but a Champagne packaged in a carton makes a nicer one. It just looks more expensive, even if it isn't.

So this year I've been looking at what's on offer and before the Christmas rush and there are some great offers to be had.


This is one of the world's great dessert wines, and it comes from Hungary. It used to be made for the emperors of Austria-Hungary in a free-run juice called 'Essencia'. This one isn't quite so precious, but it's a first-rate wine and great value. €24.99, Aldi

Tawny ports are much lighter than the classic vintage port. If you've ever gone to bed with your heart pounding after drinking too much vintage port, it's less likely to happen with the lighter tawny. It's a drink for when the main meal is finished and you can sit back, relax and let the port help you digest your overindulgence. The Maynards 30-year-old tawny port costs €49.99 at Aldi. It comes in its own ship's decanter and just remember to pass it to the left

If it's the heavier, fuller style of port that pleases you, then Tesco have the very thing: a nicely boxed Dows 1998 with enough bottle age to make it smooth and sensual. A wine to treat with respect. On sale at €45.39

20-year-old tawny port, Vila Nova de Gaia. €50.50, M&S

Coffee and Cream Liqueur This is an Italian after-dinner liqueur with the taste of Italian espresso. It comes with two glasses so you can get stuck right in. €14.99, Lidl

There are many, including me, who prefer an Armagnac to a Cognac. The Armagnac XO is ten years old, is smooth, and looks good in a slightly oval bottle and costs €29.99, Lidl

The Abrachan Scotch malt whisky is a blend of three cask types - Bourbon, Oloroso barrels from Jerez and tawny port pipes from Portugal. It makes for a smooth whisky with notes of citrus and toffee. Expect to pay €24.99 at Lidl

Close to home, the Jamesons Crested 10 is an Irish whiskey which is triple distilled and comes in a handsome box. Aged in sherry barrels, it costs €28 at Tesco

Here's a few suggestions for your own Christmas stock


Premier Cru Champagne, €32,Tesco Finest

Champagne Veuve Monsigny, €19.99, Aldi

Bissinger Champagne Brut Rose, €24.99, Lidl Herbert Beaufort Champagne Grand Cru, €50, M&S Bissinger Champagne Premium Cuvee Brut, €29.99, Lidl  


Chassagne Montrachet 2000, €24.99, Aldi

Condrieu, €23.99, Aldi

Albariño Portico da Ria, €10, SuperValu


Brio de Cantenac Brown, Margaux 2006, €29.99, Aldi

Finca Labarca, Rioja, Reserva 2006,

€12, SuperValu

Fleur Quercus, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, 2008, €24.99, Lidl

Primitivo di Manduria 2012, €16.49, M&S

Irish Independent