The presents are wrapped, the cards caught the last post, the food is bought and the drinks are all lined up – but it won't be the usual Christmas.
Instead of the packed houseful which occasionally has to spill over into the B&B up the road, this family has made other arrangements. The young professionals and other relatives who normally grace our table have succumbed to the temptation to travel, to extend the break and see friends in other parts of the world which means that there will just be the two of us this Christmas – do I mind? Not likely!
I have found the whole laid-back Christmas experience a relaxation in itself. The multitude of cakes has not been made, the battle-quantities of food have not been bought and I haven't had to wrestle nine feet of Christmas tree through the front door. Even the decades-old playschool-made fairy who normally presides over our festivities from her perch at the top of the tree will stay in her box this year.
The food requirements have been cut down to size. Yes, we will eat well, but not to excess and it certainly will not involve anything that needs five hours in the oven and then lasts through various reincarnations as curry and soup for days to come. Small portions, delicious flavours and a flexible timetable will be the over-riding criteria for this festive season.
But I will have wine and lots of it. I shall open bottles that have been tucked away for years, single gems that need concentration and appreciation, not silly hats and musical games. I shall use the good glasses, not the ones that don't matter if they get chipped under the taps by slightly tipsy guests. And I shall have time. Time with a loved one to sip, sup and chat in front of a fire, without having to keep an eye on the clock and the next round of feeding the five thousand.
So what delights have I lined up?
There will be champagne and I won't even need the excuse of opening presents to drink it. Pop, whoosh and another glass of fizz gets poured. I shall have the clean, fresh-tasting flavours of Pol Roger (30 Majestic) for aperitifs; the rounded, fatter, yeasty style of Louis Roederer (32 Majestic) for mid-afternoon and the silky, citrus and spice complexity of Krug for evenings. I might decide that some meals can be completely replaced by a glass of fizz and a few canaps. That should save several hours of exercise in the gym come January.
I am looking forward to opening a bottle of Brolettino 2008 Lugana from C dei Frati (19.99, Harrogate Fine Wine) which will team up perfectly with herb-baked fish this evening. I tasted it recently and was captivated by its smoky nutty complexity, with a taffeta texture and a long elegant finish.
I have some Chablis in the fridge because it is versatile and can go from lunch through to dinner without missing a beat, coping with a sliver of smoked salmon to a mushroom risotto. I like Valmaison 2009 Chablis (Waitrose 11.99) for its unoaked, rounded citrusy fruit, but instead I have gone for Premier Cru 'Vaillons' 2008 from Christian Moreau (21.99 Harrogate Fine Wine) which tastes more Grand Cru than many Grand Cru wines.
I have a collection of reds to hand to go with everything from simple suppers to the main event. As always a glass of New Zealand Pinot Noir will provide decent levels of fruit without a mouthful of tannin. Wither Hills 2008 (Majestic down from 16.99 to 9.99 on multibuy) is on form at present with pure raspberry and black cherry fruit and a savoury finish but I have a bottle of Larry McKenna's Escarpment Pahi 2008 (18.95 Halifax Wine Company 01422 256333), from his Burgundian-style vineyard in Martinborough. This has complexity and depth of flavour that might have some French producers worried.
Despite the lack of a large piece of poultry as a centrepiece there will be a decent bottle of red to go with the main meal of tomorrow and I already have a selection lined up and waiting like the finalists in a beauty contest. Some of these were mislaid during a house move several years ago and have only recently come to light so they may be past their peak but they have become like old friends and I shall pull their corks, just to see how they have matured. A St Emilion (Figeac), St Julien (Loville Barton) and maybe an Hermitage (Chave) from old and revered vintages should provide enough excitement to fill the gap left by the absence of crackers and silly jokes.
There will be one extra treat which often gets forgotten when there are close to a dozen people around the table and that is the dessert wine. It often comes too late to be properly appreciated by a group of people who have already eaten and drunk too much. But this year I shall uncork a small bottle of legendary Sauternes which found a niche in my wine rack some years ago. If you don't have a bottle of 1990 Yquem then try Tesco Finest Sauternes 2005 which comes from Ch Haut Bergeron and it really does provide concentrated, crystallized-pineapple flavours, shot through with balancing acidity.
To welcome me back to the fireside after my post-prandial afternoon walk, a glass of Henriques and Henriques 15 year-old Boal Madeira (22.50 Halifax Wine Co) will provide glorious, elegant raisiny, spiced, orange peel flavours that just encapsulate Christmas in a glass.
This may be my quietest Christmas for decades but it will be fun and relaxing. And the hoards have promised to descend in January just to make up for their absence this week. I hope they bring some decent wine with them, I think I will have drunk all mine.
Happy Christmas, and I will see you all next year.
YP MAG 24/12/10