Shackleton and Sargent: our two high-flying guest writers - take a look at the pros and cons of both the hot- and cold versions of Christmas...
The Woes and Wonders of a White Christmas
by Winston J Shackleton - Art Dealer & Wine Enthusiast
One of the reasons we all wish for a White Christmas is because it is the only day of the year in which one doesn't have to leave the house. How beautiful, dreamy and peaceful snow is - as long as you are not too close to it.
If anyone, mainly children, wish to play outside then they may - and if they get chilblains or mild frostbite, then that is their decision. We live in a free country after all, and we must accept their unwise decisions. Snow and wine is a wonderful pairing, as long as the wine is drank while sat in an armchair and the snow is at a safe distance behind some good quality double glazing.
When it comes to holidaying at Christmas, most people - if not visiting family - tend to choose one of two extremes: The very cold or the the very hot. Someone once said to me "it's not Christmas if its hot and sunny", which seems rather unfair. It condemns anyone living on - or south of the equator to give up on Christmas completely. But enough about the sun, dear Tony will cover all of that!
Christmas skiing holidays attract a very particular type of person. One that is not content on being cold at home and would rather pay a few thousand per head to be chilled to the marrow on the continent. This type of holiday maker is often called a "thrill seeker", but should be known as a "self-harmer". If a skiing holiday was a country it would be Australia: a place with danger lurking behind every corner. The freezing temperatures are the least of the "thrill seekers" worries. Serious head injuries, broken wrists, sunburn and Jaegermeister hangovers: These are but a few of the dangers of the slopes, Not to mention the food! The calories in one bowl of Fondue is a potential killer.
This is not to say that I am totally against a cold Christmas. Certainly the food and and wine are much better. Port, Claret and brandy tend not to shine in tropical climates. The ideal would be a chalet in the alps - far from the ski slopes, the maddening crowds and €13 mugs of Vin-Chaud. It seems that heading to the mountains, the snow, the crisp fresh air, also means throwing oneself down a slope at 30 miles an hour! But why can't we just go for the tranquillity and the natural beauty? Log fires, good food, great wine and family.
A quiet, serene place where you can chill your champagne in the snow without some swine pinching it. Now that would be just lovely...
Sand, Sea and Fruity Rosé: A Defence
By Tony Gilroy Sargent: QC and Wine Enthusiast
In recent years, my family and I have opted to spend the better parts of our winters in considerably hotter climes. Christmas at the beach might not be everyone’s glass of Malbec, but for us it’s become something of a consensual necessity. Not least because of my blasted nasal tract – which seems to take great delight in flaring up when jolly English temperatures, predictably, drop below 10 degrees (Celsius of course) once passing the bum end of October. Unfortunately one of the many unpredictable pitfalls of turning sixty. Hallelujah!
Then there’s Maria, my wife – Spanish of course - who’s been a constant yet reassuring nag since we tied the knot in 2009. It’s not so much the cold that’s the problem, I’m told, more so the damp British drizzle and inescapable lack of snow. Charming!
Let’s not forget the sprogs; Ella (5) and Rafferty (8). The older they get, and each December like clockwork, the sentence; “daddy, why doesn’t it snow at Christmas like on TV?” begins to grate somewhat. Quite despite feeling like being in an episode of Outnumbered, it’s often easier to admit defeat and leave the cold rain - and piercing winds - for the sun, sea and wine of the Indian Ocean.
Sun, Sea, Sand and Sauvignon
The Seychelles it is then – our winter destination of choice for the past five years – and I hasten to say we haven’t looked back. Sure, the flight can be a drag, but once you’re there - as they say - you’re very much ensconced.
Our winter is their summer, as is their winter, so there’s not much danger of drizzle and not a hint of the white stuff unless you’re 50,000 feet in the sky. Suits us fine.
Alas, I digress. Wine! Wine! I hear you cry. And where exactly to drink it? ‘No’, ‘What’s that’, ‘He can’t possibly mean…on the beach?’ Well, yes, I do.
For many, drinking wine on the beach is strictly the reserve of the TOWIE crowd. To which I retort – utter nonsense! Yes, the Mojito or Piña Colada have traditionally been the seaside tipples of choice, but since when has tradition been the order of the day? After all, this is the Seychelles, not Ibiza.
Whether you’re basking in the heat on the white sands of Praslin, or snorkelling the delightful reefs of La Digue, wine should – and must – be on the menu. In fact, I now solemnly confess to enjoying wine more in 30+ degree outdoor temperatures, than I do in heated drawing rooms on a dour January Saturday. Whilst watching the grimly predictable soccer scores pour in? No. The latter is simply fuddy-duddy. Whereas the former is, well... bountiful.
Rosé is first choice out of the ice box (bringing our own has become something of necessity, and well worth paying the extra Airline surcharges). Fruity, zingy and refreshing, its famously inoffensive palette makes it the go-to grape for the ‘Club Tropicana’ crowd.
Besides, it’s a crowd-pleaser! In recent years, Maria’s first-born, Sofia – nineteen and with the sassy attitude to boot – has joined us on our oceanic excursions. Often with a gaggle of teenage accomplices in tow. With beautiful smiles, lovely hair, but predictably unsophisticated palettes. Alas, the Rosé goes down a treat, and is often the choice beverage for their late night do’s! Take as many bottles as you like, but please no beach partying beyond midnight, it gets the locals in quite a fluster!
If we’re very lucky – my eldest, Thomas, might show up. In his late thirties (doesn’t the time fly) and quite the wine connoisseur. Buyer by trade, with a cellar – and encyclopedic knowledge – which puts my relative wine enthusiasm to shame. He’ll usually come with the wife and young children, abound with enthusiasm and charming mid-Atlantic drawls. It’s what comes with marrying an American girl! Thomas has been Stateside for the best part of a decade and seems happier and busier than ever. Again, something about time…?
We’ll all enjoy BBQs, superb platters, gourmet sandwiches and oysters – all a pebble’s throw from the sand – and all with the very best wines.
The crispness of the Sauvignon Blanc is the perfect reward between bouts of sunbathing, making it arguably my favourite beach companion.
Thomas swears by the Vinho Verde: an extremely quaffable entry to the wine canon, courtesy of our Portuguese friends. He’ll come stocked with a few bottles without fail. I never seem to complain. Maria usually opts for the Albariño: the beach-time vino for the discerning Spaniard. For her, a home-grown indulgence which tastes, I’m reliably informed, like summer itself.
When you’re paddling in the crystal blue waters of our favourite winter haunts, whilst sampling its layered delights, it’s hard to disagree with such bold hyperbole.
So there you have it. Everyone should explore experiencing wines on the beach. As long as you can keep them cool - and it’s the cool that you’re escaping - then there’s really no argument.
The right wines. The right company. The cold really is overrated. Even the wines agree. That said, I can’t entirely bring myself to shun the wintry Christmases’. They may be cold and miserable, but they’re home. I feel, perhaps, a part of me still belongs to them. They may lack lustre, but they still have charm. After all, I’m English – and that, my wife says – is my biggest affliction of all. On that note, pass me the Reserva. The Queen’s on at three…