by Tim Atkin

Christmas Day chez Atkin

Forget about turkey, stuffing and brandy butter: the Atkin family Christmas will have a Spanish flavour this year. There are two reasons for this, neither related to the London location of the meal itself. The first is that I’ve just bought a copy of José Pizarro’s wonderful Seasonal Spanish Food (£19.99, Kyle Cathie) and can’t wait to cook some of the recipes; the second concerns a bottle of lost wine.

Let’s start with the vino. My father was given a bottle of 1995 Vega Sicilia Unico, a red from what is arguably Spain’s finest producer, earlier this year as a present by a Catalan friend. “We’ll drink this at Christmas,” he told me, eager to share the experience. His mistake was to forget to tell my step mother. Coming across the Vega in their wine rack recently, she assumed it was the sort of good value red my parents normally drink and used it to make what turned out to be a very expensive stew.

I don’t buy £290 bottles very often (actually, make that never), but I’d like to give my father a taste of Vega Sicilia in his 79th year. My solution has been to purchase Vega’s second wine, Valbuena, instead. The 2003 (£73.40, 13.5%, Berry Brothers & Rudd) is quite forward for a Valbuena, but it’s still delicious: broad, smoky and herbal, with ripe flavours of plums and blackberries and very subtle oak.

Before we get to the Valbuena, we’ll have plenty of other things to drink. As an aperitif, we’re going to start with a wine from the Basque country, rather than a more traditional Cava. The 2008 Getariako Txakolina, Txomín Etxaníz (£14.99, 11%, Moreno Wines, 0208 960 7161) is tangy and refreshing with a slight spritz and a citrus fruit bite. It’s the kind of thing they drink by the litre in San Sebastian.

Our fish course will be baked scallops with crispy serrano ham, straight from Seasonal Spanish Food. To go with it, I’ve lined up what I think is Spain’s best white wine: the 2006 Naiades, Bodegas Naia, Rueda (£19.99, 13.5%, Taurus Wines, 01483 548484; other stockists from Boutinot on 0161 908 1300). This oak-influenced, old vine Verdejo is rich, toasty, yet remarkably minerally, like a Spanish take on a white Burgundy. The wine ought to cost twice as much as it does.

To match the Valbuena, I’m going to cook Pizarro’s partridge stew. I can’t afford more than one bottle so, given that there will be eight of us around the table, I reckon I’ll need a back up red. My choice is the 2001 Imperial Rioja Reserva, CVNE (£13.99 each for two, 13.5%, Majestic), a soft, complex, lightly-oaked blend that’s deceptively well structured, with acidity balancing the red fruits’ flavours.

No Spanish meal is complete without a glass of Sherry. I could serve a Manzanilla as an aperitif, but I’d rather drink an aged Amontillado instead. What better than the nutty, savoury, bone dry Taste the Difference Dry Amontillado (£6.49 per 50cl, 19%, Sainsbury’s), surely the best value Sherry in the UK? To go with it, I’ve bought a semi-cured Villarejo Manchego cheese from Brindisa in Borough Market.

Spaniards often serve quince jelly with cheese, but I’m going to use my quinces to make a sorbet instead: the combination of sweetness, tartness and texture are delicious at the end of a meal. To drink with it, I’ve been saving up a bottle of the sweet, honey and orange peel-scented 2005 Molino Real, Mountain Wine (£26.99 per 50cl,, an unfortified Muscat made from old vineyards in the south of Spain by the super talented Telmo Rodriguez.

Christmas with a Spanish accent is going to be a lot of fun, even in SW18. It may not make up for the loss of that £290 bottle, but I hope it’ll come close.

Originally published in The Observer

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