Festive spirits

Avoid a nightmare before Christmas with December's wine club

It is not yet politically incorrect to refer to Christmas by its proper name; but the pressure is on to add both the word and the concept to the list of discarded things, along with coronations, surnames, starched collars, pinstripe suits and chastity. Even a Christian might prefer "holiday season" to describe the dread days when children are at their worst, adults scarcely better, and the house is awash with plastic rubbish from the appalling new China - it combines capitalist consumerism, communist dictatorship and ecological vandalism in a unique synthesis of the worst aspects of modernity.

Still, we have to go through with it, and the question, as with all such ordeals, is how to drink your way to a state of surrender. It has become customary to begin the great sacrifice with a glass of champagne. This overpriced and so often characterless drink can be exchanged for a variety of equally stimulating substitutes at half the price. Corney & Barrow's sparkling white, on offer as part of its Christmas wine club, would suit the bill perfectly - crisp, but with sufficient weight to pierce the veil of bubbles and plant fistfuls of giggles in the guts.

The Chablis has the kind of elegant stiletto finish that enables you to walk away straight-faced from the job - which might be a few whelks with a splash of vinegar, or a clean despatching of that overloaded aunt.

Chablis, once a catch-all term for dry white wine, now signifies a synthesis of the Chardonnay grape and the Kimmeridgian clay of the Yonne. It is drunk with relish by those, like us, who live on the Kimmeridge clay of north Wiltshire, and who know how mean and unfruitful this soil can be, and how bitter it is to live in a place where it is not planted with the only fruit that matters.

Of the two reds, the Pinot Noir, which comes with the benediction of a certain M Bourgeois - and therefore represents everything that Balzac celebrated and Sartre detested - is a fragrant and fruity version of the Burgundy grape, light enough to see you through the turkey and with enough depth to give you something to think about when the jabber begins.

This is a poetic wine, with a gentle, allusive character that invites communication. Why listen to the drivel of all those soap-watching and text-messaging relatives of yours, when this little bit of rescued earth is calling from within?

A good year for claret was 2003. The Château Mazeris throws out fistfuls of fruit, spiked with hidden shards of tannin. I am less convinced by its virtues than those who are trying to flog it to you. Still, in two years' time it will get its act together; and meanwhile it is full enough to inspire your closing gesture, as you make your excuses and sit with a glass beneath the Christmas tree.