As the festival of over-indulgence draws close and our thoughts turn to panic buying of cream, icing sugar, sausage meat and baking foil, I like to think our household is coiled spring-like to deal with the family banquets ahead. The turkey is almost ordered, I have nearly decided which stuffing to place within and the Sat-Nav is set to locate a decent Christmas tree the day after most of them have been snapped up by far more organised shoppers. Oh well, what’s wrong with flexibility and surprise?

As you may imagine my life as a wine merchant is far too busy in our cellars at this time of year to do very much more than become a little flexible and somewhat surprised in equal measure. Flexible as to what’s left out there and surprised at how much it seems to cost with only one day’s shopping left to Christmas.

One luxury I do have and one shared by many of you who purchase wine from us, is the considerable choice I have in our wine cellars. At anyone time we hold over six hundred wines from seventeen different wine growing countries. Selecting wines for so many different festive dishes ahead is daunting and pleasurable in equal measure. My customers arrive to seek out the best in Bordeaux for their rib of beef, aged Riojas for their turkey, or Burgundian Pinot Noirs for Goose. All manner of Chilean or Californian reds for those seeking more of a fruit-bomb on their palate are picked, as are a range of the increasingly fashionable whites of choice for fish – Sauvignon Blanc, rich with tropical fruit from New Zealand or Argentina, crisp and refreshing from Tourraine and minerally elegant from Sancerre. Ports are bought in abundance as are Sherries, which are purchased with increasing understanding I’m pleased to report. For me though, I will be looking for lighter styles of tipples throughout with the occasional big-hitter in the red department.

One item of attention this year will certainly be some R & D in the dessert wine department. One dead-cert already put to one side, is a Sauternes. Not for me a Port or two on Christmas day, as in the past I swear I can hear our dear Queen tapping from inside the screen to try to gain the concentration of her mellow subjects intermittently dozing between her speech and the next James Bond movie to surface, I blame the Port and I’m sure she agrees with me here.

No, after a lighter dessert, we’ve long since given up on plum pudding by the way, I shall be reaching for that golden luxury in a bottle – Sauternes. Gently chilled, it offers lingering sensuality with a full flavoured honeyed bouquet finishing with a gently refreshing, ripe citrus cut, reminiscent of Satsumas and Mandarin orange.

At other times Sauternes and especially Barsac can excitingly partner Roquefort and softer blue cheeses whereas, in Southern Bordeaux, it is frequently served with lighter Pâtés and Foie-Gras – with stunning gastronomic results.

Why is it then that from the frenzy of Christmas purchase, Sauternes still remains woefully undervalued and often under-appreciated?

I suspect that we Brits still tend to end our meals on a savoury note, the cheeseboard rather than dessert at the finále, so often reach for a fortified wine such as Port rather than a partner to pudding such as a sweet wine. In other European cultures, sweet wines are seen as an additional bonus to the meal, Tröckenbeerenauslese (TBA) in the Rhineland, Tokaji in Hungary or Eiswein in Canada or Austria. Like Sauternes, all these wines need that magical blend of night mist in the vineyards to create Botrytis (Noble Rot) a fungicidal growth on the grape which splits the skin and releases water whilst increasing the natural sugars in the fruit. Crucially the sun needs to rise warmly and burn off the mists leaving the grapes raisined and desiccated during the seasonal run-up to harvest in September and October. The grapes of Sauternes in the Graves region of Bordeaux are Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. Semillon attracts Noble Rot with consummate ease whilst the Sauvignon grape, ripening much earlier, has a higher acidity thereby contributing a racy vigour and refreshment to this most unctuous of wines.

Although a vintage Cru Champagne will welcome back family members from midnight mass, a sparkler from Italy is the likely, and far less expensive, constant throughout Christmas.

With the controlled anarchy of Christmas morning as presents are opened at home, a glass of guilt free Prosecco would be my recommendation prior to scrambled eggs, or smoked salmon hits the table. For those taking croissants or Panetone for a less savoury breakfast, a fizzy Spumante alongside – not in – freshly squeezed orange juice, enlivens the senses wonderfully.

Although this time of year sees the multiple chains trying to offload litres of inexpensive Cava, (as opposed to the high quality stuff that Spain reveres) usually left-over from the previous Easter. I urge you to try a quality Prosecco Superiore with a festive ‘cream-soda’ mousse and last summers’ gentle embrace from the Adriatic.

Whatever your choice, may I take this opportunity to wish you all a happy and healthy 2009.