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Christmas Wine

I realise that this is an age-old question, but do you have any suggestions for wines to serve on Christmas Day?

Jack, Cheltenham


Although some may bemoan the excesses of Christmas, we say the opposite - after all, opening a bottle of particularly special wine usually feels better if it is accompanied with some sort of special occasion. And what better one than the Pagan festival of excess that is the modern day Christmas?

So - on to the wine then. To start, we would suggest a good vintage champagne - Taittinger is our preference, but Krug and Dom Perignon are also excellent if you wish to splash out a little more. Ensure that your guests and you do not drink too much at this stage - this is an aperitif, not some sort of post rugby match drinking contest. A good champagne will also match many lighter starters, without dominating proceedings too much (you may at this stage wish that the same could be said of some of your guests).

To accompany the main course, there can be only one type of wine; forget New World imposters - Christmas is a time for tradition, and that means Claret. Go for a decent Cru Classe from the left bank, such as Cos D'Estournel and you shouldn't have too many problems. Just ensure that it has spent sufficient years in the bottle not to choke your guests with vicious tannins, and that it is properly decanted before serving.

To accompany puddings we would suggest a Sauternes - D'Yquem would be nice if you can run to it (and can invite us as well!), but there are a number of decent sweet Bordeaux wines that are worth looking out for - Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey is one that springs instantly to mind.

We're going to stick with the traditional tone, and recommend a Port to round the day off - Chuchill's 2000 Vintage Port would be a particularly good choice.

After all this, we would suggest multiple glasses of water, a long sleep and several days away from work.




Two Seater


I'm considering purchasing a two seater sports car, mainly for use on the weekends. As it will be a second car, it does not need to be particularly practical, but I do not want it to be unreliable. I have been looking at the Porsche Boxster and the Honda S2000, but do you have any advice? My budget is up to 30,000.

Will, Bath


A fairly easy one, this, as your limitations are few (although the reliability caveat counts out anything Italian). You don't mention whether you would consider more classic machinery, but, judging by the fact that you mentioned the Boxster and S2000 as potential choices I will assume that you are looking at new or fairly new cars.

I would discount the Honda, primarily on the basis that it is too ordinary to be a weekend toy; it may have one of the world's finest four cylinder engines under the bonnet, but the looks and handling don't really impress as they should.

The Boxster, on the other hand, is a fine handling car, and, in S form at least, has just enough power to be entertaining. It is, however, somewhat ubiquitous, and has looks that fail to impress.

996 911s are now available well within your price bracket, but running costs tend to be fairly high, and, unless it is a GT3, the image is slightly City boy made good.

Our advice would be to look for a low mileage Lotus Exige or Exige S. These can be had well within your budget, handle better than almost anything out there, and, because of their light weight, will not require ownership of an oil producing Gulf state to run.

The S model is the supercharged one, and has considerably better in gear performance than the naturally aspirated car. The downsides are higher initial purchase costs and a complete lack of visibility through the rear window (it's blocked by the intercooler). The plain Exige, with its highly strung Toyota engine is more frenetic and requires more concentration (and gear changes) to keep on the cam and travelling quickly, but, in the right hands, is almost as fast as its more powerful sibling. Both perform superbly on track.

Don't expect too much luxury inside, and be careful when giving a lift to female, or indeed male colleagues, as the narrowness of the car means that each gear change has the possibility of inadvertent leg-touching and consequent law-suits.

Most of the reliability issues that were the bane of Lotus owners' lives in the past have, thankfully, been absent from the Elise based cars, primarily due to the use of mass produced engines from manufacturers such as Toyota. Watch out for cars with bent chassis, or suspension parts, though, and ensure that you conduct a thorough test drive of any car you intend to buy. It will feel flimsy, as if it is about to fall apart at the first bump, but don't worry - they all feel like this, and you soon realise that the body structure is actually extremely stiff.

Both Exiges are, of course,  hard-tops, but the 111R and Elise S offer similar performance in an open top form, if that is your preference.