Christmas in Yorkshire

(by peter)

This year, Christmas day started at 5am. Thereafter followed many things, including feeding the pigs, basking in snowy Yorkshire sunshine, performing a Gruffalo song and some quite sumptuous food and wine. None of it in any particular order.

Pre-dawn, a snowy Christmas morning in north Yorkshire can seem hard and bitter. Especially where Black Sheep have been implicated in the previous night’s activities.

But then indulgence is a seasonal luxury at this time of year, and it’s something you simply can’t avoid when you stay in the environs of the magnificent, Michelin-starred Star Inn at Harome. Which, I should declare right from the outset, is owned and run by Susie’s sister Jacquie and her husband Andrew Pern, and where we have spent many a happy (and delicious) occasion, including our wedding a few years ago.

The annual ritual at the Star is for the bar to open for a few hours over lunch time, after which people meander home for a long Christmas lunch. It’s a wonderful tradition, especially when it involves such an atmospheric thatched pub in which a large saucepan of mulled wine quietly simmers by the roaring fire, and everyone seems to know each other.

Drinks done, a treasure hunt was played out to general shrieks of high-pitched voices, and thunderous stampedes to find the next clue and – the real prize – chocolate coins. It didn’t last long.

Meanwhile, Susie and her mum sensibly stuck to the cooking. As we disappeared out into the brittle, vibrant world of snow, slush and crisp sunshine, they seemed to be having a hushed yet urgent talk concerning lobster, gravy and overdoing the veg. But we had other priorities – principally, feeding the pigs and a breath of fresh air for some over-excited young heads.

Only trouble was, the pigs weren’t that keen on being fed. You couldn’t blame them, huddled together for warmth in their sty, which sat stranded the middle of a snow-drenched paddock. Eventually, they were coaxed out and snuffled in lukewarm fashion around the veg peelings. A Highland cow came to watch and moo-ed disconsolately.

Christmas lunch beckoned.

We kicked proceedings off with a wine to match the weather: the crisp, invigorating Pol Roger 1996, the kind of wine that shakes your bones and immediately puts all your senses on edge. Austere, complex, rounded enough to be comforting but with all the finery of age twisted taut around a pure, vibrant body that demanded attention. A beautiful vintage from a top-quality house. What a treat.

A platter of the Star’s finest seafood, adorned with lobster, salmon, potted shrimps and all sorts of delectable morsels, was washed down with Vincent Dancer’s Meursault Les Corbins 2004, a quite sensational wine which just keeps getting better in bottle (shame we only have one left now – white Burgundy rarely hangs around in a house where Susie lives). Nutty, lemony, at once classic Meursault but with all the grip and structure of a strident Puligny.

Turkey with all the trimmings was served with veg that was overdone only in the sense of quantity (always a good thing in a house which counts many kids and a bubble-and-squeak expert). Our perennial favourite Bernard Burgaud was called upon, in the form of his Côte-Rôtie 2000, now fully mature and a graceful, generous partner to the inevitable profusion of flavours on the plate.

By popular demand, and with a flamboyant scorn for indigestion, the children then demanded we then perform the Gruffalo song we’d been learning that morning. Mobile phones were turned off for the performance, which featured an all-star ensemble cast of Daisy the fox, Tilly the mouse, Louis the snake and Olive the owl. Further credits go to the Elfye, spectator and part-time dancer, as well as the audience for their energetic applause.

This called for port.

Fonseca 1970 duly offered up its elegant, venerable charms over a plate of cheeses. After lengthy deliberations, it was decided (surprisingly) that it made the best match with a young, firm goat’s cheese. Stilton was too strong. Tunworth and Comté were fine but sat somewhat aside from the port’s spice and elegance.

By the time the deliberations were done, and consensus reached, the Fonseca 1970 was no more.

A worthy end for a fine bottle. Nonetheless a bitter, hard pill for the 5am start on Boxing Day.