Christmas cheers: a festive wine pairing guide

Christmas cheers: a festive wine pairing guide

by Fiona Sims13 November 2023

In the madness of Christmas cookery, it can be easy to forget about the all-important wines that will accompany your food throughout the day. Fiona Sims provides some pairing suggestions for the big day.

Christmas cheers: a festive wine pairing guide

In the madness of Christmas cookery, it can be easy to forget about the all-important wines that will accompany your food throughout the day. Fiona Sims provides some pairing suggestions for the big day.

Fiona Sims is a leading food, drink, travel writer and editor. She contributes to many magazines and newspapers including The Times and The Sunday Times, Decanter, Delicious and National Geographic Food, and travels the world in pursuit of top chefs, pioneering food producers, hot hotels and legendary winemakers, brewers, and distillers.

Fiona Sims is a leading food, drink, travel writer and editor. She contributes to many magazines and newspapers including The Times and The Sunday Times, Decanter, Delicious and National Geographic Food, and travels the world in pursuit of top chefs, pioneering food producers, hot hotels and legendary winemakers, brewers, and distillers. Fiona is also the author of several food and wine books, including best-seller, The Boat Cookbook, and The Boat Drinks Book, both published by Bloomsbury. You can read more about her at the2fionas.com.

Fiona Sims is a leading food, drink, travel writer and editor. She contributes to many magazines and newspapers including The Times and The Sunday Times, Decanter, Delicious and National Geographic Food, and travels the world in pursuit of top chefs, pioneering food producers, hot hotels and legendary winemakers, brewers, and distillers.

Fiona Sims is a leading food, drink, travel writer and editor. She contributes to many magazines and newspapers including The Times and The Sunday Times, Decanter, Delicious and National Geographic Food, and travels the world in pursuit of top chefs, pioneering food producers, hot hotels and legendary winemakers, brewers, and distillers. Fiona is also the author of several food and wine books, including best-seller, The Boat Cookbook, and The Boat Drinks Book, both published by Bloomsbury. You can read more about her at the2fionas.com.

If ever there was an opportunity to create a full-on food and wine matching menu, then Christmas is it. And not because you’ll always get the perfect pairings – have you seen a more clashing set of flavours on one plate than a turkey Christmas lunch? But because people want to have a good time; and they’ll always push the boat out at Christmas.

So, what to drink? Let’s start with the Christmas aperitif. Let’s face it, a decent fizz will carry you through the entire pre-meal celebrations, from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day. There’s always Champagne, of course, though most of us these days are looking for a bit more bang for their buck, but instead of turning to usual suspects Prosecco and Cava, think regional French fizz, such as Blanquette de Limoux. It’s made using what is known as the traditional method – like Champagne, and according to legend, it’s the world’s first ever sparkling wine, dating back to 1531. As well as getting you in the party mood, it’s a breeze with classic Christmas nibbles. Try zesty, fresh, and toasty Martial Richard Blanquette de Limoux, made from native Limoux grape, Mauzac.

And yes, there is always G&T. Gin has never been so popular, with artisanal brands made with intriguing botanicals packaged in pretty bottles from all over the country, and beyond. But I prefer something more unique, and festive – cue white port. Unlike the Portuguese, who drink it in the summer by the gallon over ice with tonic water, garnished with a sprig of mint, I like white port and tonic for Christmas, garnished with a Christmassy slice of orange. White port is one of Portugal’s best-kept secrets, a fortified wine made with white grapes such as Malvasia Fina, Rabigato and Viosinho. It has a similar sweetness to gin, but with a much lower alcohol content, coming it at around 20% abv, offering guests a more sensible start to the festivities. Try four-year-old, intensely fruity Quevedo White Port (19.5% abv), as aromatic as it is sweet.

On to the starters, and there are three wine roads you can take here. The first is to choose something to go with enduring festive starter of smoked salmon. The second is to find a match for charcuterie, which has become an equally popular alternative for kicking off Christmas lunch. Or lastly, so we don’t abandon the increasingly vocal plant-based crowd, you can pick something that also sits happily with both a celeriac, hazelnut and truffle soup, say, or a mushroom-packed vegan terrine, and the ubiquitous nut roast for the main.

For those taking the smoked salmon route, there are several wine options (a little tip: choose a mild smoked salmon to be more wine-friendly), from an aromatic Alsace or German Riesling to a Grüner Veltliner, Austria’s fruity flagship grape, where you should aim for one with peppery freshness. And remember, fizz always works with smoked salmon (including that Blanquette de Limoux). But if you want to get creative on the pairing front, why not try a New Zealand Pinot Gris? It’s a versatile wine, with a lovely texture, plus a hint of spiciness, and a sweetness that is generally balanced by the acidity, which will serve the salmon well - the plant-based options, too, come to that. Try Rod Easthope Pinot Gris from Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, which pulls off intense, tropical fruit flavours combined with a vibrant acidity to keep things fresh.

For the charcuterie, look to red wines from France or Italy, where food-obsessed denizens know their way around a cured sausage. But you need more than just ripe fruit, you’re looking for a good measure of acidity to cut through all that fat, and a touch of spice, in light to medium-bodied reds. The aim here is to take the weight of the wine up a notch with each course, and as I’m going to suggest a red with the bird, too, then a lighter style of red with the starter is just fine. You’ll find those kinds of flavours in reds from the Loire, but a classic Montepulciano d’Abruzzo on Italy’s Adriatic Coast has a special affinity with charcuterie. Try the bright, velvety, red fruit-packed Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from Stefano di Blasi.

So, to the main event – the bird. An increasing number of people are going off-piste on Christmas Day, serving up prime rib of beef to a slow-cooked leg of lamb, a richly flavoured goose, to stuffed boned loin of pork, but in my view, Christmas isn’t Christmas without a turkey. I’ve tried various white wines with the Christmas turkey over the years, from top Burgundies, such as Chassagne-Montrachet to various New World Chardonnays, which work up to a point. But by the time you’ve shovelled down a rich stuffing, Brussel sprouts, and bacon-wrapped sausages, I think red is best. Plus, turkey is a strongly-flavoured meat at the best of times, especially that gamey leg meat, so it requires a bit more body and spice when it comes to wine – step forward Côtes du Rhône. Try the silky smooth, deep ripe red from a former winemaker of the year, Benjamin Darnault.

You really would rather stick to white wine with turkey? Then try the Burgundy-style Kruger Family Old Vines Chardonnay from the oldest Chardonnay vineyard on South Africa’s Paardeberg Mountain, with its impressively minerally fruit and flavours that keep on giving.

Finally, Christmas pud. I’ve tried so many different sweet wines with Christmas pudding and most struggle to stand up. And those that do match its intensely raisiny, treacle-y flavours – such as Aussie liqueur Muscat and PX sherry, usually finish me off. Though as many of us add a few slugs of port into our Christmas pudding mix, why not drink it with the pud, too? Then you can segue seamlessly from (or to, depending on your preference) the cheese course, where port is a must at Christmas. Try Mario & Oscar’s Porto Para Amigos, a smooth, cherry-packed ruby port matured for three years. I’m also rather partial to port with mince pies, too – just saying.

Order a case of all these wines and more at Naked Wines to make sure you’re prepped for a Christmas Day to remember.