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Perfect Wine and Food Pairings for a Traditional Christmas

Indulge your senses with some fantastic foods and even better wines

The air is growing colder, the days are drawing in. There’s the scent of frost in the mornings, and the streets are thronged with shoppers… yes, it’s that time of year again, when our thoughts turn to our Christmas celebrations.

Alongside the gift-giving and the days spent with family and friends, this season presents the perfect opportunity to indulge our senses with some fantastic foods and even better wines. After all, what would Christmas be without a magnificent feast and an array of bottles waiting patiently in the wine rack?

Of course, there are no hard and fast rules to a Christmas celebration

As the darkest part of the year approaches, it’s only right and proper that we take the time to luxuriate ourselves in hearty dinners and spend our days rewarding each other for the hard work we’ve done. Wine quite naturally plays a major role here, and when selected carefully and with thought given to the myriad flavors and aromas, this most festive of drinks has the power to heighten the experience of a Christmas dinner unlike any other.

Of course, there are no hard and fast rules to a Christmas celebration; every country, culture and individual household has their own take on the festivities. However, if you’re looking to impress your guests this year with a traditional Christmas (think turkey, mince pies, and all the trimmings), we’ve got you covered. Without further ado, let’s take a look at our ultimate traditional Christmas dinner wine guide, with food and wine pairings that are sure to tantalize and delight. See you under the mistletoe!

Red Wine

There’s no doubt about the fact that there’s something deeply Christmasy about red wines. Perhaps it’s their warming, comforting character – perfect for sipping in front of a log fire – or maybe something to do with their color, but this is a drink which suits the winter months better than any other. Cosy, spicy and fantastic with a wide array of foods, red wine is as much a part of Christmas as Santa’s beard and presents.

For your Christmas wine rack, you’ll first want to source a red wine which is good for all-day drinking and sharing with friends. Something flexible, something which will match with finger foods and which can be enjoyed through the afternoon and into the evening… something like a top-end Pinot Noir. We’d recommend a great Burgundy or other high-quality Pinot Noir-based wine (amazing examples are currently coming out of the Recas region of Romania and Oregon and Washington in the US). These are light, fruity, elegant, and are also fantastic for making into mulled wine, too.

There’s no escaping the roast turkey as a dining table centerpiece

If you’re going for a traditional Christmas dinner, then there’s no escaping the festive institution that is the roast turkey as a dining table centerpiece. More traditional options would include goose and duck, served with roasted vegetables, rich sauces and plenty of other savory treats. When pairing wine with such foods, it’s best to go with a rich and elegant red, and we feel that no wine fits the bill quite as well as a Chateauneuf-du-Pape. This French appellation has been mastering the art of the blending red wines for centuries and is an undeniably luxurious and crowd-pleasing choice for such a meal.

For many of us – ourselves included – one of the main culinary treats of this celebration comes the day after Christmas. This is a day of enjoying all of those delicious leftovers; cold cuts of meat, slices of glazed ham and various pieces of charcuterie alongside the occasional cold roast potato. It’s casual dining at its finest, and few wines suit this kind of eating quite so well as a nutty, sumptuous Italian red. A Dolcetto or Nebbiolo would be magnificent here, and will no doubt help to keep the celebration in full swing.

A good German Riesling is surely the way to go

White Wine

Christmas day is one of the few times of the year when it’s perfectly acceptable to crack open a bottle of wine relatively early and treat your senses to some real delights as the guests start arriving and the presents begin to be handed out.

For this, you’ll want a light and refreshing white wine, and a good German Riesling is surely the way to go. Fresh, bracing and reassuringly low in alcohol, a Mosel Valley Riesling is the ideal way to kick off proceedings. What’s more, this wine comes from the very heartland of many Christmas traditions… and it doesn’t get much more festive than that.

As the day continues, it’s likely you and your guests will need a bottle of wine to pair with the various snacks and nibbles at your disposal. You’ll be needing a wine which is light-hearted and vibrant, something which can be sipped at while the dinner is being prepared and family stories are being shared. Muscadet is many people’s go-to choice for this part of the celebration: it’s lemony, laid-back and zingy, and ideal for dipping in and out of all day long.

Every traditional Christmas dinner requires a fish course

Every traditional Christmas dinner requires a fish course. All over the world, families start their festive feast with an array of shellfish and delicate, delicious dishes of prawns, scallops, lobster, and langoustine – for such treasures of the deep, an equally elegant wine is required. We’d recommend a great bottle of Loire Valley Viognier for this – that luxurious full-bodied wine with its distinctive floral perfume is hard to beat. If smoked or baked salmon is on the menu, it’s perhaps better to go with an underrated French classic: Bordeaux Blanc. This blended white wine style has had an amazing couple of years in 2016 and 2017, so there has never been a better time to get a bottle or two in for the party!


Sparkling Wines

Nothing signals the start of a celebration quite like the pop of a Champagne cork flying from the bottle. Sparkling wine is a true cornerstone of Christmas, but with so many styles to choose from, which is right for this special time of year?

There’s no doubt that both Prosecco and Cava have seen a meteoric rise in popularity (and quality) over the past few years, but many would argue that both styles are too fruity and frivolous for the wintertime. If you want something beautiful, elegant and seasonal, then we’d recommend opting for a classic Champagne Blanc des Noirs – this is a variation on the original Champagne blend which only features the black grapes (Pinot Noir and Petit Meunier). It’s a sultrier, more seductive and softer take on Champagne, and one which seems to fit better with this time of year.

No mention of fine sparkling wine in 2017 could pass without some mention of the successes of the English fizzy wine scene. Despite the fact it may have infuriated French winemakers and wine lovers alike, the quality displayed by British sparkling wine houses such as Nyetimber is impossible to deny – and a bottle of their elegant fizz has the added bonus of being extremely flexible when it comes to food pairing, too.


Dessert Wine

Sweet wines and dessert wines are often overlooked, but it’s precisely at this time of year that they really get a chance to shine. Christmas is, after all, a wonderful day to bring out your best puddings and sweet treats, and pairing them with a delectable sweet and syrupy wine only heightens their charm further.

For an all-out Christmasy affair, then surely there are few better wines for your Christmas pudding than an Eiswein from Germany, Canada or New York State? These are wines made from grapes which have frozen on the vine in the winter frosts, a process which concentrates their sugars and results in an astonishing array of honey-and-nut flavors. Utterly delicious, and a wine which couldn’t be more wintry if it tried!

Christmas cake, photo credit BettyCrocker.com
Christmas cake, photo credit BettyCrocker.com

On the subject of slightly unusual and Christmasy wines, it would be impossible not to mention those giants of the dessert wine world: Sauternes and Royal Tokaji. These French and Hungarian wines, respectively, have a history which includes them both being the toast of the royal houses of Europe throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, and they’re made from rotten grapes (sounds horrible, tastes divine) which explode with notes of candied fruit and roasted chestnuts. Both of these wines go equally well with a festive cheeseboard and a traditional Christmas pudding, and bring a sense of historical glamour to any Christmas party!

Once dinner is done and the coffee has been served, it’s time to bring out the fortified wines

2017 is seeing the release of several 30 years aged Port wines – and 1987 was said to be a stellar year for this Portuguese variety, so if you can grab of a bottle of this wonderful sweet treat, you’re sure to be impressed. If you’re looking for something a little more unusual, why not opt for a bottle of Pineau des Charentes? This underrated French fortified wine is a golden, sweet nectar of a drink, and is lighter and more elegant than many Port or Sherry wines. Ideal for after dinner, and perfect as a nightcap, it could be a wonderful way to finish off your Christmas celebration.

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Benjamin Mitrofan-Norris is a wine and luxury lifestyle journalist from Bristol, UK. He splits his time between England, Hungary and Romania, and is deeply involved in the wine scenes of each country, which he endeavours to champion in western Europe. He is also a published poet and author, and the co-editor of an influential international arts and literature journal.

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