Food and wine matching for Christmas
What to drink over Christmas?
The short answer is anything you like really. If you follow some food and wine matching guidelines, however, you will notice that your wines take on a totally different dimension, as individual components synthesise to create a pitch-perfect sublime harmony on your palate.
Starters frequently feature shellfish – generally a light prelude to a gargantuan feast. If we consider cold prawns or crab, then match the light weight with a light wine, preferably with some flinty/mineral character to match the flavour of the sea. There are numerous options to choose from here: Chablis (basic Chablis AC rather than richer premier or Grand Cru styles), Italian whites (Gavi, Bianco di Custoza, Orvieto, Soave), or Old-World rieslings. More adventurous palates will create a really good impression with funky Gruner Veltliner or minerally Albarinho.
Richer shellfish such as scallops require more weight – premier Cru Chardonnay or a medium weight white Burgundy such as St. Veran. Smoked salmon needs matching weight of flavour, and acidity to counterbalance oiliness. Gewurztraminer (watch out for its spicy notes), a top-quality Chablis, or surprisingly, champagne, all fit the bill here.
The much-loved turkey is in fact a relatively tasteless, frequently dry bird, and requires a fruity but not overpowering wine, without too much tannin or acidity, to bring it to life. White or red is up to you. If you have premier Cru Chablis or medium-weight St. Veran open, that will do nicely.
Another option would be a lightly oaked New World Chardonnay. The red wine of choice would be a ripe New Zealand fruit-driven Pinot Noir as its light but fruity weight, and absence of chewy tannins fit the bill. There are a couple of top-notch Chilean Pinot producers also which will deliver.
Baked ham would taste beautiful with a glass of New World Pinot Noir. Again, its lack of tannins and medium weight cry out for this style. Other suitable wines include Beaujolais, Loire reds and Bardolino.
Goose requires something more weighty, and with acidity to cut through the fat. Again, you can opt for red or white. White wine matches would include a rich Pinot Gris from Alsace (ask in your wine shop for advice as styles vary considerably between producers). Riesling, particularly good quality German Riesling Spatlese, with its ripe full style will also marry well. Red wines which will work include good red Burgundy, New Zealand Pinot Noir.
Traditional Christmas pudding is full-flavoured and sweet. The rule here is to match sweet foods with wines which are even sweeter, and also to match the dried fruit flavours. Good choices here would be Australian Liqueur Muscat (particulary for dense fruit puddings) or the fabulous Tokaji Aszu (a slightly lighter wine style which would suit a lighter pud).
A cheeseboard can often be postponed until a later stage! Not a bad idea, particularly if you have a decent bottle of port to savour with it. A Christmas Classic would be Stilton blue cheese and Port, contrasting saltiness with sweetness. A slightly lighter option would be Sauternes. In both occasions, the ‘opposites attract’ rule works, as the saltiness of the cheese is offset by the sweetness of the wine. The best option for mixed cheeseboards are mature red wines, tawny ports, and rich buttery Chardonnays.
If you have squirreled away a favourite Bordeaux for Christmas-drinking, my advice would be to leave it for New Year, and serve a beautiful leg of roast lamb, where its mature flavours and softened weight and tannins will marry with the weight and earthy flavours of the meat.
Some advice also on buying wines for Christmas for entertaining & general use. Highly versatile wines for enjoyment with or without food and which tend to have universal appeal include Pinot Blanc, southern French Sauvignon Blanc (more minerally than pungent), Macon Lugny, quality Italian whites. My fail-safe recommendations for reds are, in order of preference: Rioja, Cotes du Rhone, quality Chilean and southern French Merlots.
Sparkling wine always creates a sense of occasion, and is worth it. Champagne, prosecco or Asti all fit the bill here. The latter two can often be safer bets for a varied group, being lower in acidity. Always ‘pop’ in front of your guests for maximum effect. Remember to grasp the cork with a napkin, and twist the bottle, to avoid harm from flying corks.
So what have I lined up? Veuve Clicquot ’98 Vintage Champagne to go with smoked salmon canapes, Jane Hunter’s deliciously ready ’07 Pinot Noir from New Zealand for my turkey & ham, and to be honest, I haven’t quite decided on the white wine yet…
If you have any favourite wine and food combinations, I’d be delighted to hear about them.