Tis the season to be jolly and all that. Tis also the season of the greatest meal of the year - the mighty christmas dinner. For such a momentous occasion it’s important that the wines are also up to the task. To help you pick suitable worthy wines, here’s as couple of pointers on what to ask Santa for this Christmas (assuming you’ve been sufficiently well behaved)….
There’s something special about having a glass of bubbles in your hand and Christmas Day is as good a reason as any to crack open a bottle of fizz.
Champagne is the obvious choice but with its high levels acidity might be too much for some particularly for Christmas lunch. If that’s the case, there are some great alternatives within Prosecco or Cava. For both of these, avoid entry level wines and go a little further up the food chain to find something that can resemble the complexity of a champagne. On Prosecco, the Prosecco La Marca Cuvee from Majestic is soft with gentle peach flavoured acidity that makes it work as a very quaffable aperitif. On the Cava side, the Codorníu Selección Raventós NV (also available at Majestic is vibrant and crisp with peach and lemon flavours.
Wines with dinner
Traditional christmas dinners posses a wide range of flavours from the sumptuous turkey smothered in rich delicious gravy, to the sweet and tangy roast ham to the antique naval shavings flavour of brussels sprouts. To ensure that all these flavours can be appreciated (or avoided in the case of the horrible little green sprouts) you need a wine that can complement a broad range of flavour without overpowering.
A white wine is a safe bet though some ground rules still apply. Some suggestions include:
Chardonnay: this will massively upset the ABC brigade (anything but chardonnay) but a nice elegant chardonnay is a great match. A good French Chablis (some excellent examples in M&S around £12) has a wonderful citrus and nutty profile that go so well with turkey and trimmings.
Riesling: this is a trickier wine to get right as Riesling comes in so many shapes and sizes. Some rieslings have strong petrol-like aromas which are generally ok but personally find it a little too much for the Christmas dinner. Others can be overly sweet which can be a little too much sugar for the savoury Christmas meal. A dry Riesling however can have just a hint of sweetness wonderfully matched with citrus and minerality that makes it an excellent choice. This style of Riesling tends to be more commonly found in New World wines and New Zealand are bringing out some crackers. A good choice would be the Villa Maria Riesling at c£11 which has pleasant floral and lime aromas, a touch of sweetness but well balanced acidity to give nice complexity on the palate.
Red wines: Personally I like a nice glass of red with our turkey. Many reds will be too big and tannic for white meat so we need something soft and elegant so we’ll be drinking a sumptuous bottle of Pinot Noir with our dinner. Pinot is a personal favourite - it’s one of the most difficult grapes to grow but when done well has layers of silky fruit, elegant tennis and a delicate shot of spice; a wonderful combination. Because the grape is expensive to grow, good Pinot does not come cheap. Avoid anything sub £10 and be wary sub £15. If you’re looking at French pinot, it’s even bigger minefield (I've tasted £50+ and had too many disappointing encounters). A decent well priced French example is Mâcon Rouge 'Les Roches Rouges' 2014 Louis Jadot available in Majestic amongst other places, this has gentle hints of strawberry candy and vanilla and is very drinkable (I used to call this our ‘house wine’).
Again it’s hard to ignore New Zealand for this grape variety. the Kiwis originally made their name with the white Sauvignon Blanc but their Pinot followed very closely behind. This year the main event wine will be Seresin Rachel Pinot Noir from Marlborough New Zealand, well worth the £20 spent with The Wine Society. This wine is very elegant but complex with plum flavours and a savoury edge.
The groaning has started and everyone is removing belts and opening the top button on the trousers. However, the meal isn’t done. Goading you from the dinner table will no doubt be a lump of Christmas pudding or perhaps a vat of sherry trifle and therefore an opportunity (or need in my case) to have some suitable matching wines.
Port: for us port at Christmas is an institution. It’s like crack-cocaine for the mother in law and it helpfully aids her along the way to her afternoon nap thus giving us full control of the afternoon TV schedule. Port comes in different styles with Tawney port being ripe and jammy in style whereas Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) has more silky plum flavours. Both of these are a good match for Christmas Pud or purely as something to sip while getting depressed over the Eastenders Christmas special. I personally like the look of the Taylors Quinta de Vargellas from Waitrose at £30 or the Taylors LBV at £12.
Dessert wines: if port is not your style, don't give up the opportunity for a delicious tipple with your unnecessary dessert. There are a couple of very interesting wines that come to mind, both available from Majestic. First of all the Elysium Black Muscat 2014 at c£10 which has rich bramble flavours and pairs well with Christmas pudding. Secondly the out of this world Royal Tokaji 5 Puttonyos is unique with flavours of marmalade, fig and caramel and a great companion for blue cheese. Well worth it's £22 price tag..
So I hope you found this helpful in getting your wine selection spot on for the Christmas Season. What I would recommend to everyone is that they get out of the supermarket shelves and find themselves a good local wine merchant (a Majestic or independent shop) where you can have a conversation about what works and doesn’t work for you and they can help ensure that you pick the right wines.
If you don’t do this already, you should make it your new year resolution to do so - your palate and your drinking buddies will thank you!
Happy Christmas everyone and best wishes for 2016.