Wine tips and pairing suggestions for Christmas
PUBLISHED: 00:00 16 December 2015
It's time to celebrate! Local wine expert Rosie Bainbridge has some suggestions...
The arrival of Christmas is joyous and exciting, with mulled wine and mince pies, carols sung by the tree and a hectic round of parties and gatherings. But for the holiday host, honouring the Christmas traditions can be an anxious time; dreaming up menus and matching the wines. The best advice, to quote food writer Elizabeth David, is ‘don’t overdo it’. With a view to saving the stress, whilst upholding traditions, here are some suggestions for Christmas wine choices.
The foods we prepare for Christmas are generally rich, with sauces and stuffing, Christmas pudding, chocolate log and candied fruits. Wines have to stand up to a vast range of flavours and textures, whilst adding to our sense of celebration.
A good starting point is fizz to welcome guests. Prosecco is enjoying phenomenal success with global sales reaching 306 million bottles last year. It seems to be everyone’s favourite sparkler at the moment. Prosecco is not made in the same way as Champagne – the second fermentation takes place in a stainless steel tank, not in the bottle; thus the flavours are more fruit driven than biscuity, yeasty Champagne. Look for better quality Prosecco with ‘superiore’ on the label, coming from the steep hillsides between the historic towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. There are three levels of sweetness: brut (driest), extra dry and dry. Beware, dry is the sweetest! It can be drunk on any occasion – as an aperitif, in cocktails or as an Aperol spritzer.
Champagne has always been the traditional wine of celebration. Champagne houses produce a deluxe range ‘Cuvée de prestige’. Roederer’s Cristal, Moët Chandon’s Dom Pérignon and Taittinger’s Comptes de Champagne are all great gifts but my choice is the house style Taittinger Brut réserve. It’s light and lively, with delicate hints of fruit and yeasty bread and can be served with smoked salmon or seafood.
To accompany the Christmas lunch, there are many full-bodied whites and characterful reds. For the best matches consider all the flavours of the food and accompaniments. A full-bodied white like Chardonnay is usually a better choice with meat. Burgundy-based Joseph Drouhin’s superb Montagny, one of the four communes in the Côtes Chalonnaise, has gorgeous flavours of golden apple and fruit compote. Californian Chardonnays are more full-bodied, with stone fruit and exotic hints that cope well with Christmas fare. On the lighter side, Riesling has more acidity, minerality and touches of spiced apple, providing a great foil to oily duck and goose.
Christmas is for special reds, too. It’s difficult not to overdo it here as there are so many to choose from but I’d narrow it down to Châteauneuf du Pape, a big, hearty wine with berry fruit and sweet spice; a Barossa Shiraz with hints of chestnuts and toffee; an elegant St Emilion and my all-time favourite, New Zealand Pinot Noir – it doesn’t need food.
Sweet wines for Christmas pudding, mince pies, cheeses and chocolate can be difficult to match as the wine needs to be equally sweet or very complementary, in the case of cheese. An Australian Rutherglen dessert Muscat is intensely sweet and will work well, as would PX sherry or Tawny port.
For parties, Guigal’s Côtes du Rhône is a top notch red that suits warming festive bakes, whilst Alsace Pinot Gris offers a different take on the Italian Pinot Grigio.
Your wine list should include light and brisk varieties to whet the appetite or partner seafood, full bodied wines with intense flavours for the heartiest Christmas fare and sweet or fortified choices to accompany the pudding, cheese and sweet dishes.
But for now, I’ll raise my glass of radiant golden bubbles and wish you all a very merry Christmas!
1. Tesco Finest Bisol Prosecco, www.tesco.com
2. Taittinger Brut Réserve, widely available
3. Joseph Drouhin Montagny, Costco, Derby
4. Sepp Moser Austrian Riesling, Worth Brothers, Ashbourne Rd, Kirk Langley
5. Châteauneuf du Pape, Clefs des Papes, Costco, Derby 6. St Emilion Clôitre des Capucins, Costco, Derby
7. Gnarly Dudes Shiraz, Majestic Wine, Ashbourne Rd, Derby
8. New Zealand Coney Pizzicato Pinot Noir, Majestic Wine, Derby
9. Guigal Côtes du Rhône, Majestic Wine, Derby
10. Alsace Pinot Gris, Waitrose
11. Rutherglen Dessert Muscat, Waitrose