From a food-matching point of view, the best way to pick a wine to go with Christmas dinner is to think of it as one more element – a sauce or dish of stuffing – on the crammed table. The turkey may be the centrepiece, but it’s also a blank canvas. It’s the cranberries, the fruity stuffings, the chestnuts, the spicy sausage balls, the prunes wrapped in bacon – all of the other brightly coloured, joyful rattle-bag of dishes that need to get along with the wine. Wines that will fall in with this crowd? An aromatic white, such as pinot gris; or a red with cranberry sharpness and bright berry fruit, perhaps a youthful pinot noir (maybe from Central Otago or Martinborough in New Zealand), a Beaujolais Cru, an unoaked carignan, a gaudy garnacha from north-east Spain, or a carignan from Chile.
However, unless you are particularly in the mood for any of those wines, picking one would be to miss half the point. Christmas dinner is like the big box of decorations in the cupboard under the stairs, filled with gaudy baubles, tasteful baubles, ugly baubles, matching baubles and clashing baubles: a big hotchpotch of family tradition, colour and whim. When you sit down at the Christmas table, the first duty of the wine is actually to go not with the food but with your mood: it must be festive and celebratory. The best advice is therefore to drink the wine you most fancy at the time. Maybe it’s classic, reassuring claret, or maybe it’s a sturdy, hairy Chilean carménère.
A good balance between wines that suit the food and wines that suit the mood might also be struck. How about a richly Christmassy blend of syrah, grenache and mourvèdre from the southern Rhône, Languedoc, California or Australia? Or an Australian bordeaux blend, which will be more vibrantly fruity and hedonistic than a real bordeaux and so go better with the fruity vitality of stuffings and sauces. I love to drink young nebbiolo (ideally a Langhe Nebbiolo) or sangiovese (in the form of a Rosso di Montalcino or Chianti Classico) on Christmas Day, and often tweak the trimmings in a more savoury direction to fit. It’s easily done: make stuffings more herby (use thyme and rosemary) than sweetly fruity; use raisins, cranberries and dried cherries rather than apple and apricots; put Parmesan and cream in with the sprouts; and make sure there are plenty of chestnuts, ideally cooked with bacon; and there it is – reimagined for Italian wine.
Three Perfect Pairings
The traditional match with this blue-veined cheese is port, but my favourite was suggested to me by the wine and food expert Fiona Beckett, who says a nip of sloe gin suits it best of all.
The crumbling pastry and luscious dried fruit of mince pies suit the moulten raisin flavour of a sweet oloroso or cream sherry. It somehow works with dry sherry, too, though pick one that’s robust – an amontillado or a punchy fino rather than a manzanilla.
Buckwheat pancakes with fishy toppings and crème fraîche go down best with a knife-sharp white, such as aligoté, or a lean, lemony white from Greece, or try Muscadet, a white that likes fish and smells of a cold grey sea.