Whether you’re going traditional with a three-course turkey dinner, cooking up a seafood feast or making veg the star of the show, what to drink with Christmas dinner is the ultimate conundrum for wine lovers. In this guide we look at myriad festive foods and suggest wines to go with each course to help make buying your Christmas bottles that bit easier.
Festive food guide
From the fruity fizz of a pitch-perfect Prosecco (The Society’s Prosecco) to the golden depths of a fine Champagne (The Society's Champagne Brut NV, also available as a magnum), sparkling wine is ideal with canapés and starters. The creamy but dry Crémant style is great value and comes from all over France, like the Loire and Alsace.
Alternatively, opt for a G&T to set the tastebuds tingling. The punch of The Society's Gin High Strength carries the aromatics of the botanicals beautifully.
Smoked salmon is a classic way to begin the feasting, perhaps simply served with brown bread and butter or with sour cream and blinis. Excellent drinking options are a classy Sancerre (La Reine Blanche', Domaine Vacheron 2022) or a flinty Chablis with crystalline acidity to cut through the salmon’s richness (The Society's Exhibition Chablis 2021 or Jean-Marc Brocard, Chablis Premier Cru Butteaux 2021). Fino or manzanilla sherries are also brilliant for their tangy, crisp savoury notes, while a bone-dry German riesling, fresh verdicchio, or peachy albariño from north-west Spain are also great matches.
Goats’ cheese has a happy place at the table at the start of many a Christmas feast, and any crisp, mouthwatering white matches its delicious zing. It is a wonderful companion to sauvignon blanc, including riper styles from South Africa and Chile.
Mushrooms are another usual suspect when it comes to veggie Christmas staples, stirred into risottos or made into pâtés and terrines, stuffed or on toast or bruschetta. Any of these dishes will be gorgeous with pinot noir. Wines made from nebbiolo also have an affinity here, as do traditional Riojas. In terms of white wines, a deliciously oaked chardonnay will match the creamy, rich texture of mushrooms. The Clay Creek Vineyards California Chardonnay 2021 is a fine example.
Fish terrines will love a ripe, rounded chardonnay: from white Burgundy to the likes of California or the southern hemisphere. A Provence rosé tackles fish, chicken, pork or vegetarian terrine with style. Try a Spanish rosado to match bolder herbs and spices.
If pâté is preferred, juicy, opt for fruity reds like Beaujolais, Zweigelt and Loire reds. Château de Lacarelle, Beaujolais-Villages 2021 and The Society's Beaujolais-Villages 2022 are wonderfully good-value options. Pinot noir is a good match with pâtés, terrines and parfaits too.
For award-winning wine writer Andrew Jefford, a platter of shimmeringly fresh oysters is the only way to kick off the celebrations, ideally paired with a bottle of Bollinger. Any Champagne will do the trick, or try a Crémant or Cava for a more budget-friendly option. If you prefer the crisp bite of Muscadet, try this bottle from Comte Leloup du Château de Chasseloir.
Scallops, king prawns, crayfish and lobster have a gentle sweetness and plump texture that call for a wine that’s equally as ripe. Viognier and Chardonnay are great options, but chenin blanc fits the bill beautifully. Beaumont 'Hope Marguerite' Chenin Blanc, Bot River 2022 and Anjou Blanc, Domaine Cady 2022 are classics for a reason, whereas the off-dry Montlouis sur Loire 'Clos Habert', François Chidaine 2019 is brilliant with spicy or creamy sauces. If you’re serving seafood with an aromatic twist (chilli, lemongrass, lime), a Marlborough sauvignon has the tropical fruit notes to meet those complex flavours.
It’s time to talk turkey. The tricky bit is the trimmings: tangy cranberry sauce, sausages, bacon, the divisive bite of Brussels, crunchy spuds and root veg (not to mention stuffings), there’s a lot of competing flavours for just one wine to match with. Fortunately, the bird itself is easily paired with many wines.
A young pinot noir or Beaujolais cru like the Fleurie, Clos de la Roilette 2021 adds a cranberry-sauce vibrancy. A young Valpolicella works too, making the most of the corvina grape's cherry-packed charm, or a US zinfandel with its juicy red fruit and cherry-cola notes.
For a step up in intensity and complexity, The Society's Côtes de Bordeaux 2020 is an excellent option, and a fine Rioja choice is Navajas Crianza, Rioja 2017, while the generosity of Languedoc reds works a treat too. If a bigger, bolder red is necessary, Rhône reds are excellent here too.
When considering white wine options, look to creamy, ripe-fruited white Burgundy or a US or southern hemisphere chardonnay, one which balances buttery concentration with freshness. Matthew Horsley from our Buying department suggests an oak-aged, nutty white Rioja (The Society’s White Rioja) as an offbeat option. ‘It’s broad enough in flavour and with enough complexity to handle all those culinary adornments to the main meal that we can’t resist adding.’
If you’re serving roasted red meat, you can turn to classic Christmas reds without fear. Your best bottles will show well here, particularly mature cabernet sauvignon-based claret. Château Peyrabon, Haut-Médoc 2014 has the concentration for the whole Christmas package, while Pauletts Polish Hill River Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2019 has a fresh, fruit-forward character.
For almost any rendition of lamb, there is one failsafe pairing: Rioja. A bold Italian also does the trick, like the bold sangiovese grape in a bottle of Chianti. In the new world, a Chilean carmenère (The Society’s Exhibition DO Colchagua Andes Carenere) or brooding Barossa shiraz have the heft to render a beef roast sublime. Or turn to a ripe, spicy red Rhône, particularly with any lamb studded with garlic and rosemary.
Roasted goose calls for a wine that can tackle both the richness and the robust, gamey flavour of the meat. Goose is a very good reason to put an aromatic Alsace gewurztraminer or pinot gris on the table, where gorgeous botanical scents and gingery warmth adds a fragrant new dimension to goose. Dry but rich German riesling is also good choice. For reds, a merlot-based wine with a bit of weight but freshness too is desirable. The Marcillac Vieilles Vignes, Domaine du Cros 2019 has lovely red fruit but suave tannins to cut through the richness.
Vegetarian Christmas dinners can pack all the flavour of a meat-filled one — think herb-stuffed nut roasts, spiced root veg and creamy cheeses. Our Senior Editor (and lifelong vegetarian) Martin Brown gives us some tips for the perfect veggie main:
- Savoury tarts and roasts (including olives, mushrooms and other umami delights) are matched beautifully by the saltiness of white Rhône or the richness of white Rioja (The Society’s White Rioja). Choose a pinot noir for dishes that major in on the mushrooms.
- For nut roasts, look to the ripe-fruited stars of the new world: a New Zealand chardonnay (Dog Point Marlborough Chardonnay 2020) or Aussie shiraz are top picks.
- For heavily cheese-based dishes, stick to the rules of cheese and wine matching (see below under Cheese).
A good cheeseboard deserves its own special bottle in preference to the dregs of what's gone before – so, here's a guide to help you choose which. In general, the harder the cheese, the better it can cope with big, bold tannins in wine, and the creamier the cheese, the more it needs acidity to cut through the richness.
Classic matches include Cheddar with claret or white Burgundy, Stilton or other blues with Sauternes or Tawny Ports, and soft cheeses like goat’s milk, Feta and Caerphilly with sauvignon blanc. For any Parmesan, turn to a powerful Italian red. Hard sheep’s cheese matches well with fino or manzanilla sherry is smashing, plus ‘smelly’ washed-rind cheeses (Munster, Epoisses, Reblochon) need the balancing aromatics of an Alsace gewurztraminer.
When it comes to Christmas desserts, what’s considered ‘tradition’ will vary from household to household and person to person. For devotees of the dark, fruit and booze-spiked Christmas pudding, wines like Banyuls and Rivesaltes, dark rich muscats or a sweet Tawny port can work well. Samos muscats, Orange muscats and vin doux naturel can also match.
Here, sweet sherries are a very good match, whether it’s the nuts and dried fruit of a sweet oloroso or the silky, rich bitter chocolate and raisin flavours of a Pedro Ximenez. All of the above pair well with dark and richly fruited Christmas cakes.
If trifle is going to grace the table, there is more leeway with wine matches. Where berries are involved, a darker muscat would be good, even a young Tawny-style Port, while peachy or tropical-fruited trifles will love younger Sauternes, Loire Valley sweet wines and lighter muscats. A brilliant, refreshing all-rounder after the Christmas meal is a demi-sec Champagne, with its gentle fizz and delightfully fragrant fruitiness.