Here's to Christmas dinner: when else in the year can we justify Champagne breakfasts, snooze-inducingly heavy red wines at lunch and lashings of Port by 3pm? It's the season of piled up roasted meats, stuffed birds, pimped-up greens and pyramids of crisp-skinned potatoes in a spread so lavish it'd make Henry VIII blush.
But as joyful as the jumble of pickled, buttery or bacon-studded veg, decadently stocked cheeseboards and myriad different puds can be, it's a near-impossibility to find a few bottles that will hit the right note with every element.
That's where we can help - read on for our guide to festive food and Christmas wine matching, from the first pop of the cork to the cheeseboard at the end, we have wines to fit the bill. Merry Christmas everyone!
Festive Food Guide
Whether you'll be enjoying a glass on its own while you peel the spuds, or paired with nibbles while you open the presents, let’s face it, if you aren't sipping a glass of something fizzy by elevenses, are you sure it's even Christmas?
'Crémant (which means 'creamy') is gentle enough to enjoy on its own but is also a good choice with all those nibbly bits that keep the wolf from the door before everyone sits down…posh cheese straws, crackers topped with a little meaty or smoked mackerel pâté come to mind.' Try: The Society's Celebration Crémant de Loire 2018
Brunch cocktails are another great choice for getting everyone in the Christmas mood while the turkey's in the oven.
Smoked salmon is an indulgent choice for kicking off a Christmas day feast. But whether you'll be pairing yours with buttery scrambled eggs, cream cheese, caviar or wafer-thin toasts, the combination of richness and smoke can make it a tricky match for wine.
What to drink: A crisp white or sparkling wine to cut through the fat or a spicy gewürztraminer to counteract the smoke. If you're serving your salmon hot-smoked, a wildcard option is a fragrant, saline-tinged fino sherry (it also goes beautifully with goose if that's what you have planned for afterwards).
Try: The Society's Exhibition Alsace Gewurztraminer 2017, The Society’s Fino
Vegetarian starters: Goat's cheese finds its way into many Christmas veggie starters, whether baked into a tart with caramelised onions or crumbled in generous chunks over a salad. Mushrooms are another usual suspect when it comes to veggie Christmas staples, stirred into risottos or made into pâtés and terrines.
What to drink: the crisp, clean finish and grassy freshness of Loire sauvignon blanc is an absolute classic with goat's cheese, or try a more ripely-fruited South African style. Mushrooms love a pinot noir, so steer towards a berry and cherry-packed new world example (USA or New Zealand) which has the bright fruit and a hint of earthiness to match.
Oysters: For award-winning wine writer Andrew Jefford, a platter of shimmeringly fresh oysters are the only way to kick off the celebrations, especially paired with a bottle of Bollinger (any Champagne will do the trick though, or try a Crémant or Cava for a more budget-friendly option).
What to drink: If the Champagne route isn't for you, a perfectly chilled still white is the answer. A sleek Alsace Riesling or a steely Chablis or picpoul make an equally impressive match.
Try: Riesling Estate, Famille Hugel 2016, The Society’s Chablis
Scallops have a gentle sweetness and plump texture that call for a wine with plenty of ripe fruit flavours.
What to drink: Try a Vouvray, or, as ex-sommelier Marjorie Cropp-Legendre suggests a 'fancier dish of pan-seared scallops with curried parsnip purée and parsnip crisps' matched with a premium US chardonnay which should have the 'bright acidity, fresh apple, citrus and pear fruit flavours and a touch of spice' to harmonise with every element.
If you're serving seafood with an exotic twist (chilli, lemongrass, lime) then a Marlborough sauvignon has the tropical fruit flavours to take on the Asian influences of the food, spiriting you away to a Christmas celebration on a desert island somewhere hot and lovely.
What to drink: Fish terrines will love a white Burgundy or a rounded new world chardonnay. A Provence rosé will not only look smart on the table but will tackle a fish, chicken, pork or vegetarian terrine with style, or try a Spanish rosado for slightly fuller-flavoured fish, or to match bolder herbs and spices.
Try: The Society’s White Burgundy 2020, Bogle Vineyard California Chardonnay 2020, Viña Zorzal Garnacha Rosado, Navarra 2020
Rustic, meaty pâté will want a juicy red to bring out its best: turn to Beaujolais with its lovely strawberry fragrance that acts like a fruity pickle to cut through the meat. For gutsier, wild boar or venison-packed recipes, a rich red from the South of France will have the oomph you need to take on the deeply savoury flavours of game.
Let's talk turkey. The reason so many people take issue with this Thanksgiving staple is its tendency to dryness: cook it for a few minutes too long and you'll be chewing a slab of meaty sawdust. That's why you're going to need a bottle with enough mouthwatering juiciness to sloosh it all down.
What to drink: A young pinot noir or Beaujolais cru adds a cranberry-sauce vibrancy to turkey, but are easy-going enough not to clash with the side dishes. A young Valpolicella would work too, making the most of the corvina grape's cherry-packed charm, or a US zinfandel with its sweet, juicy red fruit and cherry-cola notes.
Try: Valpolicella, Allegrini 2020, Brazin Lodi Old-Vine Zinfandel 2019
For a white wine option, look to the creamy, ripe-fruited whites of Burgundy or a Chilean, US or Australian chardonnay, which will have the buttery texture and weight to match the crisp-skinned meat. Matthew Horsley from our Buying department suggests an oak-aged, nutty 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.’
Try: Domaine Mallory et Benjamin Talmard, Mâcon-Villages 2020, The Society's White Rioja 2019
What to drink: If you're swerving turkey and serving roasted red meat instead you can turn to classic Christmas reds: your best bottles of mature cabernet sauvignon based claret will never get a better showcase than at Christmas lunch, or turn to a spicy red Rhône. A bold Italian will also do the trick. Try sangiovese in the form of a Chianti, or nebbiolo, whether in fancier Barolo/ Barbaresco form or a more pocket-friendly bottle from outside those loftier regions. In the new world, a Chilean carmenère or brooding Barossa shiraz have the heft to render a beef roast sublime.
Try: Château Peyrabon, Haut-Médoc 2009, Undurraga Candelabro Rapel Carmenère 2020, The Society’s Exhibition Victoria Shiraz 2019
What to drink: Rioja, Rioja, Rioja. The marriage of meltingly tender lamb with a velvety bottle of Spain's most iconic red is hard to beat, though a bold young, or rounded mature bottle of anything red and Iberian will work too. A satisfyingly weighty Douro red will impress with its smooth texture, or even a boldly flavoured rosado if you want something chilled and refreshing.
Try: Magnum of The Society's Exhibition Rioja Reserva 2015
A roast goose calls for a wine that can tackle both the richness and the robust, almost gamey flavour of the meat.
What to drink: For me, any excuse to put an Alsace gewurztraminer on the table is a bonus, and the gorgeous botanical scents and ginger-infused warmth of the wine certainly adds a fragrant new dimension to goose. A pinot gris with a bit of age or dry German riesling are good options, with enough slicing acidity to keep things fresh, but the complexity to match the texture of this full-flavoured meat.
Try: Gewurztraminer Les Princes Abbés, Domaines Schlumberger 2018, Pinot Gris 'Roche Calcaire', Domaine Zind-Humbrecht 2018
Vegetarian Christmas dinners can pack all the flavour of a meat-filled one — think herb-stuffed nut roasts, spiced root veg and creamy cheeses — so finding a perfect wine match is just as important. As anyone whose endured a bone-dry-tofu-turkey roast, or a slightly-too-nutty nut surprise can tell you, your wine needs to do two things: add a bit of juice and match the varied delicious textures that meat-free cooking conjures up.
What to drink: Lifelong vegetarian, Managing Editor and all-round wine buff Martin Brown gives us some tips for the perfect veggie main:
- Deeply savoury tarts and roasts (including olives, mushrooms and other umami delights) taste are matched beautifully by the saltiness of white Rhône or the richness of white Rioja. Chose a pinot noir for dishes that major in on the mushrooms.
- Peppery fennel baked with tomatoes under a blanket of breadcrumbs will sing with a young claret; dishes where fennel is the main attraction chime with young reds or vibrant whites that have a herbaceous, peppery quality: Italian wines are great for this.
- For nut roasts look to the ripe-fruited stars of the new world: a Kiwi chardonnay or Aussie shiraz are Martin's picks.
- For heavily cheese-based dishes stick to the rules of cheese and wine matching (see below under Cheese)
Take a look at our vegan wine ranges
Browse our vegetarian wine range
What to drink: We think a good cheeseboard deserves its own special bottle rather than the dregs of what's gone before — here's an all-encompassing guide to help you choose which. In general though, 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.
What to drink: Classic matches include Cheddar with claret or White Burgundy, Stilton or other blues with Sauternes or Tawny Port and soft cheeses such as goat’s milk, Feta and Caerphilly with sauvignon blanc. For Parmesan turn to a powerful Italian red, for Manchego a fino sherry is smashing and ‘smelly’ cheeses (Munster, Epoisses, Reblochon) need the balancing aromatics of an Alsace gewurztraminer.
Try: The Society’s White Burgundy 2020, Château de la Grave ‘Caractère’, Côtes du Bourg 2018, Half bottle of The Society's Exhibition Sauternes 2019, Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, Domaine de la Renaudie 2020, The Society's Port, The Society's Fino, The Society's Exhibition Alsace Gewurztraminer 2017.
Traditional Christmas puds to be devoured at some point after the main event of the turkey, joint or nut roast, will vary from household to household, and person to person. Christmas pudding is the most obvious, loved by many but certainly not by all. For devotees of the dark, fruit and booze-spiked pudding, wines like Maury, Banyuls and Rivesaltes, dark rich muscats or a sweet Tawny port can work well. Samos muscates, Orange muscats and vin doux naturel of the grapes can also work. The pud will generally overpower more delicate stickies.
Try: Maury Solera ‘1928' cask number 837 50cl, Rivesaltes Ambré, Domaine de Rancy 1998 50cl, Banyuls Cuvée Léon Parcé, Domaine de la Rectorie 2018, The Society's Port, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, Domaine des Bernadins 2019, Samos Anthemis 2014 50cl. Half bottle of Quady Essensia, Orange Muscat 2019.
The pudding wines also excellent bottles with mince pies. Here, sweet sherries are a very good match too, whether it’s the nuts and dried fruit of a sweet oloroso or the silky, rich bitter chocolate and raisin flavours of a Pedro Ximinez. All of the above will pair well with dark and richly fruited Christmas cakes.
The Maury, Rivesaltes, and Banyuls will also be a magical match for something darkly chocolatey, like the Yule log or one of the newer fangled Christmas puds laced with chocolate, as will sweet styles of Madeira.
If trifle is going to grace the table, and it will in many homes, there is more leeway. If berries are involved, a darker muscat would be good, even a young Tawny-style Port, while orangey, peachy or tropical-fruited trifles will love younger Sauternes, Loire Valley sweet wines and lighter muscats wherever they are from. A brilliant and, after the Christmas meal, refreshing all-rounder would be a Moscato d’Asti, with its gentle fizz and fragrant fruitiness.
For anything lighter or custard-based, look to Sauternes and similar styles.
Take a look at our dessert wines
The 'drink what you want' argument
Perhaps the easiest advice of all to follow comes from wine writer Victoria Moore: ‘Christmas dinner is like the big box of decorations in the cupboard under the steps, filled with gaudy baubles, tasteful baubles, ugly baubles, matching baubles and clashing baubles: a big hotch-potch of family tradition, colour and whim.
When you sit down at the Christmas table, the first duty of the wine is not actually to go with the food but to go with your mood: it must be festive and celebratory. The best advice is therefore to drink the wine you quite fancy at the time. Maybe it's classic, reassuring claret, or maybe it's a sturdy, hairy Chilean carmenère.’ Who can say fairer than that?
Still can't find the match you were looking for? Try our Food and Wine Matcher