It’s the big day. Christmas has finally come, and the table is about to groan with goodies for lunch or dinner and everyone has their own idea about when the time is right for popping a cork on some bubbly, while the cook(s) will have theirs about what should be in their glass as well as the gravy. No matter what is on the menu for the main event, whether it’s something for the starter, an accompaniment for the big centrepiece, or a mellow glass to see off the cheese and see you slipping onto the sofa for a nap, we can help.
Dive in and discover something that will make your festive meal even more memorable. 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
For many, a glass or two of bubbles is the starting point for any celebration and is just the thing to kick off Christmas. 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, or even better, a magnum of it), sparkling wine is ideal with canapés and starters, the freshness inherent in both making an excellent beginning. The creamy but dry crémant style is great value and comes from all over France, like the Loire and Alsace. Browse our extensive sparkling wine range. There are many people who love a G&T to set the tastebuds tingling, and the The Society's Gin High Strength is absolutely ideal, the extra strength carrying 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 Sancerre or other refreshing Loire sauvignons, or an oldie but a goldie in the form of Chablis for its flinty, crystalline acidity. The Sancerre ‘La Reine Blanche', Domaine Vacheron 2021 is a lovely classy example of the former, mineral and fresh, while Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, Domaine de la Renaudie 2021 is an excellent good-value, alternative. The Society's Exhibition Chablis 2021 is benchmark and, in a cool vintage, taut and refreshing and perfect to cut the silky richness of the salmon.
Push the boat out a little further and the Jean-Marc Brocard, Chablis Premier Cru Butteaux 2020 comes into its own, steely, firm and delicious. Also brilliant with smoked salmon are fino or manzanilla sherries for their tangy, crisp savoury notes to hit the spot, while a bone-dry German riesling is wonderful. Other cracking matches come found in the form of the exhilaratingly fresh whites like Italian verdicchio, peachy but zingy albariño from north-west Spain, or a clean-as-a-whistle Austrian grüner veltliner. Finally, the bubblies we talked about above are perfect for this, or a shot of The Society’s Vodka served ice cold straight from the freezer.
Goat's cheese has a happy place at the table at the start of many a Christmas feast. Whether it’s a key part of a tart or grilled or crumbled with a salad, it is a wonderful friend of sauvignon blanc like those mentioned above, or the riper styles from around the globe, particularly South Africa and Chile. Quite simply, sauvignon blanc is a shoo-in here, but any crisp, mouthwatering white matches the delicious zing of goat’s cheese.
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 are gorgeous with pinot noir. Mushrooms love a pinot. Nebbiolo wines also have an affinity here, as do traditional Riojas.
A mushroom risotto will pair beautifully with the pinot noirs above but is also lovely with a judiciously oaked chardonnay thanks to the earthy but creamy flavours and textures of the dish. The Clay Creek Vineyards California Chardonnay 2020 is a good example, while a white Burgundy from the warmer south of the region, like Domaine de la Rochette Montagne de Cra, Mâcon-Milly-Lamartine 2020, is a pleasing match. The nebbiolo grape of Piedmont will show off the grape’s affinity for mushrooms.
Fish terrines will love a white Burgundy or a rounded chardonnay from the likes of California or the southern hemisphere. A Provence rosé not only looks smart on the table but tackles 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.
If pâté is the preferred palate preparer look to juicy, fruity reds like Beaujolais, Zweigelt and Loire reds. Château de Lacarelle, Beaujolais-Villages 2021 and The Society's Beaujolais Les Pierres Dorées 2021 are deliciously good-value options. Pinot noir is a good match with pâtés, terrines and parfaits too.
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) or try a Crémant or Cava for a more budget-friendly option), while some prefer the crisp bite of Muscadet. The Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine sur Lie, Comte Leloup du Château de Chasseloir, Cuvée des Ceps Centenaires, Chéreau-Carré 2018 is a bit of a mouthful to say it is a delicious mouthful to drink.
Scallops, king prawns, crayfish and lobster have a gentle sweetness and plump texture that call for a wine with plenty of ripe fruit flavours. Chenin blanc fits the bill beautifully here, perhaps from the Loire or its second home in South Africa, as can viognier. For the chenin, Beaumont Family Wines Chenin Blanc, Bot River 2022 from South Africa and Anjou Blanc 'Cheninsolite', Domaine Cady 2021 from the grape’s homeland in the Loire Valley, are delicious options. The off-dry Montlouis sur Loire 'Clos Habert', François Chidaine 2018 is brilliant with richer shellfish dishes with spice or creamy sauces. White Burgundy and similar chardonnays are also good with scallops and other shellfish.
If you are 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.
It’s time to talk turkey. The tricky bit is the trimmings. From sweet, tangy cranberry sauce, via sausages and bacon and the divisive bite of Brussels, crunchy spuds and root veg to meat or chestnut stuffings, there’s a lot for the wine to deal with. Ultimately, the main-event bird of so many households at Christmas is actually pretty comfortable with most wines.
A young pinot noir or Beaujolais cru like the Fleurie Vieilles Vignes, Maison de la Madrière, Stéphane Aviron 2020 adds a cranberry-sauce vibrancy to turkey but are easy-going enough not to clash with the side dishes. A young Valpolicella works 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. For that lighter but joyously fruity touch Valpolicella, Allegrini 2021 is an ideal balance of red-berries and freshness. Beaujolais like those mentioned with pâtés above are excellent.
In the middle ground there is so much choice. The Society's Côtes de Bordeaux 2019 is an excellent claret option, and a fine Rioja choice is Navajas Crianza, Rioja 2017, while the generosity of Languedoc reds works a treat too. At the other end of the scale, if your turkey dinner is a plethora of flavours on a plate you might find a bigger, bolder red necessary. Rhône reds, both north and south, are excellent here too. For those very full-bodied reds, California zinfandels and petite sirah hit the mark.
For a white wine option, look to creamy, ripe-fruited white Burgundy or a US or southern hemisphere chardonnay, ones which will have the buttery texture and concentration while retaining freshness. 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.’ The Society's White Rioja 2020 is a good starting point here.
If you're swerving turkey and serving roasted red meat instead you can turn to classic Christmas reds without fear. Your best bottles will show well here, particularly mature cabernet sauvignon-based claret. Château Caronne Sainte Gemme, Haut-Médoc 2016 is a lovely claret already and has the concentration for the whole Christmas package, while Pauletts Polish Hill River Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2017 has sweetness of fruit to match freshness. Or turn to a ripe, spicy red Rhône, particularly with any lamb studded with garlic and rosemary. For almost any incarnation of lamb there is one great classic: Rioja, whether the traditional take or the fuller-bodied modern versions. A bold Italian also does the trick, like a sangiovese in the guise of Chianti. In the new world, a Chilean carmenère or brooding Barossa shiraz have the heft to render a beef roast sublime. Indeed, fine roast beef can showcase fine red wines in general.
A roast goose calls for a wine that can tackle both the richness and the robust, almost gamey flavour of the meat. Goose is a very good reason to put an aromatic Alsace gewurztraminer on the table, and the gorgeous botanical scents and ginger-infused warmth of the wine certainly adds a fragrant new dimension to goose, while a pinot gris from the same region or beyond is excellent. Dry but rich German riesling is a good choice. For reds, a merlot-based wine with a bit of weight but freshness too is desirable. The Divin de Corbin, Saint-Emilion 2016 has lovely red fruit but suave tannins to cut through that 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 — 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? Our Senior Editor (and lifelong vegetarian) 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. Try Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc, ripe pinot noir
- 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 herbaceous, peppery qualities: Italian whites and juicy reds are great here.
- For nut roasts look to the ripe-fruited stars of the new world: a New Zealand 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
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 such as goat’s milk, Feta and Caerphilly with sauvignon blanc. For any nibbling on Parmesan turn to a powerful Italian red. Hard sheep’s milk matches well with fino or manzanilla sherry is smashing and ‘smelly’ washed-rind cheeses (Munster, Epoisses, Reblochon) need the balancing aromatics of an Alsace gewurztraminer (see above).
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 muscats, Orange muscats and vin doux naturel of the grapes can also work. The pud will generally overpower more delicate stickies, and an oft-quoted rule of thumb is to deploy a wine sweeter than the dessert.
Pudding wines are 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 Ximenez. All of the above pair well with dark and richly fruited Christmas cakes.
Maury, Rivesaltes, and Banyuls is also 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, refreshing all-rounder after the Christmas meal is Moscato d’Asti, with its gentle fizz and delightfully fragrant fruitiness.
Take a look at our dessert wines
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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?
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