Lifestyle & opinion

The wines to match your Christmas moments

At The Wine Society, we’ve lubricated more Christmases than we care to count. Allow us then to supply a blueprint for all your festive moments, from a humble glass that hits the spot when feet finally go up, to a worthy toast for the New Year.

Christmas digested: the wines to match your Christmas moments

Unexpected visitors

Amaze casual well-wishers by uncorking a rosé, something many people still don’t seem to realise it’s perfectly legal to drink when the sun is on a sabbatical. Choose one that isn’t bone-dry (start with code 2 on our dry-to-sweet scale) with plenty of red fruit that can cope with most fridge-raids when emergency solids are required.

Top tip: As well as Christmas wine, stock your fridge with packets of inexpensive cured ham, and a few bunches of spring onions. Trim the latter of roots and tips and wrap a slice of the former tightly around each one. Brush with oil, pepper generously, roast for ten minutes in a hot oven and serve two per person though be warned, most can manage three before supper.

Presents past

The sheer creative effort of tramping the streets and trawling the web to match trifle to loved one surely demands a well-earned glass, and the same goes for paraphrasing your Christmas message across dozens of cards. Nothing wrong with switching off and falling gratefully on a tried and trusted house wine, but why not try a mixed case of whites and reds you may not be quite so familiar with and get to know them one by one?

Browse our mixed wine cases

Top tip: On the kind of day when food needs to be cooking itself, try bringing forward Christmas Eve pork, a hands-free beauty you can slip quickly into the oven and leave there for 3-4 hours to fill the house with inspirational aromas and you with anticipation. One for a Saumur white, off-dry German or Kiwi riesling or a Beaujolais.

The Christmas spirits

Christmas cocktail on festive table

One thing you don’t want to run out of is a cockle-warming dram, favourite gin or mellow brandy – and don’t forget those cocktails. You’ll find a bumper tribute to the spirit of Christmas in our spirits range.

Top tip: For a seasonal twist, start now by infusing a bottle of The Society’s Vodka with a triple-hit of ginger. Pour the vodka into 1-litre preserving jar and add grated root, powdered, and chopped stem ginger along with some of the syrup that comes with it. Optional extras might be clove or two or a star anise if you like your Mule spicy, and a spoonful or two of brown sugar if you like it sweet, though it will make your spirit darker in colour. Leave in a cool place for a couple of weeks giving it a good daily shake whenever you’re passing. Strain and serve on ice with ginger ale and a dash of lime juice and serve with smoked salmon blinis crowned with lumpfish roe, or, if you fancy splashing out, caviar!

Party wines

People enjoying red and white wines at a table

You know the drill for wowing a crowd: cuddly sparklers, whites that are neither offputtingly sweet nor searingly dry and digestible reds with modest levels of alcohol. Our go-to multitaskers here, for their ability not only to please on their own, but to cope with myriad nibbles, are Alsace wines and Rhône white wine, along with lighter Loire wines and berried Austrian red wines.

Top tip: It’s also worth repeating that perhaps our best, and cheapest crowd-pleaser of all time is The Society’s Côtes de Gascogne, a grapy and affordable delight, as upstanding with spicy samosas as with fishy vol-au-vents.

The big day

With so much work having gone into the run-up to the day itself, it’s time to embrace it with great bottles, both in terms of quality and size. There is a selection of magnums for every main course imaginable.

Our best advice on selection is that, unless you are maxing on provocative ingredients like chilli, in which case be guided by those, traditional Christmas fare is pretty forgiving, so invest in generous supplies of what you love to drink rather than dwelling overmuch on the perfect match.

Top tip: This is British grub at its finest so why not try a fragrant English bacchus that will do the honours with the fish course and prove the adage that grows together goes together? For a red that can handle everything on the day, from, surly sprouts to warring relatives, look across the pond to California.

Smaller gatherings

People enjoying red wine over a festive table

For maximum variety during the quiet joys of a small, intimate Christmas, have a flourish of half bottles of wine ready and waiting: 37.5cl of spot-hitting premium Champagne or ethereal sherry, a good, foodie white and a fine claret, cru Beaujolais or Rhõne are a good start.

Our dedicated half-bottles page is bursting with small treasures, ensuring that doing things by halves merely means intake, not drinking pleasure.

Top tip: Pudding wines are where halves shine particularly brightly. Try Sauternes with a super-fresh salad of peeled mandarin segments and Medjool dates, dressed with a drop of honey and orange-flower water and scattered with pomegranate seeds.

Meat-free moments

Even unrepentant carnivores are inspired by those super-creative chefs who have stepped up to the plant-based plate with new and exotic ways to glamorise the humble spud and the cauli. Rarely have there been so many vivid wines to match them. Ambrosial combinations include really intense tomato tarts with sweeter Loire wines like Coteaux du Layon and roasted beets with a cool German pinot noir (flexitarians might like to wrap the beets, purse-like, in a slice of smoked salmon to very pleasing effect) or a gratin of roots with a potent Alsace Gewurztraminer wine (look for code 3 or thereabouts on our sweetness code).

Top tip: Aubergines, sweet potatoes and other chunky vegetables, gently stewed in a Thai sauce of lemongrass, ginger, chilli, lime and coconut, served with a proper old-school, barrel-kissed chardonnay will bring new meaning to a Boxing Day curry.

Leftovers

Surely the best part of Christmas: with most of the hard work done, it’s time to tuck into the leftovers that, with any luck, should keep you going in the trough between the twin peaks of Christmas and New Year. Herbs, spices and other flights of fancy are essential to maintain interest, so be sure you have the bottles to match. And we’ve already mentioned sweeter Loire chenin blanc as a true-blue banker for Indian and middle eastern spices.

Top tips: Douro whites and reds, even the posh ones, can take a fair amount of peri-peri, should your hand slip in the prep. A lush grenache-rich Rhône red makes short work of vegetable roulades and fried Christmas pud with a liqueur muscat is sublime.

Seeing in the New Year

Sparkling wines and sparklers

Time at last to forget that auld recurring acquaintance with Shakin’ Stevens, tinsel and excess, and look forward to a new year ahead. Some of us like to celebrate en masse with a good Cava or Prosecco on tap. Others are happy to enjoy fireworks from a distance and to give a loved one an affectionate peck between reverential sips of a top Champagne. The common factor is fizz and we have one for all contingencies. If you are a generous host with a coach party to please, this is surely the time for a jeroboam of The Society’s very own Champagne!

Browse sparkling wines

Top tips: Choice midnight snacks are shards of aged Parmesan cheese with a premium Proscecco, chunky slices of jamón Jabugo, king of Iberian hams, with Cava, or light-as-air Gruyère gougères with the best Champagne or English sparkling wine you can justify.

Test case

By way of a quick digest, here is a bit of style counsel for hard-working hosts to help them prime their racks with grapes, styles and regions that can be trusted to tick every Christmas box – and fit into one as well.

  1. Manzanilla and fino sherry: unbeatable for those occasions, like New Year’s Eve, when you may want to save the fizz for later.
  2. A cool palate-reviving white such as grüner veltliner, verdant sauvignon blanc or similarly clean-cut style for jaded, post-festive palates.
  3. A sumptuous white for lush butter or cream sauces: chardonnay and semillon with a touch of barrel, or perhaps viognier.
  4. A versatile off-dry white for salty, spicy and smoked dishes - baked ham, smoked meats and fish, mild curries, tagines and similarly spice-laden recipes. Riesling, gewürztraminer and Loire chenin blanc score highly. Aim for code 3 in our dry-to-sweet scale.
  5. An all-rounder white or red that will go with absolutely everything within reason. For the former, grab a South African white blend, and for the latter, anything from Portugal, notably the Douro. Trust us.
  6. A digestible red for gentle lunches and feathered game. Loire cabernet franc, gamay, pinot noir and zweigelt all work.
  7. A juicy, fruity easy Italian red for those soothing and easy pasta suppers between formal feasts. Dolcetto and barbera are obvious contenders.
  8. A big, rich, full-bodied red for spicy stews, furred game and earthy veggies – we’re thinking zinfandel, malbec, shiraz, grenache and Greece’s upstanding xinomavro.
  9. Rioja, whether crianza, reserva or even gran reserva. The perfect combination of elegance and comfort, especially if lamb looms large.
  10. A botrytis-affected sweet wine, for creamy pâtisserie, soft and blue cheeses and rich pâté. Head for Sauternes, Monbazillac, the Loire, Germany, Alsace, south-western France, the southern hemisphere – you’ll be spoiled for choice with our range.
  11. Muscat. Whether it’s light-as-air Moscato d’Asti for a topical fruit salad, or liqueur-grade for more rib-sticking puds, this is the Christmas grape par excellence.
  12. Madeira, ideally Malmsey or Bual. Christmas is unthinkable without it. Think mince-pies for elevenses Christmas cake at tea time, figgy pudding after dinner and an upstanding British cheeseboard at any other time – and better get two: 50cl doesn’t go far!

    Compliments of the season!
Janet Wynne Evans
Janet Wynne Evans

Now retired, Janet was with The Wine Society for 23 years, mostly within our Buying Team. Her Food for Thought column in our newsletter and recipes gained her many loyal followers.

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