Matchmaking at Christmas

When it comes to choosing wine for the Christmas meal sometimes classic partnerships are hard to beat

When it comes to choosing wine for the Christmas meal sometimes classic partnerships are hard to beat

'Making food and wine matching for your Christmas meals fun'

Choosing wines to match festive foods should be a pleasure not a pain. Much is written on the subject, but ultimately the choice of which wine to serve with a particular dish comes down to personal preference. However, some classic partnerships are hard to beat and the general guidelines regarding getting the balance right are just as applicable at Christmas as at any other time. Below are our suggestions for some of them.

Our online Food & Wine Matcher suggests wines to match more than 250 dishes at different price points. The Food and Wine section has plenty of articles on the subject too - Tastebud Terrors (ideas for partnering vinicidal ingredients); suggestions for meat-free Christmas dishes; recipes for those that don't want to serve turkey; articles on cheese and wine and hints and tips on serving sweet wines here.

Starters

It's the oily texture of smoked salmon which makes it tricky to partner and the reason sparkling wines and fino sherry work so well It's the oily texture of smoked salmon which makes it tricky to partner and the reason sparkling wines and fino sherry work so well

The assertive flavour and oily texture of smoked salmon, which often puts in an appearance on the festive table, is surprisingly tricky to partner. Crisp whites and sparkling wines work, as does fino sherry and spicy gewurztraminer, Chablis and Champagne are traditional partners and our own-label bottlings from the Brocards in Chablis and Alfred Gratien in Champagne would be hard to beat.

Our Society's Fino sourced from Sánchez Romate has lots of fresh, vibrant flavour and, according to buyer Toby Morrhall, is also wonderful with hot-smoked salmon fillets. Some prefer to counter smoke with spice and choose gewurztraminer to go with smoked salmon. It also has the weight and richness to follow through to the main course of roast turkey or goose. The Society's Exhibition Gewurztraminer from Hugel gives plenty of flavour for your money.

Shellfish

Look to the new world if you're serving scallops with an exotic twist Look to the new world if you're serving scallops with an exotic twist

If the tradition in your household is to start the Christmas feasting off with a plate of oysters, then you could break away from the usual suspects of Muscadet, Chablis or Champagne or fino and ring the changes with a patriotic pairing of Whitstable oysters and The Society's Exhibition English Sparkling Wine from Ridgeview in Sussex.

The more delicate flavour of scallops served simply and plainly call for a lighter touch. Wines with a gentle sweetness like Vouvray, or softness, such as those made from viogner, often show them off to their best and simply grilled scallops can bring out the best in your finest bottles.

If you are serving seafood with a more exotic twist, scallops or prawns with a little chilli, coriander or lime say, look to the new world where more upfront flavours cope best when east meets west in the kitchen. Sauvignon blanc always works well and our Exhibition Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc made specially for us by Jane Hunter would fit the bill nicely.

Melon

Not particularly easy to partner, melon requires something on the rounder side; a rosé might be fun, or if accompanied by Parma ham, Orvieto Classico Superiore Castagnolo, Barberani, the medium-sweet version of this Italian classic would work. You could ring the changes and serve with a glass of chilled sweet Pineau des Charentes.

Pâtés & terrines

Fish terrines are the perfect foil whites flattering even the simplest of bottles to the finest of Burgundies Fish terrines are the perfect foil whites flattering even the simplest of bottles to the finest of Burgundies

Fish terrines are the perfect foil for whites and flatter the simplest to the most extravagant of bottles. A round Mâcon-Villages like that from Domaine Mallory et Benjamin Talmard (which used to be known as Mâcon-Farges) is always a delight or why not try one of our Provence rosés.

Vegetable terrines are best with crisp whites and rosés, though the earthy flavours of mushroom pâté mean that they can be partnered by fruity reds in much the same way as those made from meat. The strength of the herbs and spices will determine the style of wine. Creamy textures might best be matched by wines made from the albariño grape which have a wonderfully subtle elegance and power. For strong Provençal flavours, choose ripe Mediterranean-style wines from the South of France, Italy or the new world.

Rustic meat pâtés are best with fruity reds like a Beaujolais which enjoyed another highly successful run of vintages lately. Rich game pâtés made from wild boar or venison would be better with full-bodied reds with some oomph. Wines from France's South West come to mind, or maybe a Rhône-style red from the new world. The richest of liver pâtés like foie gras are traditionally paired with sweet Sauternes, but it is always difficult to follow such a heady mix.

The Main Course

Chicken, turkey and guinea fowl go well with a wide variety of wines, from rich, buttery whites, to spice-laden reds and are the perfect foil for your best mature bottles. Classic partners might include white Burgundy, a rich Meursault maybe, or from the new world, The Society's Exhibition Chilean Chardonnay would take some beating. If you prefer to serve red, the ripe red-berry flavours of pinot noir work beautifully. Try The Society's Exhibition Saint-Aubin Rouge or one of our New Zealand pinot noirs. When it comes to Christmas dinner, it is often the trimmings which present the biggest challenge so gutsy full-throttle reds are the choice of many. A spicy Rhône or Rhône-style red from the new world would be a good bet.

Roast goose calls for trenchant reds or rich whites with enough sweetness of fruit and acidity to cut through the fat. The sweet berry flavours of an Australian cabernet might work well. For whites, Alsace gewurztraminer or pinot gris, or a dry German riesling are particularly successful and Jurançon Sec, Chant des Vignes, Domaine Cauhapé would positively sing.

The Christmas turkey will show off your best mature bottles well, but pay attention to the trimmings! Greens can be particularly vinicidal

The Christmas turkey will show off your best mature bottles well, but pay attention to the trimmings! Greens can be particularly vinicidal (read more on that here)

Cheer the Pudding

You can't go far wrong with fortified muscat to cheer the pudding You can't go far wrong with fortified muscat to cheer the pudding

Puddings, and especially those as rich as Christmas Pudding, can sometimes be the kiss of death to wine, making even dessert wines taste dry. Fortified wines are a much better bet, especially those made from the muscat grape. Muscat de Beaumes de Venise is a classic partner. Alternatively, ring the changes with the silky-sweet red muscat from South Africa, Nuy Red Muskadel, which would also be delicious served with the cheese course. The headiest of all dessert muscats are the Australian 'stickies' which are almost Christmas pudding in liquid form. Try a half-bottle of Stanton and Killeen's 12-year-old Muscat from Rutherglen with The Societys Christmas Pudding (which can be bought in our Cellar Showroom).

For more ideas on sweet-wine pairing, view our How to Buy Sweet Wine guide.

The Cheeseboard

The classic partnership of Port & Stilton is hard to beat The classic partnership of Port & Stilton is hard to beat

Much is written on the subject of matching cheese and wine (indeed there are several articles on this website) but a sensible option and good all-rounder would be a bottle of Madeira. The Henriques & Henriques Sercial, 10 years old is drier in style than a bual or malmsey with livelier acidity making it a good partner for a wide variety of cheeses and equally delicious served chilled as an aperitif. Port is obviously many members' fortified wine of choice at Christmas, but again, consider choosing a Tawny, which is also lovely served chilled before the meal. The Wise One, 10-Year-Old Tawny which is a new exclusive bottling from Bleasdale in Australia would be a super choice and its quirky label an interesting after-dinner talking point!

For some more festive food and wine ideas and recipes (which consciously avoid turkey), see Janet Wynne Evans' suggestions in the Food and Wine section of the website.

> Go to our Food & Wine Matcher

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