Here's to Christmas dinner: when else in the year can we justify Champagne breakfasts, snooze-inducingly heavy reds 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 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!
Sparkling wine and party starters
If you aren't sipping a glass of something fizzy by elevenses, are you sure it's even Christmas? Here News Editor Joanna Goodman gives us her recommendations, whether you'll be enjoying a glass on its own while you peel the spuds, or paired with nibbles while you open the presents.
'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.'
Read Joanna's full guide in her Fizz File
Brunch cocktails are another great choice for getting everyone in the Christmas mood while the turkey's in the oven.
We've rounded up the tastiest Christmas brunch cocktails here, or try my compilation of winning party cocktails for sipping throughout the day.
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).
Browse wines to go with Smoked salmon
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.
Browse wines to go with goat's cheese
Browse wines to go with mushrooms
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. The Beyer family of Alsace believe their wine goes so well with oysters that they even named a cuvée especially (Riesling Les Ecaillers, Léon Beyer 2015) and a steely Chablis or picpoul make an equally impressive match.
Andrew Jefford talks oysters, Bollinger and a bittersweet French Christmas
Browse wines to go with oysters
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 our resident 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.
Browse wines to go with scallops
Browse wines to go with prawns
Pâtés and terrines
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.
Browse wines to go with fish terrines
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.
Browse wines to go with meat pâté and terrines
The main event
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.
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.’
Browse wines to go with turkey
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 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.
Browse wines to go with roast beef
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.
Browse wines to go with roast lamb
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.
Browse wines to go with goose
Vegetarian Christmas mains:
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 Quorn 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, Digital Copywriter and all-round wine buff Martin Brown gives us some tips for the perfect veggie main and some great recipes here in our archives but in essence:
- 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)
Try Martin's Christmas veggie recipes here
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.
Janet Wynne-Evans is a seasoned pro when it comes to the wine-and-dine game, so we've dug out her best recommendations for matching wine with the perfect pudding.
Creamy or white-chocolate based desserts: ‘Riesling, eggs and cream are a fine combination: a wobbly crème brûlée and delicious sweet German bottle would make for an extravagant, but sublime mouthful on Christmas Eve. The lively acidity and exotic fruit flavours of the petit-manseng make a dessert Jurançon a good match for the cocoa-buttery sweetness of a white chocolate Bûche Noël, France's answer to the Yule Log, or that quintessential British dessert, trifle.
Make Felicity Cloake's tawny Port trifle
Christmas cake, pudding and mince pies: The citrus-peel character of Hungarian furmint in partnership with the spicy, aromatic hárslevelu make Tokaji sing with lighter Christmas cakes, mince pies, or a boozy dried fruit salad with nuts and orange-zest, an alternative to the traditional plum pudding. I recently tasted late-harvest Tokaji with sticky toffee pudding too - a marriage made in heaven.
Dark chocolate desserts: ‘Grenache, the chunky, alcoholic red which makes Châteauneuf-du-Pape such a winter comfort, becomes dense and powerful in the liqueur wines of Banyuls can handle the darkest, richest bitter chocolate concoction imaginable. The Malmsey-like Maury Solera would also be sublime with chocolate or even coffee-infused desserts. Or what about sweet fortified tannat from Madiran in south-west France? Château d'Aydie's Maydie Tannat is a must with 'may die' by chocolate!’
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