Wine recommendations for the coming season and menus From Nick Adams, Master of Wine.
After what has been for most of us a truly challenging year, I am sure we are all ready for an enjoyable Christmas, with the chance to take a few days to really switch off from worldly matters. And above all maybe time to treat ourselves in the process.
Christmas is not only the time to celebrate but to indulge. Good food, wine and company are integral to the success and memories which make this time so special. As part of the suggestions, Nick has highlighted several suggestions for various themes and plans you may have for Christmas:
- Informal party – simple drinks and canapés nibbles for a small group of people (whatever number we will be allowed)
- Christmas day lunch – the big day itself
- Special occasions – eg hosting a New Year’s Eve dinner, or frankly just indulging yourself
featured wines are on 3 levels, which are “crowd pleasers”, “try something different” or “treat yourself”
One of the great pleasures of the day is sitting by a fire, maybe opening your presents, and enjoying a glass of something nice with a selection of nibbles and canapés. One of the most conventional drinks is to open some fizz, but it’s down to you. Sticking with the bubbles theme though I would recommend the following, starting with a Champagne treat yourself:
- Ayala Majeur Brut NV – a lovely Champagne which does not break the bank. Also, importantly it is made in a true “aperitif” style – by that very delicate, refreshing and quite mineral – a real appetite lifter
Or try something different:
- Or the immaculate English take on Champagne with the Gusbourne Brut Réserve NV which has an orchard fruits led quality and is ultra-crisp
- If you fancy a New World take (and a Rosé) on the Champagne model, then go for the outstanding Californian Quartet Brut Rosé NV from the revered Champagne house of Roederer – with its toasty notes and red berry fruit qualities
If you prefer something slightly less dry and with a bold fruit led profile, then I would recommend the crowd pleasing
- Prosecco Cantina Colli Euganei NV – quite soft, with bright pear and lemon fruits and a creamy feel
Christmas Day Lunch – the big one! Although this is a big day the cook, or cooks, also carry a fair degree of responsibility to put on a good spread whilst also trying to relax and enjoy the day themselves. So let’s look at the options and suggestions
- Traditional Turkey
Where else to begin? And we start with a twist. Good quality, free range turkey can be mildly gamey (like Guinea Fowl) and depending on how it has been cooked it can work surprisingly well with a light bodied red or fuller bodied rosé, as with (the more obvious choice) a dry white wine.
And don’t forget that the “trimmings” often come with a salty and tangy edge to them (eg sausage, bacon, stuffing). Also, if you are doing traditional bread sauce (with clove studied onion as its base) then you are also adding dairy and soft spice notes. In general, for white avoid anything that is heavily oaked as this conflicts with these flavours. Equally you want a white which has some weight, punch and fruit.
Regarding a red, opt for a lighter bodied red, which is fruity but not too tannic – and serve it cool (15 minutes in the fridge) as this lifts the whole profile if the wine with the food. Basically, any crisp, dry, unoaked white which you normally enjoy will work, but if you want to be a little different….
- ôte de Gascoigne Domaine St Lannes Famille Duffour 2019 – lovely citric and refreshing qualities
- Puligny Montrachet Les Levrons Domaine Berthelemot 2018, Burgundy France – beautiful textural and concentrated with fine stone fruit flavours
- Roast Beef
Many people opt for this British classic and it is also great cold in evening sandwiches, or on Boxing Day with salad and roast potatoes. With its savoury richness, fibrous texture and infused fat it will come as no surprise that a dry, fuller bodied, more tannic red is a strong recommendation. And please don’t worry if you are not usually a fan of this style, because the drier tannins merge perfectly with the fatty richness and protein texture, to elevate the pure savoury character of the beef – whilst in reverse the soft fruity character of the wine is also elevated by the absorption of the tannins: result – a perfect marriage.
- ásico Malabec 2018, Mendoza Argentina
- Game (can include Lamb here) – incl Goose, Duck, Pheasant, Vension etc.
Approach game not unlike with beef, but game is often more fibrous, and although sometimes fatty to start with (classically goose and duck) this rapidly drains away and does not quite infuse into the meat as with beef and lamb for example. Good game is also nicely textural and very savoury. And do go for the trimmings, like classic bread sauce, redcurrant jelly, game chips …
Also, it is a myth to think that all game must be, or has been, hung for long periods – please do not be put off as most hasn’t and doesn’t need to be! Full bodied, savoury and rich reds work well in general. All those mentioned in the Beef section will work, but with game New World reds can come into their own. Lamb, duck and lighter game birds, such as Guinea Fowl, Quail and Partridge, also work very well with Pinot Noir
- Crowd Pleaser: supple, savoury black fruits: Bairrada Reserva Alianca 2018, Bairrada Portugal
- Try Something Different: medium bodied, subtlety spicy: Carmenère Reserva Casas del Bosque 2017, Casablanca Valley Chile
- Treat: classic savoury, mellow, refined Gran Reserva Rioja: Gran Reserva Rioja Marqués de Murrieta 2012, Rioja Spain
- Ham on the bone
This is an old and often forgotten classic – and a real seasonal treat. A great way to enjoy Christmas Eve, along with some good soup and a cheeseboard. There will always be an element of salt, but it should not be “salty” if that makes sense. Good cured ham should be moist and (maybe surprisingly) taste of pork. It is one of those dishes which can be served with a white or red wine, but the red must be light bodied and have good acidity (and again serve cool as mentioned before). Rosé is also an option here. Whites which work best are unoaked, with plenty of acidity (this really cuts through the salt). Any white wine with a “tangy” note to it works well – again probably no surprise to you.
- Crowd Pleaser: crisp, orchard fruits: Picpoul de Pinet Baron de Badassière 2019, Languedoc Roussillon France
- Try Something Different: crisp, citric and refreshing: Lawson’s Dry Hills Riesling 2017, Marlborough New Zealand
- Treat: dry, creamy, red berries: Whispering Angel Rosé 2019, Côtes de Provence France
Easy to forget that many fish and shellfish are in plentiful supply (and at their best) in the winter with the following particularly good examples:
- Wild Sea Bass (though rightly restricted catches)
- Farmed Sea Trout
- Gilt Head Bream
- + as ever – smoked salmon!
I remember a friend saying that for a change they did an oven baked wild Sea Bass for Christmas day one year and it was a revelation. I think the recommendations are quite straight forward – always white wine and unoaked and crisp for plainly cooked fish; richer, maybe oaked Chardonnay based wines (as a substitute to list below) with fish with butter based sauce (beurre blanc/noir, hollandaise).
- Crowd Pleaser: dry, orchard fruit, hint of spice: Pinot Grigio Ponte del Diavolo 2019, Grave del Friuli Italy (works well with smoked salmon)
- Try Something Different: dry, citric, and racy: Albariño Rías Baixas Lagar de Cervera 2019, Galicia Spain
- Treat: dry, mineral, citric fruits: Sancerre Domaine des Brosses 2018, Loire Valley France
- Or: M3 Chardonnay Shaw & Smith 2017, Adelaide Hills South Australia (with richer fish and sauce dishes)
In the next part we look at Vegetarian options, along with the classic cheese board and Christmas puddings and desserts!