While in France, Christmas is synonymous with foie gras and oysters, festive food traditions vary widely in other countries, and with them, the wines we drink. On the menu this week: the UK, Italy and Germany.
Generally speaking, we like to keep things light before the onslaught of roast dinner with all the trimmings. A popular Christmas starter is smoked salmon, for which a blanc de blanc champagne is a glorious pairing; a blanc de noirs or rosé champagne can also work very well on the condition that it’s not too vinous. If you’re looking for a still white wine, a dry white from the Loire can work very well, particularly Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé, or an unoaked Chablis.
Prawns – the retro prawn cocktail starter is always a hit – and other shellfish should be paired with a wine to balance the richness of the food. Try a Champagne or Chablis.
For oysters, complement the delicacy of flavour with low-bodied, delicately-flavoured wines such as Champagne or a fresh, fruity Muscadet. If you choose champagne, opt for a blanc de blancs (100% Chardonnay) with as little dosage as possible (extra brut or brut nature).
Are you starting the meal with foie gras or chicken liver paté? The classic pairing for foie gras is of course a Sauternes. While this is delicious, an interesting alternative could be a ripe, aromatic Alsatian wine, such as a Pinot gris or Riesling. These wines are both more refreshing and less sweet than Sauternes, and thus won’t overwhelm your palate before arriving at the main course.
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without turkey; our favourite festive fare since Victorian times. This not very powerful meat is low in fat and should ideally be paired with a full-bodied white wine or a medium-bodied red, with low to medium tannin and relatively high acidity.
The myriad flavours found on your plate at Christmas – brussels sprouts, parsnips, stuffing, cranberry, pigs in blankets – will need a wine with a higher level of acidity to cut through. A muscular Gevrey-Chambertin or Pommard would be perfect in that they will have ripe, fruity notes, silky tannins and a nice acidity. A Beaujolais Cru – Morgon or Moulin-à-Vent – for instance, is also an excellent choice, with power and depth.
A mature Bordeaux is a bolder pairing, but its delicate balance of fruit, acidity and integrated tannins, as well as the tertiary aromas which develop over time, result in an altogether suitable pairing. The same holds true for a Chianti Classico or Barolo.
For white wine lovers, a full-bodied Chardonnay is a sublime solution. The oaky richness and creaminess complement the meat (which can sometimes be on the dry side) – a Puligny-Montrachet or Meursault are the finest options. The minerality and acidity will help cleanse the palate.
Nothing says Christmas quite so cloyingly as an almost-obligatory – you simply couldn’t have another bite to eat – portion of Christmas pudding with a generous serving of brandy butter. This most regal of desserts is perfect with port. We particularly recommend Taylor’s 20-Year-Old Tawny Port and 2003 Quinta Do Noval Vintage Port.
While the United Kingdom is more or less united at least in what constitutes a Great British Christmas Dinner, things are more complicated in il bel paese. Each region – each city and sometimes village, even – varies widely in their festive food of choice. Here’s a (far from exhaustive) selection of Italian culinary delights.
In almost the entire peninsula, Christmas isn’t complete without a “brodo”, a broth with fresh pasta which can be filled with meat, fish or vegetables. One of Emilia-Romagna’s most well-known dishes is tortellini in brodo, in Umbria, Le Marche, Tuscany and Lazio, this becomes cappelletti in brodo. The delicate balance between unctuousness and acidity of a Trebbiano, for instance Trebbiano d’Abruzzo Emidio Pepe 2015 would freshen the palate.
In Trentino Alto Adige, canederli, croquettes of speck and pancetta, are served either in a broth with with butter and cheese. For a regional wine pairing, try Elisabetta Foradori’s red wines, produced with a native grape variety, Teroldego, recognizable for its bracing acidity and slight touch of bitterness.
Piemontese food and wine are inseperable; strong, rich, mature, with white truffle playing an important part. A brasato al Barolo, a hearty dish of beef braised in the region’s most well-known wine paired with a bottle of Barolo itself (or Barbaresco for that matter) is a match made in heaven. With smoky woodland notes, raspberries on leather and spice and a racy cut of tannins and acidity, the wine is indeed freshening rather than overwhelming for the palate.
Originally from Lombardy, panettone has become the Italian Christmas dessert par excellence. This, and its lesser known but equally-delicious neighbour, Veneto’s pandoro, is often accompanied by the aromatic and elegant sparkling wine, Moscato d’Asti. This piemontese wine is rather low in alcohol and an excellent way to delight your dinner guests after a heavy meal.
A German Christmas dinner will often feature roast goose, duck or turkey, traditionally served with Serviettenknödel (bread dumplings) and braised red cabbage. In terms of white wines, opt for a full-bodied, unctuous white, for instance a Meursault Premier Cru. The roundness and floral notes or Condrieu would also make for an interesting pairing. Red Loire wines, with their delicate aromas of red fruits and lovely acidity are also a fine option.
Many seasonal German desserts are flavored with festive spices like orange, cloves, cinnamon, and cardamom. The famous Dredner Stollen, which has been served at the Dresden Christmas market since the 15th century, is one of the many traditional German Christmas desserts. Taste with a sweet Riesling or a late harvest (vendanges tardives) Gewurztraminer.
While Christmas culinary traditions vary for one country to another, there is one element in common: the festive period is a time for sharing good food (and wine!) in great company. Bon appétit and merry Christmas!