There are three things that we love especially around the cozy Christmas holidays: good literature, as we finally have time for reading, good food and, of course, good wine to go with it – preferably sitting by a fireplace wrapped up in blankets, together with our loved ones. In this article, we want to propose a Christmas menu that unifies all three of those things. Discover our suggestions for food and wine pairings following a literary classic that is full of very visual descriptions of typical 19th century British Christmas meals…
A Christmas Carol is, without a doubt, one the world’s most famous Christmas classics that was written by the 19th century author Charles Dickens. Dickens was a British novelist in the Victorian era and his most famous works include Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, and Great Expectations. A Christmas Carol is a novella set in London during the Victorian Age. Its main character Ebenezer Scrooge is a cold-hearted banker who is visited by spirits the night before Christmas Day. The spirits hope to change Scrooge’s behaviour by showing him the reality of 19th century London that is ravaged by poverty, but also the joy of happy families united by love. Scrooge eventually realises how much more important shared happiness and love are than money and changes his ways. After the visits of the Christmas spirits, he tries to help the poor and to show people his love, putting the spirit of Christmas at the forefront of everything he does.
The Ghost of Christmas Past
Charles Dicken’s classic is actually full of very visual food descriptions that give us an idea of what Christmas in the Victorian age in London might have looked like! Of course, Victorian middle and lower-class families probably would not have had access to the vast wine selection we are offering on the iDealwine-website – but after all, it is Christmas, and we can dream a little!
The first description of a Christmas meal we come across when we browse through the all-time Christmas classic is a scene Scrooge observes when the first of the spirits, the Ghost of Christmas Past, shows him his own past as a young, lonely boy. In the scene, the company where he first started as an apprentice celebrates Christmas together – and its nothing like the cold and lonely nights Scrooge had been used to in recent years. “There were more dances, and there were forfeits, and more dances, and there was cake, and there was negus, and there was a great piece of Cold Roast, and there was a great piece of Cold Boiled, and there were mince-pies, and plenty of beer.” In this short passage, we find a few elements typical of British cuisine: Cold Roast, mince pies, cakes. And to flush it all down, beers and Negus – which is a hot drink made from Port, lemon and sugar water. If you would like to make some negus to have with your seasonal fruit cakes and mince pies, there’s plenty of Port on the website, like that from Niepoort and Taylor’s.
The Ghost of Christmas Present
Next, the Ghost of Christmas Present appears. He is there to show Scrooge what is going on around him, especially in families that do not have the same financial means as him – so, the spirit takes the invisible Mr. Scrooge to his assistant Bob Cratchit’s home. Since Scrooge obviously does not pay his employees well, Bob Cratchit lives in a humble house with his wife and children, one of them, a tiny boy called Tim, is physically disabled and must use a crutch. And even though the family lives in rather precarious conditions, barely surviving each day, they all get together for Christmas Eve and do their best to provide a lavish meal everyone can enjoy. The centrepiece: the stuffed goose. It’s description really lets us almost smell the meat, almost feel the warmth of the tiny room filled with love and eager faces waiting for the meal to start: “There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn’t believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish), they hadn’t ate it all at last!” The Christmas goose is still a typical British Christmas meal, but it is also eaten traditionally in other countries as well, such as Germany and its Weihnachtsgans.
If you happen to choose the traditional Christmas goose, consider that the meat is fattier than turkey, and adapt your wine to the stuffing. When it comes to red wine, choose a medium-bodied bottle that displays red fruit aromas and a relatively high acidity. A Burgundy Pinot Noir would be your ideal candidate, or else a bolder Gamay wine like one from Morgon. If you want a white alternative on your table as well, a good much would be a top-quality Riesling from Alsace: it will complement the fruity apple stuffing with its acidity and balance the fatty meat.
After the main course, the family is eagerly awaiting the dessert, and when it is finally served, it is quite the spectacle: “Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastry-cook’s next door to each other with a laundress’s next door to that! That was the pudding! In half a minute Mrs Cratchit entered, — flushed but smiling proudly, — with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half a quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.” If that description didn’t make your mouth water, we don’t know what will… In the UK, the same Christmas pudding that makes an appearance in “A Christmas Carol” is still widely eaten for dessert around Christmastime today. The making of the pudding actually starts around five weeks before Christmas, and it mostly contains dried fruits, flour, eggs, brandy, apple, lemon zest and different wintery spices like cinnamon. For older family members that like to finish their dessert with a good bottle – as the times have definitely changed and we are not serving punch to ten-year-olds like in Dicken’s novel – you should consider the richness and density of the pudding, as well as its fruity flavours. Pair the hefty dessert with a Tawny Port, or a sweet Sherry, like a Pedro Ximenez.
The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come
The last spirit visiting Scrooge shows him parts of his future, including the time after his death – and this is one moment where the grumpy man truly realises that he has to change, because no one shows any remorse and he sees how he didn’t leave a warm, loving environment at all. Finally, a changed Scrooge tells the ghost: “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all three shall strive within me!” The last of three spirits leaves, and Mr. Scrooge wakes up on Christmas Day. He immediately goes outside and buys the biggest turkey he can find – to send to his poor assistant Bob Cratchit. Turkey used to be more expensive than goose or duck (it still is more expensive than duck in fact). Another difference is the lesser fat in the meat itself. If you are also thinking about serving turkey for your Christmas meal, white wines from the Rhône or those made in a similar style from South Africa (look for wines made from Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc) would be perfect. For those of you who prefer red wine, there’s still plenty of options: a mature Bordeaux or Barolo, Grenache-based blends (think Châteauneuf-du-Pape or blends from Spain or Australia), and even a Californian Zinfandel. There is also Champagne for anyone who wants to be add even more sparkle to the magical day.
After all the delicious food and the exquisite bottles we have served, all there is really left to do – for us as well as for Mr. Scrooge, who has finally let love and happiness back into his life – is to get cosy with the people closest to us, and to let some of the final words of “A Christmas Carol” echo in our living rooms: “A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears… God bless us, Every One!”