Parisian eating | How to host a French Christmas

To every culture its festive traditions. While Brits juggle too many roasting dishes, convincing themselves that untouched Brussels sprouts are still worth doing, many Japanese revellers head to a certain red-and-white striped eatery for a Kentucky-fried feast. But how do the celebrations unfold in France? Home to gourmet culinary delights and some of the world’s finest wines, you can bet the French go all out for the big day.

Should you fancy hosting Christmas à la française this year, here’s some inspiration involving typical French dishes that go way beyond baguettes and cheese (though these, of course, are not to be cast aside…). Surprise surprise, they all come with perfect wine pairings, too!

Oysters

Seafood isn’t what we’re all used to at the festive table, but these gourmet morcels are a frequent feature at Christmas and New Year in France. The extravagance of an oyster platter mirrors the calibre of a special celebration, so if you’re after a fancy starter, this is one to impress your guests.

A chic plate like this calls for a careful wine pairing. The gentle acidity and fruitiness of a Muscadet (Loire) will make a nice companion, otherwise a Chablis (Burgundy) from mineral-rich soil will appease this pairing on the palate.

You shouldn’t really serve a red wine with oysters at all. And try to avoid oaky white wines, as the oysters will bring out a bitter side to them.

Smoked salmon

This delectable little number speaks for itself, special enough to stand out but not so unknown as to be a risk. French home cooks will often serve smoked salmon with blinis or toast crackers, even cream, butter, and a squeeze of lemon. Elegance on a plate.

For wines to serve, go all out with a champagne. A blanc de blancs pairs best, but a blanc de noirs certainly won’t do any harm. Pick one with a low dosage (Brut or Extra Brut), and its fruity fizz will pair beautifully with the sweet and smoky fish. Otherwise, a Sancerre will work well, as smoked salmon can handle the more aromatic grape varieties vinified by this region. Younger, unoaked cuvées are best.

Again, no red wine here (its time will come!) as it’s simply too strong, or oaky whites, as their grilled notes will overpower the subtleties of the salmon.

Foie gras

Controversial for some and a downright delicacy for others, foie gras is arguably the star of French Christmas gastronomy. Highly rich and unctuous, it can be sautéd, baked, or served as it is…this is a symbol of festive indulgence if ever there were one.

Traditionally, foie gras tends to be served with a sweet or dessert wine, particularly a Sauternes. This extravagant pairing is the height of sumptuous dining, and it’s one for those who are fearless in the face of next-level sweetness. If you this sounds a bit heavy to you, opt for a fresher white wine, such as one from Alsace. A Gewurztraminer or Riesling from the slopes of this northern region will still carry a complimentary sweet touch, but this will be balanced out by cooler aromas and a lighter texture. An ample white from Burgundy will also pair nicely.

A red might not be out of place here, either, although this takes a bit of thought as it’s an example of an ‘opposition’ pairing. You’ll want something with tannins but without excessive oak. A mature Pomerol would counterbalance nicely, as would a distinguished young Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Côte-Rôtie from the Rhône.

Turkey

Here we’re on more recognisable ground. All is not lost for a French-inspired Christmas if you really can’t part with your tried-and-tested main course. Turkey is a meat that’s full of flavour and often the crowning glory of the Christmas table.

Since different parts of the turkey have slightly different characteristics, your best bet for a pairing is an easy red, or even several! A deep Pinot Noir from Burgundy will go down a treat as a prestigious wine fit for the occasion. If you’d prefer something a little lighter, we recommend a more acidic-leaning cuvée from the Beaujolais region.

Bûche de Noël

If you’ve still got room for dessert, a yule log is a beautiful (and delicious!) cake to decorate to your heart’s content. Chocolate flavour is bound to be a crowd-pleaser, chestnut is decidedly chic, or a citrus bûche might be the refreshing pick-me-up needed at the end of your feast.

But the wine isn’t finished yet! A dark chocolate dessert calls for a rich sipping wine such as a sherry, port or maury wine. The same goes for chestnut cake, though this could also be rounded off nicely with the cacao nuances of a Rivesaltes. Citrus, on the other hand, would be complemented by a dessert wine like a Sauternes…so if you missed out on the foie gras pairing, your chance to taste some liquid gold hasn’t passed!

Well, you’ve got plenty to be getting on with in the kitchen…Joyeux Noël à tous!

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