A Wine-lovers guide to Christmas Lunch
Written by Andrew Azzopardi
Every year I’m given the task of selecting the wines to accompany our Christmas day lunch. To many a wine lover its often a good excuse to bring out some of the best bottles from the stash. After all Christmas only pops up once a year, so it’s natural to bring out your best celebratory wine, but do they perfectly match every course on the table? Not necessarily.
Without fail, every year the menu changes at the last minute, more unexpected flavours seem to appear out of thin air from my grandmas kitchen, and extra dollops of cranberry sauce are accidently placed on the smoked salmon instead of the turkey. The hours spent pairing the right Pouilly Fumé with the fish has just gone up in smoke. To add insult to injury my old aunt may just happen to open the bottle of Chateau Rieussec 1995 again, because she simply loves the colour. There goes my surprise sauternes for dessert.
So this year I’ve decided to plan the wines to go with our festive lunch in a different way. Pairing wines with an array or different and rich foods is never an easy task. Moreover, pleasing everybody’s tastes is virtually impossible.
My families typical Christmas lunch is based on turkey, fruit compotes, chutneys, smoked salmon and a varied selection of different condiments prepared in different styles. I need at least one white and one red wine that ideally pairs with fruit, is light and easy to drink and doesn’t over-power the infinite and varied flavours.
I immediately think of bubbly when celebrating, and Christmas lunch may be the perfect opportunity. A traditional method Franciacorta Ca’ del Bosco cuvée or the more floral and warm "Aurèlia" Cava Brut Nature Gran Reserva from Penedès Spain would be super alternatives to a traditional white wine . If however I really want to up the ante I would opt for Laurent Perrier Rose where I think the red strawberry fruits will shine particularly well with the turkey stuffing and the acidity will lift the dish. Of course I think the rose colour will not only add the right glamour to the table, but it may also be a hit with both the red and white wine drinkers. After all it pairs well with both the smoked salmon and turkey. If there are quite a few sweet or fruity components a sweeter Champagne such as brut or extra dry could hit the right sweet spot.
I’m sure however, that a few of my family members would complain that the fizz ‘goes to their head’, so I’d still recommend an added still white wine. I could easily contemplate an Alsace Riesling or the fruitier and spicier Gewürztraminer from Hugel, but if I’m feeling a bit more daring, I might simply pick out a spätlese Riesling from J.J. Pruhm or Dr. Loosen where the residual sugars should combine exceptionally well with the sweet sauces and the typical acidity will cut through the fattiness of the dishes. The relatively low alcohol is definitely an added benefit when lunches such as ours take at least four or five hours.
Now for a red wine to pair with both turkey and the salmon starter. I immediately think Pinot noir! A new world young pinot noir bursting with red berries and bright acidity such as the Pegasus Bay from Waipara Valley in New Zealand could definitely work. The spice and undertones of pomegranate would combine well with the spicy foods and the richer stuffing and gamey meats. If I wake up feeling a bit more generous towards my family members a Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru by the well-known Joseph Drouhin would surely mean fireworks in my mouth - the matching ripe raspberry flavours and refreshing acidity would be sublime all throughout the meal.
Another red wine that always springs to mind during the Christmas season is Beaujoloais Nouveau - unfortunately for all the wrong reasons, but let’s not forget that the Gamay grape from the underrated Beaujolias region can also be the perfect match with roast turkey accompanied with fruit compotes and sauces. A young Beaujolais-village by Louis Jadot could well be fun, or possibly a more sophisticated and well-structured Moulin-à-Vent from Olivier Merlin with well integrated tannins, rounded fruit flavours and enough soft tannins to take on turkey or pork.
If I’m still sober for the dessert courses I need something to combine with granny’s rich velvety Christmas pudding. Now this is a hard one. If I choose what I call ‘Christmas in a glass’ I would opt for the lusciously sweet Pedro Ximénez grape such as Don PX 1975 from Bodegas Toro Albala, but it might across as over-the-top to a few people who can’t handle too much sugar. On the other hand, the lighter marmalade and honey goodness of a Chateau Dauphine Rondillon sauternes might just get lost in all the pudding richness. Honestly, I think I’ll opt for two bottles of Hungarian Tokaji with varying levels of sweetness. One bottle of the 3 Puttonyos Royal Tokaji would provide enough sweetness without being cloying, but the other bottle Tokaji Aszu will satisfy others who just love sweet with sweet.
I’m not sure I’ll get through my 2015 Christmas lunch sober, but what I am sure is that when lunch is over, I’ll sit down in front of the fireplace, sip a 1995 Grahams vintage port, and plan the wines to serve on New Year’s day!
Festive greetings to All