However much togetherness we can have this Christmas, even if it’s just our household or we end up partying on-screen, the right wine will make this different festive season so much the merrier.
Wine experts Charles Metcalfe and Kathryn McWhirter have selected their favourite wine and food pairings for the season. Charles is a speaker, author, and co-chair of the International Wine Challenge, while Kathryn is a wine expert and co-author (with Charles) of The Wine and Food Lover’s Guide to Portugal.
Wines for general drinking
At Christmas you always need some wines that are easy to drink, white and red wines that slide down smoothly by themselves, or with nibbles and snacks.
Whites should not be too acidic, reds not too tannic. Top of our whites list are Sauvignon Blanc, the Albariño and Verdejo grapes from Spain, Alvarinho from Portugal, loads of dry whites from Italy (Falanghina, Fiano, Greco, Grillo, Lugana, Verdicchio etc), Riesling (yes, really), English Bacchus and Austrian Grüner Veltliner.
Easy-drinking reds include Beaujolais, Gamay, New Zealand Pinot Noir, gentle Côtes du Rhône, inexpensive Tempranillo, and the lighter (less expensive) side of Malbec.
Whether you’re eating baked beans, spag bol or chilli con carne, discover more food and wine bedfellows in: Matching food and wine: the A-Z of wine pairings.
The spices of Asian-style festive nibbles go best with white wines, and Sauvignon and Riesling (dry to off-dry) may work best. Chilled (dry) fino or manzanilla sherry is brilliant with hummus. So is New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, which is also the star match for guacamole. Mushroom-based snacks are best with the light reds above. These reds also work well with ham, sausage and charcuterie.
Fine Chardonnays from Burgundy to Bannockburn (in Central Otago, New Zealand, since you ask) make a perfect match for smoked salmon. It’s the crisp, buttery flavours, with a whisper of oak, that deliver the pairing.
With its tangy, mayonnaise-based sauce, prawn cocktail needs a white with zingy acidity, but not too powerfully flavoured. Try Alsace Pinot Blanc, dry German Riesling or English Seyval Blanc.
With a delicious vegetarian starter of grilled slices of fresh goat’s cheese on green salad, head again for Sauvignon Blanc, Verdejo, a spicy Gewürztraminer or a dry Oloroso sherry.
Roast turkey and trimmings
With roast turkey and all the trimmings, our top choice is the bold, assertive flavour of Australian Shiraz. It copes well with those trimmings (so long as you go easy on the cranberry sauce, which is a bit sweet and sharp). If you prefer white, Chablis makes a delicious pairing.
See where was voted the best place to buy turkey and trimmings.
For a change of meat, beef is brilliant with wines from the Gamay grape, such as Beaujolais (beef doesn’t need a massive, beefy wine), as well as Malbec, Portuguese Touriga Nacional, southern Italian Primitivo or red Zinfandel.
Our guide on how to cook roast beef takes you through buying, preparing and storing your cut.
Vegetarians know that meat substitutes, often based on soya or mycoproteins, are fairly neutrally flavoured. (Quorn is more positively wine-friendly than soya-based protein such as tofu and tempeh.) However, the wine match will depend on the flavours you add.
If Asian flavours (Indian, Chinese, Thai or Japanese), choose whites such as Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Bacchus or Viognier, southern French rosés, or only the lightest of reds.
For dishes with smoky, cheesy flavours, light Tempranillos, Italian reds or soft Malbecs may be better.
Dry rosé is often a good partner for vegetarian food. Veggie food based on root vegetables, with their natural sweetness, needs whites with a little sweetness (off-dry Riesling again, sweeter rosés).
Savoury lentil, bean and chickpea dishes are best with dry whites.
Mushroom dishes can’t cope with big reds, but match happily with reds from grapes such as Pinot Noir, Austrian Zweigelt, and gentle Syrahs and Merlots. For whites, gentle, unoaked Chardonnays are best.
It’s safest to drink white wine with salmon, as red wine tannins react very negatively with the oily fish, although very light Pinot Noirs from Alsace or the Loire Valley can cope. With whites, there are some lovely matches, Portuguese Alvarinho (or Spanish Albariño) goes wonderfully, followed by dry Muscat, or Argentinean Torrontés.
For most white fishes, unoaked Chardonnay is our favourite, followed by white Bordeaux or dry Italian whites such as Soave or Falanghina.
The cheese course
For cheese-loving wine purists, the best course is to serve one cheese with a perfectly matched wine. Some cheeses react with some wines to give weird flavours, and it’s almost impossible to find a single wine that will pair well with all the different cheese styles on a random cheeseboard. White wines (or gently sweet wines) often match better than reds.
One of the great cheese and wine combinations is sweet wine and blue cheese – think Stilton and port, Roquefort and Sauternes. By the way, aged tawny port is far better with Stilton than LBV or vintage port.
Brie is not easy, but gentle low-tannin reds such as Beaujolais or reds from the south of France work.
Camembert is easier, with Rioja Reserva and Châteauneuf-du-Pape the best choices, closely followed by red Burgundy or other Pinot Noirs.
Good Cheddar partners well with a variety of reds, the more mature the cheese, the better the match. Top choices are Douro red (or Touriga Nacional) from Portugal, Italian Rosso di Montalcino, red Burgundy or Rioja Reserva. If you prefer white, Chardonnay, Albariño or Australian dry Riesling are all good.
You’ve eaten and drunk all that and you still want something sweet, and more wine? Maybe the answer is to eat the Christmas pudding on Boxing Day. Whenever, the wine has to be sweet, an Asti or another Moscato Spumante are brilliant, refreshing, perfect in flavour. For a heavyweight, look out for an Australian Liqueur Muscat.
Take a look at our guide to the best Christmas puddings of Christmas 2020.
Top wine for all kinds of chocolate dishes is sweet Muscat. Lighter chocolate styles will prefer the frothy delights of Asti and Moscato Spumante. Darker, more intense chocolate matches with darker Muscats, from Valencia, southern France or Rutherglen, Australia. With really dark chocolate, you could try LBV port.
Sweet Muscat (including Asti) is also the answer for mince pies. Try a 20-year-old Portuguese Moscatel de Setúbal. It’s pricy, but you don’t need much, and it will keep well in the opened bottle.
See what we’ve named the best mince pies for 2020.
Wine for cheesecake depends on the cheesecake’s flavouring, but anything in the citrus family will be best with sweet Muscats.
Pavlova partners perfectly with Sauternes and Barsac, the great sweet whites of Bordeaux.
With trifle, an easy trick is to make the trifle with the wine you intend to drink. It could be a medium or sweet sherry, Moscatel de Valencia or Australian Liqueur Muscat.
Sweet Muscat wines are best if you want wine. But there’s nothing wrong with a cup of tea.