In order to make sure you enjoy your Christmas dinner as much as possible I've created the below guide to take a small portion of the holiday stress off your plates. If you are unsure what to match your dinner with when it comes to wine then read on.
I am lucky enough to have a wine fridge (it is my job so it’s a must-have for me) filled with a variety of wine which means I don't really need to plan ahead for my food and wine matches if you aren't as obsessed with wine as me then you might not think this worth the investment or the space.
In that case, you will need to choose your Xmas drink a little in advance so the below information will arm you with all the info you need as you start to shop.
We’re all wonderfully different
Depending on where you were brought up and what you believe Christmas has different meanings for everyone – I have no desire to delve into that minefield – but what I’m hoping is that the one thing we all agree on is that it is also (mainly) about the food.
The image of a family (in any sense of the word) sitting around a table and munching their way through a veritable feast is always how I think of Christmas. Being me and my family there is also copious amounts of liquid in various forms to go alongside said feast.
Around the world, the food varies massively, even in the UK there is a divide between those who eat goose and the much more prevalent turkey it's around 2.5% of goose (250000) compared to turkey (10 million).
I’m reliably informed by people who live all around the world that turkey is not so common for Xmas although it does pop up in a few places.
What do they eat in different countries?
Japan seems to have a major craving for fried chicken at this time of year – with families having to order in advance to secure their KFC – made popular one year when KFC released a Xmas video offering a change to the usual fare.
Bulgaria focuses on a vegan Christmas Eve eating at least seven different dishes (it has to be an odd number – she couldn’t tell me why) as part of the Lenten tradition of fasting. Then on Christmas day the meat and dairy return. Safe to say at our house I cook Christmas dinner and my wife cooks Christmas Eve dinner.
Portugal seems to go to town on pastries and desserts after eating salted cod. The pastries and cakes are the highlights it seems with various types of fruitcake (Bolo Rei and Bolo Rainha) that are not quite as solid as the ones eaten here, with lots of fried and deep-fried treats coated in sugar and cinnamon, there’s also a fairly strange one that looks like a bloodsucking lamprey fish.
Germany tends to go for goose, rabbit, or duck, but the highlight (at least for me) is Stollen, this is the ultimate Christmas cake in my opinion but that’s probably because I would (when the wife’s away) eat marzipan straight from the packet. Wash this down with lashings of Glühwein or Feuerzangenbowle (mulled wine rum punch) and you’re all set for a very merry Christmas.
Scandinavia is of course more than just one country so there is a variety of different dishes from Reindeer stew (sorry Santa) to a more classic baked ham (with some Herring) alongside a smörgåsbord of other delicious dishes.
I missed a few (more than a few)
There is a lot more variety out there than I can cover here, such as Fermented skate, Herring under a fur coat (please google it), The feast of the seven fishes, and Emperor moth caterpillars to name just a few.
Wherever you are around the world there will hopefully be some delicious food on your table and if you’re anything like us then we blend our traditions.
Feel free to drop a comment below with your favourite Xmas foods from your country and I'll add it to the post (after a little research of course).
Now, what do we drink with all of these wonderful things?
Of course, it is all down to personal taste and what might work for me may not be for you – so proceed with caution (not really – just go for it! The worst problem you’ll have is having to drink the wine before or after you’ve eaten the food).
I’ll give you the classic matches for some of the dishes and the reasons behind them. You must also take into account the sides you will serve as they will make a big impact on the pairing.
These are incredibly indulgent meats with copious amounts of fat dripping off them (gives you enough for your roast potatoes for a year (maybe)). In order to cut through all that fatty goodness, you want a wine with a fair amount of acidity. So, bring out the Rieslings and Gewürztraminers (just keep an eye on the sweetness) or if you want a red then your best bet is a juicy Pinot noir or a well-structured Barolo.
I like to go a bit off the wall on this one and mention sour beers (the Duchess) and some natural wines that will have enough acidity and fruity character to fulfill the place of the Riesling and Pinot combined.
The classic matches here are going to be a nice light red wine like a Gamay (Beaujolais) or a Pinot Noir – these are both going to be light-bodied and fruity and packed full of soft red fruit to go well with that cranberry sauce.
White wines we are going to need something a bit bigger and bolder to match against the (hopefully) crispy skin so we’d be aiming for an oaked chardonnay – whether this is a classic Burgundy or one from slightly further afield the US, SA, Australia and Chile all have spectacular options.
This one probably seems fairly easy, bring on the Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz or a big punchy Barolo and your golden – I’m always a bit cautious about this for the simple reason that when I cook roast beef it tends to be so bloody it might just wander off the table, big powerful red with a delicately cooked piece of beef is going to overwhelm it. So, keep in mind your cooking method and how well done your joint will be before bringing out the big guns.
That said they are the classic matches for a reason, so a Cab Sav, Malbec, Shiraz (Syrah), or a Carmenere will do a great job. You can also try a Brunello di Montalcino or a Ribeiro del Duero if you fancy something a bit different.
This all depends on the glaze, how long or if you soak your ham, and what spices you’ve thrown into the mix. Rieslings and Gewürztraminers will stand up to the fat and the intensity of the wines will be a good match, the spicy elements in the Gewürz will stand up to the clove and star anise you might have used on the ham.
Pinot Noirs tend to be the staple for Xmas matches as they generally are light-bodied, fruity, and have enough acidity to balance the fat, in this instance I’d be aiming for one with a bit more fruit and structure so a Central Otago PN is going to be perfect. I’d also lay a Valpolicella in front of ham and enjoy the lovely sour cherry notes that will sing with some sweet spices from the ham.
It may sound strange but sparkling wine (Champagne, Crémant, Cava, Prosecco or English Sparkling – the options are almost endless) is your best bet in this scenario – the acidity from the wine will cut through the fat from the frier and will make the food lighter in comparison and the carbonation will make a pleasant counterpoint to the crunchy goodness from the skin giving a very pleasant tactile experience.
If you are covering your fried chicken with gravy then the normal suggestion would be a Pinot Noir – but I like to throw the idea of a sparkling red your way – think a sparkling Aussie Shiraz.
Salt brings out the sweetness and fruit in wine so wines with high acidity will work well in this case. I like the idea that the locals know best (this tends to be the best food and wine matching advice around (if it grows together, it goes together)).
Vinho Verde or a Douro white will work very nicely, failing that we’re back to Pinot Noir, Riesling, Picpoul, and Albariño or Alvarinho, all with the high acidity to balance the salt.
I tend to skip giving advice on this one for the simple reason that saying one wine will match with Chinese food is the same as saying one wine will match all of the foods above – there is simply too much wonderful variety to simplify it to that extent.
Saying that the logic behind the matches above will also translate for whatever dishes you’ve cooked (ordered?) for your feast.
Wrapping it up
Whatever you are eating and drinking over the Christmas period I hope you have a wonderful holiday and enjoy yourselves.
To find out a little more about how wine and food pairing works then take a look at this post.