Winning with Wine this Christmas

Jonny holding glass of red wine
Jonny Tyson, Training & Education Manager - Ellis Wines

Choosing wine at Christmas can be a daunting task...

Many of us will be seeing family with different ideas and tastes. What does Granny like? Will Dad approve of the red I’ve brought along? Do people want white or red? And of course, there’s always someone who reckons they are a wine expert, ready to offer an unwelcome opinion.

The first thing to think about is that wine is not just for the big meal itself, but options may be required for starters or canapés too. There may be people who aren’t drinking alcohol but want to have a 'grown-up' drink to toast the season, not just some sparkling water or fizzy pop.

Where to start

Let’s start at the beginning and look at some great options for when your family and friends arrive. Sparkling wine, often called 'Fizz' in the trade, is never a bad idea, and goes well with a host of snacks or canapés. Whether it’s some smoked salmon, pâté on toast or - if you’re pushing the boat out - the classic caviar, sparkling wine is a great accompaniment.

My choice would be a Crémant; a wonderful traditional method (think Champagne method) sparkler from France. If you want to step up from Prosecco without paying Champagne prices, then Crémant really is a great value choice.

Why not try Crémant de Loire Les Quaterons Domaine Amirault from the Loire Valley? It’s a delicious wine made with Chenin and Chardonnay, spending 18 months on the lees and has a soft, complex flavour of baked apple, lemon and brioche. Delicious!

If it’s an English fizz you prefer, then Sharpham Classic Cuvée is a great place to start. The Devon vineyards are renowned for their Pinot Noir and this blend is dominated with this noble grape. The remainder is made up of Chardonnay for a beautiful balance and will be sure to impress your guests as they are welcomed through the door with a glass of this vibrant wine.

For many people, alcohol free is a must for several reasons. The poor ‘designated driver’ may have to watch while others imbibe with abandon to get them all home safely. To ensure no one is left out, consider a bottle of alcohol-free wine from Thomson-Scott. They produce fantastic fizz, riveting reds and wonderful white wines all without alcohol.

Wine for Christmas Dinner

For the main event, most of us will be having Turkey with as many trimmings we can muster, and although we often look at the protein of a dish when working out a pairing, for me, taking note of everything else and the cooking method is equally important. The classic go-to option is a red and white Burgundy, keeping most people happy and are excellent choices. But for me, I’m going to suggest looking slightly further afield...

Red wine options

For a medium-bodied red with lots of freshness, flavour and echoing the classic accompaniment of cranberry sauce, look to Northern Italy and the Barbera grape. Full of vibrant red fruit the Barbera d'Alba La Gemella from Viberti Giovanni has a perfect balance. It has 9 months barrel aging with plenty of depth while maintaining a brightness that keeps you going through a long and rich meal.

White wine options

The white wine choice is a great chance to explore Chardonnay from outside of France. Australia is a great country for this famous grape and in the cool Clare Valley we find a Chardonnay from Paulett’s Polish Hill River vineyards. A touch of oak adds some texture with honeyed vanilla notes to back up the lemon zest, melon and peach. A modern and refreshing style of Chardonnay that will cover most starters and lead effortlessly onto the main, staying the distance for the whole meal.

Something a little different...

A wildcard option is always fun, and thinking pink for Christmas is not as crazy as you might have thought! Spain produces some flavoursome Rosados and the La Cepa de Pelayo, Ole de Rose is a deeply coloured and textured rosé that can handle a big Christmas meal. Made in Manchuela, right next door to Valencia, this is a wine from the Bobal grape that is punchy and ripe with buckets of red berry notes, pomegranate and hints of spice. Take a chance and try a bottle, but make sure you have some left over for the Christmas ham. This will be a sleeper hit with the classic spiced ham as well as all those leftovers sandwiches that I am already looking forward to.

Not forgetting the sweet wine

The classic Christmas pudding served with a Brandy or Rum butter cream always seems like a challenge after such a momentous main, but remains a favourite for a good reason. It’s intense, often boozy and supremely rich. A dry wine will usually cower in the corner trying to get a look in with the sweetness of the pud making those elegant flavours disappear. So why not have a well-deserved rest between courses and enjoy your main course wine before taking on the grand finale? One wine that will go not only with your pudding but also take on some mature cheddar or Blue Stilton (if you still have room) is a delicious Tawny Port. The benefit of a Tawny is that after opening they will happily last a month or two, unlike the ruby styles such as LBV. The flavours are better with a variety of cheeses as well as Christmas pudding too. I would take a bottle of Taylor’s 20-year Tawny Port as the perfect wine to finish with, and you’ll taste caramelised walnuts and hazelnuts with layers of spice, sultana and raisin that are joined with a sweetness that can hold its own with a rich dessert.

If you’re looking for a something a bit different and want to surprise your dinner guests, then how about a fortified sweet wine from France? A Vin Doux Naturel from the most southerly appellation in the country, Banyuls is made from Grenache grapes right next to the Spanish Border, fortified but lighter in body than Port. The Banyuls Rimage Cornet & Cie Mise Tardive is a fabulous dessert wine with intense stewed berry fruit, red cherry and raspberry jam, alongside a spiced cocoa note. This is a great alternative and will go with the Yule log if you’re going for a chocolate option, as well as a wide variety of cheeses.

In summary

Whatever you choose to drink over the Christmas holidays, or maybe you’re the one recommending wine for a customer, remember to keep your mind open to different possibilities, differing tastes and think about the food you’re having. It’s a great chance to change things up and enjoy exploring an ever-growing and delicious world of wine!

By Jonny Tyson