If you are anything like me, the month of December means opening advent calendars (both the chocolate and non-chocolate varieties), decorating your home for the upcoming festivities (we’re going with a blue, sliver and white theme this year, no doubt inspired by Frozen) and planning your holiday meals…with a festive wine.
In our house, it’s roast duck on Christmas Eve, turkey on the 25th, and lots of leftovers on Boxing Day! So for wine lovers, this is also an ideal time to choose your wines to perfectly complement those festive family moments (or to help you get through them!)
Wines to accompany poultry
As most of us will be serving some sort of bird, be it turkey, goose or pheasant, white wine immediately comes to mind, and generally experts recommend some sort of Pinot Gris or Riesling — wines with rich body as well as earthiness that work well with most poultry. And if you want to pull out all the stops, consider a white from the Southern Rhone valley, such as a white Châteauneuf de Pape, which will be much more complex and rounder (I recently tried 2014 Cuvée des Générations Marie-Léoncie from the Château de la Gardine that was highly aromatic and opulent).
But you can also be adventurous by proposing a light red – a fruity pinot noir or a gamay are a great combination, and of course Bourgogne produces some of the best pinot noirs in the world! To keep the cost reasonable, I suggest a Beaujolais, such as a Brouilly or a Fleurie.
Choosing wines for game and ham
If you are serving something more gamey, such as duck or pheasant, then you can easily plump for a stronger red. The red Châteauneuf de Pape wines work very well (Domaine de Cristia is currently one of my favourites), as do other red wines from the Rhone valley such as Gigondas (Santa Duc Gigondas Grand Grenache 66 is particularly yummy) and Vaqueras.
For those ham lovers, fruity and fresh reds that also have some tannins are recommended, especially a Givry from Bourgogne or a Saint Nicholas de Bourgueil from the Loire Valley (try Domaine de la Cotelleraie for good quality for the price). Or if you want a trip on the wild side, a Pinot Noir from Alpha Estate in Greece will definitely turn some heads.
Pairing with entrées
As for the entrées, if you are opting for prawns, lobster or langoustines, look for opulent and expressive whites such as an Alsace Reisling or Gewurztraminer, Pouilly Fuissé, or even a white Châteauneuf de Pape. Smoked salmon pairs well with champagne (try some of the smaller producers to keep costs in check, such as Pierre Moncuit), but also chardonnay such as Chablis (I recommend Jean Marc Brocard) or even a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire (Sancerre). In all cases, look for a white that provides some freshness to cut through the oiliness as well as minerality to balance the smoked flavour.
If foie gras is more to your liking, besides the classic pairing with Sauternes, you may want to consider a semi-sweet Jurançon (Domaine Cauhapé does a great series of sweet and semi-sweet whites that complement terrines) or deeper reds such as Corbières for foie gras poêlé.
And for dessert…
As for dessert, I’m a big fan of porto if you are serving a chocolate bûche as the pièce de resistance. Sandeman’s 20-year tawny port matches the chocolate’s bitterness while still keeping its aromatic flavors intact. For desserts centered on exotic fruits or citrus, wines based on the muscat grape variety work particularly well, such as a sweet white from Gaillac.
If berries are more your forté, consider sweet grenat wines that often are characterized by mature red and black fruit flavors. As long as you keep in mind the cardinal rule – always chose a wine that is sweeter than your dessert – you should not have too much difficulty in ending your meal on a perfect note.
If this all seems too much to retain while shopping, don’t hesitate to ask your wine merchant to help you pair your menu. That’s why they’re there, and they may just introduce you to some even more adventurous combinations. Let the festivities begin!