Canapés Pair with: champagne or sparkling wine
Nothing says celebration like some bubbles, and these can be surprisingly versatile when it comes to food. While prosecco might be an obvious choice for many, its sweetness isn't the best foil for snacks and canapés. Most things in the small and salty world will go much better with champagne: caviar and oysters are particularly good matches, while foie gras and toast makes a gloriously indulgent partner to pass around.
It has to be a dry champagne to pair with savoury snacks; Bruno Paillard's ‘Dosage Zero’ is elegant and bone dry, perfect for cutting through anything creamy and fatty, while The Wine Society's lovely, balanced Brut NV is a classic all-rounder, rich and toasty but with plenty of fresh fruity zest.
English sparkling wine is such a brilliant alternative to champagne if you want to support something home-grown. The Rathfinny estate in Alfriston produces some really delightful wines, and their Classic Cuvee 2018 is a clean, crisp yet buttery vintage at a slightly more affordable price than champagne.
Even more affordable options come in the form of the French champagne-style wines known as crémant. Numerous wine regions produce crémant, including Burgundy, the Loire Valley, Alsace and Bordeaux, and you can find some brilliant bubbles in the sub-£20 price bracket.
Starters Pair with: a light-bodied white wine
If you're headed into a full-blown roast Christmas dinner, chances are your starter will be something on the lighter side, typically involving smoked salmon, perhaps a scallop or two, even a ceviche if you're feeling complicated. For such dishes, a light and zingy white wine is the way to go, especially if you've got richer white wines or full-bodied reds on the way. Chablis is a classic accompaniment to light seafood dishes, and Berry Bros. & Rudd have an excellent example in their own label collection. We also love this beautifully apple-tinged Gavi from Piedmont, sourced by Italian wine specialists Passione Vino, and also this pure and elegant dry Vouvray from Cave Bristol.
Turkey and all the trimmings Pair with: Pinot Noir or an oaky Chardonnay
There are a few typical wine pairings for the traditional roast turkey dinner and all that goes with it–roast potatoes, carrots, parsnips, brussel sprouts and so on. One option is a reasonably rich and full-bodied white wine, something with just enough acidity to cut through all the fat, but enough richness and fruit to play nicely with the sweeter elements of the meal, such as parsnips cooked in honey. If you're cooking duck or goose instead of turkey, much the same applies.
Australian winemakers Penfolds make some excellent wines for Christmas day, and their Bin 311 Chardonnay is a brilliant, well-balanced option to go with roast turkey. There's quite enough citrussy zest to be refreshing in the face of all that gravy, but the oak gives it a strong backbone and soft peachy notes bring out the best in roast vegetables. Even more honeyed and nectar-like is The Wine Society's Clos Floridène Blanc, a 2019 vintage from the Graves region of Bordeaux.
The other standard pairing for the turkey dinner is a Pinot Noir, a light-medium-bodied style of red wine that brings out the best in cranberry sauce and pigs in blankets, but won't overpower the lighter flavours of the turkey. Burgundy, New Zealand and the northwestern regions of the US make some brilliant Pinots, but England is fast becoming a competitor. The Bolney Estate in West Sussex makes some of the most delicious English Pinot Noir out there, zingy and full of berries but with a pleasing smokiness that adds complexity. Other lighter styles of red wine can work well too; Martin Hagen, wine specialist and founder of Cave Bristol, recommends a light and juicy Sangiovese with plenty of berry flavours to accompany turkey.
Gammon: pair with a fruity red such as Californian Zinfandel, or a zingy white such as Gewurztraminer or Riesling
If turkey or other poultry dishes feel a bit blah, gammon is a marvellous alternative, and also works very well for Christmas Eve or Boxing Day suppers. Gammon tends to be cooked with a sweet glaze made with maple syrup and spices like cloves and allspice, so you want a wine that has a little sweetness and spice in its nature. A soft and fruity Californian Zinfandel will echo the sugar in the glaze, while for white wines, a Gewurztraminer or Riesling can incorporate hints of sweetness and a pleasing element of spice too.
Beef: pair with a full-bodied red, such as Argentinian Malbec
We absolutely love the idea of an opulent beef wellington for Christmas day, and something that rich and heavy needs a hefty red wine to go with it. Argentina is famous for its beef production, so it only makes sense that the country's wines would make suitable partners for such dishes. Velvety and packed with berries, this is a heavenly accompaniment to an indulgent beef dinner.
Lamb: pair with an aged Bordeaux
The classic pairing for roast lamb is a fine claret, whose fragrant floral notes, rich berries and soft tannins bring out all the complex flavours of lamb. Segla, the second wine of Chateau Rauzan Segla, is a favourite, and the 2014 vintage available from Marlo is a spectacular bottle. It also makes a wonderful gift; the team at Marlo will package it beautifully and send it out with next day delivery.
Dessert and cheese Pair with: a sweet wine or port
For Christmas pudding, it has to be a sweet wine–nothing else could hope to compete with that level of fruit and spice. Sauternes, the nectar-like wine produced in Bordeaux, is a perennial favourite, and you can find an affordable version at Fortnum & Mason, who produce it near to the legendary vineyards of Château d'Yquem. Hungarian Tokaji Aszú is the other star in this world, with a refreshing acidity to balance out its incredible lusciousness. For a real treat, try the heavenly Patricius 6 Puttonyos. The best thing about sweet wines is that they take you right through the cheese course as well: one of these with a deeply savoury blue cheese is as close to food pairing heaven as you're likely to get.