Christmas is a time for family, friends and fabulously festive food. When you’re the family wine-geek, that means it’s your job to make sure the wines are up to the task. Wine and food-matching is important at any meal, you don’t want your goose to come out perfectly juicy only to find the wine clashes with the cranberry sauce!
My family is your classic Scottish-German hybrid (what, you mean that isn’t classic?) with some slightly strange traditions. We serve Christmas Dinner on Christmas Eve just before we open all the presents – after a performance from each of the children in front of the tree. It’s a bit like the Von McTrapps. Even once the children were old enough to have children of their own, the tradition continued and as families grew, we started to have a ‘second’ Dinner on Christmas Day so that we could celebrate it with the non-Germano-Scottish contingent too. Suddenly it’s not just one meal, it’s two I have to match for; luckily, that means I’ve learned a lot about what goes with what!
Smoked Salmon Gravadlax
My Dad is a big fan of serving this with a shot of something straight from the freezer. If he’d been away to Norway on business that year it would be Aquavit, if not, Vodka. My twist on this is the amazing new St. George Terroir Gin – with pungent pine forest and bay leaf notes, it’s perfect. Drizzle some on the salmon and sip the rest (colder than ice) as you serve.
As children we despised this grey paste of doom, taunting us with a duplicitous jelly topping that was nothing like the sort you serve with ice cream. Unless you’re Heston. Now? Show me foie gras and I’ll go get the Champagne. Foie Gras begs for zesty fruit and a piercing backbone of acidity to help slice through that creamy, fatty goodness. If not champagne, then this Gruner Veltliner is pretty much the last word on the subject. I’ll be on Pol Roger, though!
The Main Event
Wild Venison Casserole
This was always the main course on Christmas Eve, roast parsnip, mashed potato and red cabbage (with spiced apple) on the side. I like a red with a bit of heft for this, and Rustenberg’s RM Nicholson is the perfect match with lashings of dark, spicy fruits, big body and plenty of smooth tannins to help it all down. It’s an outstanding wine for the money.
It’s tempting to dive for a Pinot Noir as the turkey pairing, and if you do then something with plenty fruit and fresh acidity will cut the cranberry. Mud House Pinot Noir is a great choice with good balance – ripe red fruits, raspberry, strawberry and loganberry abound . Personally, I love a good white burgundy with my Turkey, and Christopher Cordier’s Macon-Fuisse is outstanding for the price.
As Christmas fowl goes, goose is quite a rich meat and as with Turkey, I would lean towards white before I picked a red. A wine with body but enough zest to cut through the fattiness of the goose is required, and New Zealand Pinot Gris is a bold – if esoteric – choice. Black Cottage Pinot Gris has stone fruit aplenty, with nectarine and a tickle of ginger spice backed up with mineral freshness.
Lay on the brandy, set it aflame and serve generously with brandy butter, or cream if you prefer. A little pudding wine, perhaps? Rustenberg’s Straw Wine is an absolute stunner. Racy acidity, luscious candied stone fruits, ripe juicy lemon, orange peel, mango and a touch of dried sultana. Some of which you might even have put in the pudding.
The Cheese Board
Save some of everything from the meal – cheeses are varied and it’s a shame to have the same wine with all of them. Creamy Brie and Chardonnay are stunning together. Hard cheddar and Bordeaux are great. Stilton works really well with dessert wine, or port if you prefer.
And after all that? Crack open the Armagnac, put your feet up and help yourself to some more Christmas pud.