Great wine for festive feasting: best drinks to pair with Christmas dishes
Christmas is just around the corner, and with it comes the joy of festive gatherings. Whether you’re planning an intimate evening with friends, or preparing a grand Christmas spread for the whole family, you can create a memorable celebration with the perfect wine pairing for every occasion.
Here, The Wine Flyer shares its top wine picks to complement festive feasting, guiding us through a world of bubbles, reds, whites and rosés, while recommending the best pairings for all kinds of occasions – from seasonal snacks to the big day’s celebratory meal.
Nibbles and bubbly
Whet the appetite of your guests and kick off the Christmas festivities with an assortment of delicious seasonal goodies – everything from cheese straws, olives and vegan sausage rolls to smoked salmon blinis, chicken liver paté and pigs in blankets. Serve up the smorgasbord and set the festive tone with a little bubbly, because fizz is a great option to go with canapés and nibbles.
Kelly Stevenson from The Wine Flyer has travelled to vineyards across the world, studying the art of wine since the age of 18. “The festive period is all about food and celebration so for me, it’s posh sparkling wine season – time to pop the vintage Champagne and full bodied wines,” she says.
If you’ve got a big gathering – and are hoping to stick to a budget – opt for Cava, Spain’s signature sparkling wine. “Cava is made the same way as Champagne or Crémant, so has a lovely depth of flavour with lots of the same notes,” she explains. And for those caught between red or white, rosé is a good go-to: it makes for a versatile choice that complements the variety of flavours served up on a Christmas buffet.
Christmas dinner delight
Eating turkey at Christmastime is a tradition that stretches back to the 16th century, when it’s believed that Henry VIII opted for the meat instead of goose on the big day. Nowadays, turkey is one of the most popular Christmas centrepieces across the UK – but what should you wash it down with?
“Turkey is an interesting meat, as it has a more distinctive taste than chicken but isn’t as powerful as a roast beef,” Stevenson says. “There are some great wines to go with the classic turkey roast on the big day.”
If you’re a white wine-lover, opt for a bold Chardonnay with a little oak ageing. Try the Bread & Butter Chardonnay from California (£15.99) for a New World option.
For those favouring a touch of pink, go for a premium rosé from Provence, such as Rock Angel Côtes de Provence Rosé 2021 (£29.99) from Chateau d’Esclans. “With red berry, zesty fruit notes and a very balanced acidity, integrated with a creamy, long finish, it holds well with the crispy skin, herby stuffing and the fullness of the meat,” she says.
If your guests prefer a full-bodied red, look to Marlborough – Pinot Noir is a great option. Tiki Estate’s Pinot Noir (£14.99) has a traditional taste profile and is also great value for money.
Toasting the King’s speech
As the clock ticks towards 3pm, it’s time to tune in to the King’s Christmas Day speech and make a toast.
To mark the occasion, go for a bottle of English fizz – because British crops have been producing top quality wines over the past decade of vintages.
Hattingley Valley’s Blanc de Blancs 2014 (£39.99) is crafted from Chardonnay grapes and has notes of shortbread and yoghurt. “It has a small but defined and robust mousse, then a finish that brings brioche and biscuit notes – hard to say no to a second glass,” the connoisseur adds.
Celebrate with a festive wine case
Winter wine warmer
If you’re hosting a cosy gathering with friends or neighbours in the run-up to Christmas, you might want to make a little mulled wine to warm their spirits. Brewing a batch at home calls for choosing a wine that hasn’t been aged in oak, and isn’t too tannic.
“The best wines for making a mulled wine are youthful fruity reds, medium-bodied with enough structure to stand up to the fruits and spices you’ll be adding in the pot,” Stevenson advises. “Consider a young Merlot from southwest France or Chile, Zinfandel or Primitivo, Grenache or Montepulciano. The alcohol content can be medium to high as this will boil off during the mulling process.”
When choosing a wine to go with a Christmassy cheese board, you could pick out a port as an all-round complement. The Borges 20-year-old Tawny Port (£43.99) is a winner of a wine that will work with a variety of flavours, including all your favourite accompaniments, such as crackers, grapes, figs and olives.
But if your board skews towards hard cheeses – like Parmigiano, Grana Padano, Pecorino, cheddar, Gruyère and Emmental – then oak-flavoured wines work well. “The Bodegas Taron Pantocrator (£31.49) from Rioja 2010 vintage is sublime with hard cheeses,” Stevenson says.
Raise a glass to the unexplored
Dare to be different by introducing your guests to some undiscovered gems this Christmas.
Venture into Portugal's winemaking legacy – and add a touch of global charm to your celebrations – with the lesser-known Vinho Verde. Literally translated as green wine, the name refers to the fresh and youthful nature of the drink, rather than its colour.
Vinho Verde is a light and sparkling white wine that packs a subtle fizz. “The Borges Alvarinho is a great wine to try at this time of year as it’s round and creamy on the palate, yet full of citrus fruit notes and lovely fresh acidity to balance with a festive feast,” Stevenson says.
Transport your taste buds to the sun-drenched vineyards of Santorini with a wine made from the Assyrtiko grape – a Greek delight that pairs perfectly with seasonal seafood dishes. “Greece is storming the popularity charts especially with the white wines,” she adds. Her top recommendation is the Santorini Assyrtiko 2021 (£35.99) from the multi-award-winning producer Domaine Sigalas.
For a touch of South African flair, savour the red blends from the Stellenbosch region – rich, full-bodied creations blending Cabernet and Merlot – that make ideal companions to heartier Christmas fare. Stevenson says: “For a very seasonal style, South Africa has some excellent red blends that mimic the full bodied-and famed red wines of Bordeaux but with a much more palatable price tag.”
Look out for Bordeaux-style blends including the Glenelly Glass Collection Cabernet Sauvignon (£14.99), Glenelly Lady May 2016 (£39.99) or the Ernie Els Signature Bordeaux Blend 2016 (£57.99).
Finish off the evening with something sweet, and punt for a dessert wine – Vergelegen Semillon Straw (£15.99) is a top pick for its rich and tropical flavours. This drink is best served chilled, and pairs well with light, creamy puddings.