In the Christian world, few celebrations can match the splendor and sumptuousness of Christmas Day. It is a time for spiritual reflection, generosity to those less fortunate, fellowship with family, friends, and even strangers, and most of all, a time for feasting. Roast turkey, ham, goose, roast beef, dressings, potatoes, tons of vegetables, and desserts….and wine. With all of these flavors competing for your taste-buds attention, choosing a wine for Christmas dinner can seem like a daunting task.
The problem is that the very assortment of foods is what makes it so hard to select wines, and unfortunately, there is no magic formula to help you. The “Red with meat, white with poultry and fish”, dogma is out the door when it comes to Christmas dinner. There are just too many flavors to match. There are, however, some good common-sense tips you can follow that will help.
You can start by realizing that one kind of wine is not going to suffice for everything. Plan on buying several varieties of each type. I would recommend at least three reds, three whites, and two good dessert wines, minimum. Of course, If your guests bring wine, just serve what they bring and hope for the best. You don’t want to insult any guests by hinting that their wine is not good enough for you. Chances are, it won’t be all that bad. There is a large margin for error, and odds are that even a randomly selected wine, while maybe not ideal, will be OK.
When selecting wine, you need to keep in mind that you are buying it for your guests, not you. Make your choices according to what your guest prefer (if you know). If your Mother-In Law is crazy about Franzia Chablis in the box, then grab one. This is not a time to economize. It’s only once a year, and we all have a limited number of years to enjoy each other, so make the most of your time. Cooking Christmas Dinner
Make sure you decant the bottle wines, especially young ones. Even a mediocre wine benefits from decanting. Have all the wines at the proper serving temperatures before your guests arrive. And use your best stemware. I don’t care what anyone says; Wine in plastic stemware tastes different than when it is served in glass, or crystal. Plastic kills all the nuances. I would rather drink wine from a glass mason jar than a plastic goblet. I know I have recommended using plastic tulip stemware at weddings, but that is a different situation. Chances are, you won’t be serving 50+ guests with champagne. Weddings are a study in compromises. Christmas dinner is not.
It’s been said that the worst enemy of good wine, is a better one. To this end, you should start with lighter, less expensive wines, and move up to fuller-bodied, more sophisticated wines as the celebrations progress. Finish with full-bodied offerings, such as Campari, Sherries, and Ports. And don’t forget a good full-bodied coffee, like Kenya AA, Ethiopian, or Guatemalan Antiqua.
Matching wine with food is an art, and very individualistic. I can offer a few suggestions to help get you started:
Fino Sherry-the palomino fino grape produces an exquisite pale, delicate sherry that is not overly sweet, and prepares the palate for the delights to come. The best sherries come from Spain (in my opinion). My particular favorite is Palo Corlado, one of the rarest and most mysterious of sherries. It has the nutty aroma of a good Amontillado, with the exquisite flavors of an Oloroso. Pale straw in color, it is sure to please any crowd.
Gewurztraminer-I shy away from white wines before a sumptuous gathering, because the lighter flavors just don’t fit with the bold flavors to come. To me, whites are better served with lighter fare, such as pasta with white sauces, and things with cheese. However, a good Gewurztraminer can hold it’s own with any type of cuisine, with it’s assertive spicy notes, and medium-body.
For Turkey, Goose, and Duck
Burgundy-nothing can match the velvety, supple flavor of a genuine French Burgundy. This is the closest to a wine that will please everyone, as it gets. It goes well with light flavored meats, but can also support more robust entrees like goose, and duck.
Pinot Noir- has all the elegance of Burgundy, with delightful fruity top-notes. Some of the best ones are coming out of S. Africa. This wine will definitely pair with turkey, especially if the bird is smoked. It also pairs nicely with vegetables.
California Zinfandel – In 2000, California produced the best Zinfandel crop ever. You could not possibly go wrong with a 2000-2001 Napa Valley Zinfandel. The spicy, leathery taste will bring out the best in your turkey, goose, or duck.
Bordeaux-Hearty and heady, a good French Bordeaux can put the cap on an outstanding feast. Delicious notes of cedar, black olives and dark berries softly open up, and create a wonderful finale to your Christmas Dinner.
Sherry-now is the time to break out the cream sherries, with their sweet, up front flavors and full-bodies. Served with desserts, they can compliment a wide range of flavors.
The bottom line is that when in doubt, buy what you like. But don’t be afraid to be a little adventurous. Christmas is a great time to try new things.