The Christmas tunes have been on repeat for weeks. It may be 'the most wonderful time of the year' so is it time to break out the most wonderful wine of the year? And which wine might that be?
Forget about rigid rules; choosing your Christmas wine is all about personal taste, budget, and the folks you're celebrating with. Still, the perennial holiday dilemmas persist: what to buy, what to gift, what to pour, and what to skip.
Rather than tackling these questions solo, this year I've enlisted a dream team of wine professionals. Picture this: a renowned wine author, a Master of Wine, a Master Sommelier, an award-winning wine influencer, and a natural wine enthusiast and importer. They bring a mix of expertise and personality to the table, with varied opinions but a unanimous nod to Champagne as the Christmas essential.
So, grab a glass and dive into their advice on the perfect wines to serve, gift ideas (and what to avoid), and top-notch pairings for your festive feast – from Turkey to Cheese to Puddings. Cheers to a season of excellent sipping!
What type of wine is best for Christmas?
Margaret Rand: "Whatever your guests will like best. Match the wine to the guests, always. Pretty much any wine goes well enough with turkey, and unless they’re interested in wine most of them won’t notice anyway. If they have fixed opinions, cater to those fixed opinions. They’ll be happy and say what a wonderful time they had. If they only drink red or only drink white, give them that.They’ll be happy and say what a wonderful time they had."
Anne Krebiehl MW: "The best wines to drink are those that have a broad appeal and are not extreme: for me personally that means traditional method fizz that is a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with proper time on lees so the bubbles are smooth, with an extra brut or brut dosage, what I want is smooth flow, freshness and elegance – as much as I love racy, steely Blanc de Blancs, I know that some people find them too strident. For red this means a lighter-style, fresh, red-fruited Pinot Noir in my house, with much fruit and only understated oak. That means no heaviness, food friendliness and drinkability."
Stefan Neumann MS: "The ones which bring joy and fun to you and your family. May it be something “classic” or experimental – as long as it creates a good vibe. I try not to overthink what are the “perfect” pairings, I rather choose the wine according to who’s attending. If you have an aunt who is madly in love with Brunello and fish – so be it."
Luma Monteiro: "The best wines are the wines you already love the most. Christmas is about sharing, so I would bring bottles I already love to share with family and friends and tell them why. For example, I am bringing to Christmas a lovely Lambrusco di Sorbara that I discovered on my recent trip to Bologna because I think it would be very nice with Turkey. I would recommend people think about what they drunk that was really remarkable and bring to their family dinners. There is no right or wrong in wine drinking!"
Sean Evans: "I drink loads of natural wines throughout the year, but for some strange reason I gravitate towards classic styles at Christmas. There's something regal and celebratory about popping a famous Bordeaux or a grand marque Champagne. I can get back to pet nat and funky natties on Boxing Day though."
Which wines should I serve my guests at Christmas?
Margaret Rand: "Say you have eg. Italian guests, or Spanish guests or NZ guests or whatever, should you serve wines from those countries? Depends. Only if it’s very good, and only if they know about wine in the first place. If you think they’ll be pleased and flattered to have their national wine, go ahead. But remember that nobody is just ‘French’ or ‘Italian’: local loyalties may be stronger than national ones. And that can get complicated. Serving something good from the other side of the world can be easier."
Anne Krebiehl MW: "I suggest wines at a price they feel comfortable with, even if the guests drink a lot – and I would steer away from any extremes – no heaviness, no super high acid, no blockbuster oak. But the best advice here is to go to an independent wine shop, state your budget and your food menu and take some professional, bespoke advice!"
Stefan Neumann MS: "First impressions are everything when hosting. A great glass of fizz, ideally from a magnum, served in a wine glass will set the scene for all the wonderful things to come. Besides, it generally puts everyone at ease from the get-go and hopefully sparks a few good conversations."
Luma Monteiro: "The only thing I would say is to reserve sweet wines for pudding. Sweet wines are difficult to pair but with desserts they are marvellous. I would even go further and recommend Champagne or sparkling before dinner, a glass of fizz will open up you appetite and it’s so refreshing and delicious. Just a reminder that some white wines will go very well with Turkey and vegetables like a lovely Chard or a crisp Sauvignon Blanc that will may be the only pair for the brussels sprouts."
Sean Evans: "Traditional method sparkling wines go with anything and are perfect for celebrations, lighter reds are tried and tested for turkey and maybe consider a splash of sweet wine to go with the salty cheeses or xmas pud. It might be a good idea to serve wines that will please the crowd. I for example don't serve me mam anything too challenging, she likes approachable fruity styles of wine. I save the best bangers for people who appreciate it."
What wine do you bring to a Christmas dinner?
Margaret Rand: "Preferably nothing that is going to cause last-minute distractions for the hostess. Nothing gift-wrapped that requires scissors. Absolutely no flowers. I speak from the heart."
Anne Krebiehl MW: "I think a decent bottle of Champagne NEVER goes amiss. And failing that, who does not like a really good bottle of olive oil?"
Stefan Neumann MS: "Something you feel passionate about or something where you comfortably can have a conversation and tell a little story. Wine is a great ice breaker. My go-to varieties are often a Grüner Veltliner from Wachau or an Assyrtiko from Santorini. Both work beautifully with your Christmas Roast too but can be easily enjoyed throughout the dinner."
Luma Monteiro: "You cannot go wrong with Champagne or sparkling wines or even bring a special Port, or Sherry for pudding. I am sure will be appreciated by the host. Bring something that you can tell the reason why, something that you like or you’ve drunk in a special occasion and loved it! Christmas is all about stories as well! Pro-tip here, if you can find a nice magnum, oh that is great for sharing and a showstopper for sure!"
Sean Evans: "I love it when my guests offer to make a side dish. If you are taking a dish or a bottle of something, a very thoughtful approach would be take something that won't overshadow the host's stuff. If you take something too good and it pisses all over the hosts food and drink, it may get awkward."
What gift should I bring to a wine-loving host?
Margaret Rand: "Chocolates. Olive oil. Unless you know what wine your wine-loving host likes, don’t go there. And if you’re sure, make it a good bottle from a good year. Don’t bring wine gadgets. They only have to be taken to the charity shop."
Anne Krebiehl MW: "A very good bottle of fizz, preferably Champagne, plus a proper Champagne clamp to reseal the bottle in between pours."
Stefan Neumann MS: "Fortnum's Winter Sparkling Tea (5% ABV) made by Copenhagen Sparkling Tea. It’s a wonderfully intriguing, layered and complex beverage – perfect for your Christmas breakfast. Personally, I love it on its own, or while cooking. Anyone who loves wines will appreciate this superb alternative."
Luma Monteiro: "I would say to go beyond just bottle of wines. I love wine related gifts like wine charms, wine books, t-shirts with funny wine quotes and so on…"
Sean Evans: "A gift for a wine loving host would be the jigsaw of the wine regions. There's no better way to de-stress from the Xmas build up and to learn a wine region than staring at it for hours on end whilst sipping wine and eating cheese."
How to find Best-Value Wine... and which wine worth Splurging on?
Margaret Rand: "There are lots of seasonal offers. You should splurge on whatever you like best."
Anne Krebiehl MW: For best value, " I think Beaujolais ticks many boxes, as does well-made Chianti – but honestly, I do not know where to begin – there is so much great wine out there. Also make use of the many special seasonal offers, take advantage of the shops where you can try/taste before you buy." Splurge: "Champagne- no question."
Stefan Neumann MS: For best-value, "Rather than suggesting one wine I rather highlight one country – South Africa. The wines are getting better and more refined with every vintage. From world class Pinot Noir to white and red Bordeaux blends which are often second to none price and quality wise. Old-vine Chenin Blanc is another one to watch. The only thing moving rather slowly in South Africa are the prices." Splurge: "Anything from Domaine Fourrier or Sylvain Cathiard – It's not about the fact that this is the now so hyped red Burgundy category. For me it’s the smile I get from my wife when opening one of these precious bottles. No money in the world can replicate this!"
Luma Monteiro: "There are plenty of best value wines out there, but Spanish wines are amongst the finest you can find. You could even go bold and discover new things like Rias Baixas Albarino which is the most delicious tangy, crisp wine out there and can open the way for the dinner. And you cannot go wrong with Rioja, can you?. Try also, reds from South of France which can brings you spicy warmth and Argentinian Malbecs are still a to-go and will keep you filled with joy. If you want a great option for affordable sparkling, go outside Champagne and try the Cremants which is basically the same method but from different regions in France and sometimes the same blend Chard/Pinot Noir." Splurge on "Champagne all day! Starting the season with a glass of Champagne is the utmost luxury. But I would also say Burgundy. A red Burgundy with Turkey would be magical!"
Sean Evans: "If you want value, go for less famous names. Swap Champagne for Cava, Bordeaux for Rioja Reserva these are easy swaps that will save you money without compromising on flavour. Big names, famous chateaus, top appellations you're always going to be paying a premium. There are loads of bargains to be had in Spain, Portugal, Greece and Eastern European countries too. In the UK, I rarely go below a tenner on a bottle of wine though, theres so much duty, VAT, shipping costs that there's nowt left after that for anyone to make any money and the quality inevitably suffers." Splurge: "I spend far too much money on Germany Riesling at Christmas, it's a wine people often ignore but you really do need to spend some money to get the top wines from the best vineyards, GG wines for the best dry rizzas, the super sweet trockenbeerenauslese wines made from the most shrivelled, sugariest grapes are astonishingly good but they are labour intensive and made on a small scale. These wines have balance too thanks to the high acidity so don't be put off by the prospect of residual sugar if the wine is made by a top grower. "
Which wines go best with cheese and dessert?
Margaret Rand: "White wine is best and safest with most cheese: something with some body and weight. I don’t have a favourite pudding and wine combo because I don’t have a sweet tooth and would rather have cheese."
Anne Krebiehl MW: "I think a demi-sec Champagne often is better than a dessert – but since there usually is chocolate at Christmas, I would invest in a good bottle of Tawny Port, this tastes of Christmas itself and goes so well with any nut-chocolate combo – plus this combo is so delicious that even warring or annoying relatives will be soothed!"
Stefan Neumann MS: "Blandy’s Colheita Bual Madeira is just divine with Lebkuchen or a Vesuvio Vintage Port with a small slice of Sacher Torte – pure heaven!"
Luma Monteiro: "I still did not find a better combination than blue cheese and Sauternes. I recently discovered a French blue cheese called Blue d’Auvergne and I got in love with it but a great stilton and Sauternes or Tokaj is the thing. You will thank me later!"
Sean Evans: "The greatest cheese and wine combo for me has always been Comté and an Oxidative Savagnin from Jura. Keeping it simple by drinking the wine from the same region as the cheese. Nutty, caramelly, yeasty aromas in the wine go perfectly with Comté and the mega acid cuts through the fat of the cheese."
The experts agree: choose wines that bring joy and cater to your guests' preferences. Whether it's a luxurious welcome with Champagne, a smooth and easy going crowd-pleaser, or personal wine with a meaning to you, pour a glass, share some stories, and toast to a season of excellent sipping! Cheers to a Merry Christmas!