Blue sky drinking: festive wine-drinking

Categories: Expert guidance

Jane Parkinson plans out her perfect festive wine-drinking day

Words: Jane Parkinson

Ah, Christmas. ’Tis the season to be greedy, which is a real result for wine geeks like me! Those of us who take pains to drink the right bottle over the festive period can wallow in our obsessions with reckless abandon, as we perform the noble task of choosing wines for everyone to feast on—which, let’s be honest, is just as important as the food.

From office parties to family meals, there are endless reasons to twist a screwcap or pop a cork at this time of year, so the wine options are endless too. Christmas Day itself is full of wine possibilities, so here’s a festive suggestion of beautiful wines to take us through from dawn to dusk.

When the adults start opening presents (let’s assume, for the sake of decency, that this is mid to late morning), one delicious, failsafe option is a moscato d’Asti from Piedmont in northern Italy. Its frothy fizz immediately puts a smile on your face (which could be handy if Big Day tensions are already in the air), and slightly sweet elderflower and pear fruitiness really peps up the palate in a ‘naughty breakfast juice’ kind of way.

Moscato d’Asti’s frothy fizz neatly says ‘celebration’, and perhaps its best attribute is its low alcohol—it rarely exceeds 6.5%, perfect for a wine consumed early in the day. Plus, if there’s any left over, it’s a handy match with trifle.

Fruitiness to toastiness
The next likely wine opportunity would be pre-lunch, perhaps with a plate of smoked salmon. The answer? Champagne, obviously. Rather than opting for heavier champagnes, though, perhaps try the blanc de blancs style, made with chardonnay only—zesty and light on its feet—or a brut non-vintage style, with its drinkable ratio of fruitiness to toastiness.

If moscato followed by champagne is too much effervescence, pour a glass of still white instead. Smoked salmon enjoys many white wines, so this could be the opportunity to try something off-piste but hugely drinkable. The vermentino grape, for example, makes a dry, super-fresh lemon and lime-flavoured wine—a clever and unpredictable option that also makes a great talking point.

And so on to the starters: if you’re having a pâté of some description, crack open a bottle of pinot gris. It’s the same grape as pinot grigio, but when called gris it’s a very a different style. Gris is the more serious version, dry or slightly off dry (the latter better with pâté), with a smooth, rounded apple and pear lusciousness. If there is any left over, this grape also makes a great pairing with many cheeses, including brillat-savarin, feta, halloumi or most kinds of goat’s cheese.

For turkey with all the trimmings, red usually works best—even though there is plenty of white meat on the bird, the plate is also adorned with many rich accompaniments. This is where the pinot noir comes in very handy, being a red grape full of sumptuous red fruit flavours as well as a gentle savouriness that respects the earthier flavours of the dish.

Right and proper
We’ll finish, as is only right and proper, with port. Nothing works better with stilton than a glass of vintage port, the sweetness and depth of flavour of which makes it one of the few wines that can match up to the blue cheese’s pungency. For Christmas pudding, mince pies and Christmas cake, a lighter and slightly less expensive tawny port is sheer heaven.

Tawnies come in different ages (10, 20, 30 and 40 years old), and the younger the age, the more chilled the drink should be served. Avid port drinkers would declare port to be a course all by itself: the perfect finish to the perfect festive wine drinking day.

Five of the best festive wines:
Champagne Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve NV, France
Wright Bros, £75
A brut NV from a hugely respected and family-run house, this balances rich shortbread flavours with tangy lemon and supple apple flavours, all pepped up with vibrant bubbles. It’s a class act and would be great by itself, with smoked salmon or with cheese straws.

Cave d’Orschwiller Les Faîtières Pinot Gris 2014, France
Borough Wines, £14.75
This is pretty but serious and deliciously aromatic with flowers and honey and then juicy with spiced pear fruit on the palate. It’s slightly off dry, so perfect for pâté or a genius match with leftover turkey curry.

Delinquente Screaming Betty Vermentino 2015, Australia
Bedales, £30
A brilliant dry and zesty white made by a clever Australian winemaker who specialises in Italian grapes. It’s bright with grapefruit zing but it also has a gentle malty flavour too, giving it plenty of food-matching possibilities, from fish to lighter chicken dishes.

Wagram Pinot Noir 2012, Austria
Arabica, £45
Excellent pinot noir is being made in other parts of Europe these days, not just its traditional heartland of Burgundy. This is bright and with red and black fruit flavours, but it also possesses the sweet and savoury yin and yang of beetroot. A real treat with turkey or ham.

Churchills 1997 Vintage Port
Bedales, £69
Decadence in a bottle, and elegant too. This 19-year-old port is at a perfect drinking stage now so make the most of it. The sweet rich flavours of dried figs, tobacco and roasted nuts last forever and make the perfect match with Stilton. For best enjoyment, decant first and serve at room temperature.