You probably already have your Christmas dinner planned but do you know which wine you’re serving alongside it? From the perfect bubbly and port and everything in-between, here are some tips!
Start with an aperitif
As the heady aroma of the turkey wafts through the house and sounds of the football game come from the living room, offer family and friends an aperitif. This pre-dinner drink will wet their appetites before they sit down to the table. An excellent choice is a chilled dry sherry—its nutty flavours go well with spiced nuts, olives, cheese and other pre-dinner nibbles. Sherry also makes a good segue into the meal if you’re starting with soup and have added a splash of it into the potage. Sparkling wine, is another good choice for an aperitif because it adds a celebratory note to the meal and goes well with both soup and salad starters.
Consider the turkey
Turkey differs from most poultry and game birds in that it’s very dry in texture. Therefore, you need a juicy, mouth-watering wine with lots of ripe fruit to complement it. This is why pinot noir, with its aromas of ripe strawberries, raspberries and cherries, is the classic match. Those from the New World, such as Canada, California, Oregon and New Zealand, tend to be fruitier than those from the Old World, such as Burgundy and Germany, which tend to be earthier. But both styles will suit the bird just fine. Beaujolais and gamay also work because they too have that medium-bodied, ripe berry flavour. These wines also offer the advantage of appealing to a wide range of palates. If you want something a bit more full-bodied, with a bit of spice, try a California zinfandel. However, reds with big tannins, such as cabernet sauvignon, often taste too dry with turkey. Similarly, the nuances of complex and well-aged wines, such as bordeaux, tend to get lost under the welter of flavours.
Offer both red and white
Your meal might include chestnut stuffing, cranberry sauce, spicy sage and thyme stuffing, oyster dressing, chestnuts, buttery mashed potatoes, creamed onions, candied sweet potatoes, squash, giblet gravy, succotash (creamed sweetcorn, beans and onions) and a host of traditional family recipes. For some of us, the turkey is simple an excuse to eat more cranberry sauce. So when choosing a wine, you don’t have to simply match it to the turkey, particularly if you’re a fan of more full-bodied reds and whites. Since it’s often a sit-down, banquet-style meal where each person chooses the trimmings, why not do the same with the wines? Offer both a red and white wine, depending on the size of your group. Count on one bottle of wine for every two people drinking wine at the table.
If you prefer to serve the wines one at a time, move from light- to full-bodied, simple to complex, white to red, young to mature and dry to sweet so that each wine tastes bolder than the last. There are two routes to go when choosing the specific wines you will offer: complement or contrast. For instance, you can complement the roasted, smoky flavours of the squash, apples and pecan stuffing with a big, buttery chardonnay from California or Chile. However, if you’d rather cut through the richness of the cream sauces and dressings, try something crisp, such as a New Zealand sauvignon blanc or German riesling.
Offer up a sweet ending
When dessert arrives, offer an Ontario icewine or late harvest wine with pumpkin pie or crème brûlée. If you’re a chocolate fan, try a liqueur with complementary flavours such as raspberry or black currant. The wine you chose should be sweeter than the dessert so it doesn’t taste dull and bitter.
For children and guests who won’t be drinking, offer non-alcoholic beverages such as plain and flavoured sparkling waters, fruit punch and apple cider. With so many flavours on the table, you really can’t run a fowl with your choice of wine.
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