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ask the expert: food and wine pairings for christmas meals

Food and drinkJemima BoostComment

Anthony Field-Johnson, of Mentzendorff wine importers, has Christmas all wrapped up with this expert food and wine pairings for the biggest meal of the year. Whether you are you soaking up the sun wearing your favourite pair of of l'étale trunks, or wrapped in a fine fur up the mountains there's a wine for every occasion. 

Roast turkey, brussel sprouts and cranberry sauce

ask the expert: food and wine pairings for christmas meals

It would not be Christmas without turkey but you must be careful, turkey is not a powerful white meat and has little amounts of fat – hence why it dries out if overcooked - so the traditionalists amongst us might not like that fact that I would recommend a full-bodied white wine or a medium-bodied red wine to go with it. Good Chardonnay in general is often found in the same areas as good Pinot Noir so I would look towards the Côte de Beaune. The greatest white wines of Burgundy and some very fine reds are grown on this stretch.

White: Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne Montrachet
Red: Pommard, Volnay

beef wellington

ask the expert: food and wine pairings for christmas meals

This is more like it for Generation X – Beef Wellington is one of the few opportunities where you can drink a big, powerful red. The chewy meat will wash away the tannins so why not enjoy that bottle of claret you’ve been hiding away under the stairs for the past 15 years?

Red: Pauillac, St. Estephe.

bbq lobster

ask the expert: food and wine pairings for christmas meals

First of all, let’s answer the question that is most asked. No, you cannot serve red wine with lobster. The tannin in red wine will overpower the delicate flavours of the lobster, therefore no red wine, not even Beaujolais or any other for that matter should be served. Ok now we’ve cleared that up, it would be tempting to let your imagination drift towards the golden slopes of the Côte d’Or, however if you are having BBQ Lobster for Christmas lunch I’m guessing you are somewhere hot, the sun is shining and if you are not on the beach, the sea is very close by. Opt for a Chardonnay and keep it local if you're in New World territory. 

White: Big oaky Chardonnay; Australian, South African or Californian Chardonnays would be excellent choices.

fondue or raclette

ask the expert: food and wine pairings for christmas meals

A Swiss wine may seem left-field but many white wines from the countries that surround the Alps produce some great wines to pair with raclette or cheese fondue and there is no better than a fine, dry Riesling. 'Reece-ling' must be the world's most misunderstood, and mispronounced, grape variety and to me it is great not just because it is so exceptionally good at expressing terroir, but also because it makes white wines that are so good at ageing. A fine Riesling almost demands time in bottle. Their perfume and raciness can make them particularly food-friendly - often more so than a heavier, oak-aged white.

White: Rieslings from the Mosel, Alsace or the Wachau are some of the wine world's most distinctive, least imitable wine styles: light, crisp, racy, refreshing as a mountain stream and where the best can age for a decade or two in bottle.

whole poached salmon

ask the expert: food and wine pairings for christmas meals

Salmon is a delicious and unique fish, but one that can be tricky to pair with wine. How you cook the salmon should determine the wines you pair with it. So with poached salmon a rich Chardonnay can be wonderful but personally I’d look to the Rhône. These weighty but food-friendly whites are inexpensive and offer an exciting mix of characterful, juicy white wines. It's a bit harder to find a red wine that pairs with salmon. The richness of the wine can overwhelm the salmon flavour if you're not careful, so try a lighter style.

White: Condrieu, Hermitage, St-Joseph, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Red: Pinot Noir, a light Valpolicella.

venison with red cabbage 

ask the expert: food and wine pairings for christmas meals

I have a rule when it comes to pairing red wines with game, “Rhône with feathers and Burgundy with fur.” I know it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue but hopefully you see where I’m going with this…. Venison is rich, has a gamey flavour and is very lean. All this makes it quite hard to match with wines and it is Pinot Noir wines that cope with it best of all. However I have just returned from Piedmont, the home of Barolo and Barbaresco. Nebbiolo – the charismatic grape - delivers graceful, smooth but intensely flavoured reds with aromatic, savoury notes of truffle, smoke and soft black liquorice. They are on the dear side (ho-ho!), but top-notch with venison steaks and roast venison. 

Red: Mature red burgundy, Barolo, Barbaresco

spiced quince ham 

ask the expert: food and wine pairings for christmas meals

All ham has an underlying saltiness that pairs best with light-to-medium-bodied wines with lots of fruit and low tannins such as Chablis and Beaujolais and fruity reds such as Pinot Noir and Merlot. Semillon can also work a treat but Christmas hams tend to be more elaborately glazed bringing in an element of sweetness and spiciness that can strip all the character out of dry wines. To be honest a beer is actually a better bet with intensely treacly hams - again something that has a touch of sweetness or spice itself.

Red: Chilean Pinot Noir and Merlot, South African and Australian Shiraz or Californian Zinfandel.
Beer: A lot of brewers make Christmas ales that I think would work really well or go for an American style IPA or a brown ale.

peking-style duck  

ask the expert: food and wine pairings for christmas meals

When talking about duck and wine pairing, Pinot Noir tends to be the blanket answer. And there is certainly a lot of sense in that recommendation. So while I agree that Pinot Noir works well with duck, I think more importantly it depends on the recipe. Peking-duck is a classic recipe, whilst the duck will be the star of the show, the plum sauce is the one to think about when it comes to the wine. It’s wise to choose something with a little bit more sweetness to match the sauce and here, white wines can definitely work well. My suggestion would be Vouvray, if you don’t know this appellation, I would highly recommend you try it. It’s one of my favourites, pick a dry, or off-dry wine. The slight sweetness will pair well with the spices and sauce, yet the wine’s acidity and body will hold on to the dish’s overall intensity.

White: Vouvray, New Zealand Sauvignon, South African Chenin
Red: Shiraz - either go for one from the Rhônes such as Côte Rotie, Saint Joseph or Hermitage or an Australian Shiraz.


About the author: Anthony was born in the worst vintage of the eighties, but that has only made him more determined to taste the great wines of the world. Like many in the trade he honed his passion on the shop floors of Majestic, eventually working for their on-trade and fine wine departments. From there he moved on to a stint at Bordeaux Index before joining fine wine importers, Mentzendorff at the end of 2015. Outside of work Anthony is a keen sailor, loves cooking and enjoys watching all sports, particularly Football (Southampton) and Cricket. His bank manager thinks he enjoys wine too much.