How to choose wine at Christmas
Running the Christmas wine gauntlet
More wine occasions are squeezed into just a few days than any other time of the year – the dreaded Christmas wine gauntlet. That perfect white for the instagrammable Turkey, bubbles for toasting (when the family are talking..) and how to avoid bankruptcy by serving your best plonk to the family wine guzzler (there is always one…..). And what about the visiting “outsider”, will I impress the in-laws by showing up with a Châteauneuf du Pape or Bollinger? What are the best wines for Christmas? Save the stress and your bank balance by reading the below as Master of Wine, Barry Dick, walks us through the Christmas wine buying basics.
Where do I start?
For those hosting, over planning but not over-thinking is key. Wine is an opportunity to bring family and friends together and to celebrate the occasion of this – selection should reflect appealing to the group not to individuals. So, grab yourself a pen and white paper and simply map out the drinking occasions that will be unique to you and your family.
The staple occasions will likely be: Christmas eve, Christmas Day breakfast, dinner and evening, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve and then everything in between! Think of wines that can be used across these occasions (like I said, try not to accommodate for each and every taste bud – if the family member or friend is really that fussy, tell them to bring their own!).
Most importantly, Christmas is not a time to play it safe. Sure pick up a few of your favourite tipples but go off the beaten track and explore undiscovered gems. For a moment, forget “new world” and “old world” and think Lebanon, Georgia, Greece and more!
Selecting the wine for the occasion?
With the occasions locked down, attention is turned to the wine. Like all things in life – we are looking for a healthy balance here of region and grape variety. (for more on New World and Old World wines, read our ebook).
The everyday power horses: to keep everyone topped up (from Carol singing to Queen’s speeches), you need a quality and quaffable red and white: For red keep a healthy stash of Malbec, Californian Zinfandel or Italian Primitivo and for white, you can’t beat a good Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
Christmas bubbles: Time to indulge, celebrate Christmas Day pressie unwrapping in style with your loved ones with a nice bottle of Champagnebubbly. What’s the best Christmas Champagne? - Laurent Perrier Rose is a wonderful (but an expensive) option or go Bolly darling.
Special What’s the best red wine for Christmas lunch: The main event of the wine gauntlet, try: Rioja Reserva, Chateauneuf du Pape or Gigondas
And how about a Special white for Christmas lunch: think Sancerre, Chablis, Yarra Valley Chardonnay, Spanish Albarinho (or the cooler cousin, Portuguese Alvarinho)
Wine for desert: Looking for the perfect partner for Christmas pudding and mints, try: Rutherglen Muscat or Sweet Oloroso Sherry
Wine for the abstainers: Always the last group considered, forget sparkling water with lemon, make it special for everyone with a bottle of sparkling tea (splash out on Fortnums!)
Enough helping the hosts, what do I bring as a guest?
First - etiquette, select wine for the host to drink and enjoy – not you! And don’t assume you will get to enjoy the wine you bring (after all, the host has survived the wine gauntlet, not you).
Many fall into the “trap” of bringing a recognised brand from a recognised Old World region. Of course, playing it safe is no bad thing (after all, you want your future or current father-in-law to like you……) and something like Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a tried and tested choice for a solid red and one that screams “I’ve spent a decent amount on this bottle” when you arrive. It is a reliable variety, but you are really paying for the ‘brand.’ If you’re looking for something just as exciting but not necessarily as expensive go for a nice Vaqueras or Gigondas.
For those keen to bring bubbles, flex the budget from a nice DOCG Prosecco (“DOC” means designation of controlled origin, while DOCG means designation of controlled origin and guaranteed (the latter is more stringent and considered “superior”),to a good Cava made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Or a good solid Champagne!
And for all those days in between?
Those heady days between Christmas and New year often blur into one. And usually carry the same devil may care attitude towards food and drink the big day itself did. The trick here is to not drink your New Year stash! Which is why we always recommend having a bag-in-box to hand. That way you can drink as little – or as much – as you like. We’d of course recommend our very easy drinking Alvarinho, carefully selected by our Master of Wine.
Where do I buy the wine?
Many buy the Christmas wine from their local supermarket often at the time they purchase the Christmas food. Try to avoid this. You will often get tricked into the purchasing wines with the “best discount” or “highest rating” – avoid supermarket psychology games.
Do your wine research in advance based on your occasions (vivino is a useful resource) and arrive at your wine destination with a firm list and intent.
With so many wine buying options these days, there is no right or wrong buying destination: supermarkets will appeal to the masses so you get depth in a narrow range whereas local wine stores will offer less depth but more [often interesting] range. And don’t rule out online which can offer both range and depth (winebuyers are good great example s of this).
For more wine knowledge
Although we strongly believe wine should be enjoyed not endlessly discussed, we know that sometimes people want to have just a little but more wine knowledge. That’s why our Master of Wine has written a short eBook on the questions that he gets asked most often. After all, as possibly the most qualified person in the world of wine you can expect people to ask you a question or two - and Barry gets asked the same ones. A lot! You can find the eBook here.