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How to choose French wines to match classic British Christmas food

We explore the perfect pairings for turkey, salmon and Christmas pudding

A Chinon from the Loire is an alternative to tradition Bordeaux with Christmas dinner Pic: JP WALLET / Shutterstock

Choosing wine to serve over Christmas and New Year is particularly stressful because we often use this time to push the boat out a bit. 

However, selecting wine to go with dishes that are particular to this time of the year makes getting the right match a bit difficult.

Focus on classic British Christmas food

Wine marketing people latched onto this situation years ago and tried to encourage people to buy their expensive wines to match classic Christmas dishes, but often those wines were not the best match and left people feeling a bit disappointed. 

I’m going to try to suggest some better matches that move away from the expensive classics. 

It’s worth noting that what French people eat over the Christmas period can be quite different to classic British foods. I’m going to try to focus on British Christmas food. 

Read more: Suggestions for French alternatives to popular British food

Drink sparkling wine on its own

Champagne is often associated with Christmas but I would argue that is because it is a celebration drink, rather than a great match for the dishes. 

Therefore I would restrict Champagne, or any of the better value alternative sparkling wines, to drinking on its own. 

Whether that is to welcome guests popping in or to start off a boozy Christmas day with a cheeky morning glass of bubbly... 

Read more: French sparkling wines to rival Champagne on price and taste

Turkey is not a strong-flavoured meat

Let’s start with the classic Christmas dinner of roast turkey with roast potatoes, carrots and sprouts served with all the trimmings like bread sauce, sage and onion stuffing, apple and/or cranberry sauce. 

Straight away you can see that there are loads of different flavours there so choosing a perfect wine is tricky. It’s worth noting that turkey is not a particularly strong-flavoured meat. 

Therefore it’s best to choose a light to medium bodied red, especially if you eat it at lunchtime. 

I am generally quite traditional and choose a mature Bordeaux or Burgundy. By mature, I mean not younger than six years because I don’t believe that those wines display their attractive characters as young wines. 

However, if you are going to serve that 20-year-old bottle that you’ve been saving for the occasion, make sure you open it with enough time to decant it and check that it’s OK. 

Have an alternative bottle on hand in case it is corked or too old. 

Read more: A guide to French wine regions

A Loire Chinon can be perfect for Christmas dinner

Bordeaux is a huge winemaking region with over 6,000 chateaux and prices ranging from a few euros to over €1,000. 

The cheaper wines can be lean and a bit rough and some of the top wines take years to reach their peak. 

Burgundy is seen as a minefield for consumers because there are lots of poor wines masquerading as grands vins. 

Producers are often more important than appellations. So stick to a producer you know and trust. 

In both Bordeaux and Burgundy, vintage is important. Poor years can produce a lot of thin, acidic wine with little character. Even the best Burgundy producers will have much lighter wines in cool years than in warm ones. 

France also produces medium-bodied red wines in many other reputable regions. Loire reds such as Chinon can be perfect for Christmas lunch as they tend to be a bit fruitier and crisper than Bordeaux. 

Another alternative would be a good Côtes-du-Rhône. 

White or red with salmon?

Salmon is popular Christmas fare. A whole poached salmon would be best served with a white wine that has some character. 

Buttery Chardonnay from Burgundy or Mâcon is a perfect choice but why not try white Bordeaux, preferably an oak-fermented one. 

In recent years the Languedoc-Roussillon has made massive improvements in white wine production and excellent examples can be found from reputable estates from around €10 up to €30. 

With smoked salmon, the flavour and oiliness require something different. I quite like an aromatic Alsace wine made from Riesling or Gewürztraminer but the best ever combination I have had was a barrel-aged Pinot noir. 

Christmas pudding and mince pies

Christmas pudding is the perfect food to try one of the Vin Doux Naturel wines from Roussillon. 

My top choices would be Banyuls Tradition or Maury, served slightly chilled. 

These, along with other sweet fortified wines, are great with mince pies too. 

You can finish off the bottle later with some classic British cheeses like Stilton and Cheddar, perhaps served with a slice of Christmas cake.

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Traditional French Christmas food and a very modern bûche de Noël

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