Christmas, one of my favourite festivities of the year thanks to the good times shared with friends and family over an amazing assortment of scrumptious food and wine to go with it! Back home in France, my family takes our Christmas menu very seriously. There’s much cheer in our home on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
While some families enjoy a bottle or two of wine with their meals, we like to pair the different dishes with different wines for a full dining experience. Here are some tips on how to choose your wines according to your Christmas menu.
In France, this is the holy grail of drinks, the pre-dinner drinks! The perfect choice is a classic bottle of Champagne to get you ready for the upcoming meal and in my household, the meal can last up to six hours so you’ve got to be ready! Popping a bottle of Champagne as an aperitif dates back to the eighteenth century; it was originally reserved for the elites and royalty (Cristal Roederer was created for Tsar Alexander II) to celebrate festivities and milestones. Today, a bottle of bubbly comes with more affordable price tags and has become hugely popular. While many see the Moet & Chandon as a go-to for Champagne, I’d personally recommend Mumm Champagne as a choice for an aperitif.
Do not ‘beurk’ me just yet! Foie Gras (goose or duck liver) is simply delicious, part of my French heritage – and very Christmassy! It can either be terrine or fresh and pan-fried, served with some toast and sweet and sour chutney. Foie Gras is perfect with a sweet wine with a nice acidity which will balance out the creaminess of the liver: Sauternes, a rich sweet wine from Bordeaux is a classic, yet if you want something not too sweet, you can go with a nice Moscato.
I hail from a small fishing village on the coast of Brittany in Western France, so seafood is part of my Christmas tradition. Oysters, langoustines (Norway lobster), crabs, prawns, whelks, clams and an assortment of fishes with ‘beurre blanc’– these are dished up with an array of sauces, breads and a splash of lemon juice. I pair them with a nice fresh and crisp white wine that won’t overwhelm the delicate flavours of seafood. A classic would be a Chablis, or your favourite Sauvignon Blanc. But if you’re a rosé person, I’d recommend the Chateau du Seuil Rosé, a full-bodied French!
This is a classic French tradition that has slowly faded over time but something my family still practises because with all that food, Trou-Normand is necessary! It’s the serving of a spirit with some sherbet in between big meals, sort of as a ‘break’ to cleanse your palate before indulging in meats and cheese. My favourite Trou-Normand is a small scoop of apple sorbet with a dash of Lambig (Brittany’s version of Calvados, a spirit distilled from cider). Another option would be a generous splash of Cognac like the Martell NCF.
Ah here we are, a true Christmas classic, the roasted turkey! Served with a side of gravy, mash and Brussels sprout, I love pairing this meal with a rich dry white wine like a good Chardonnay but if you’re partial to reds, a Grenache or Pinot Noir works too, something like the Albert Bichot Fixin. Another classic we do at home is roast beef or even venison (my father is a hunter, to the great dismay of my wife!). For that, you will need a fuller body red wine. I love a good Bordeaux for this, but a Barolo is perfect too.
Yes, after all that, we still have cheese before dessert. I wasn’t kidding about it being a 6-hour meal, we really do take our time to enjoy the meal and company. In technical terms, every type of cheese has its own wine pairing but with a mixed cheese platter, there’s no need to complicate this. So I usually pick a nice red that goes with the meats and continue with this course, enjoying it with an assortment of cheese, ranging from Brie and goat cheese to blue cheese and ‘stinky’ cheese.
While your uncle is already having a nap by the fireplace, those with stomach space can gear up for dessert! The classic French Christmas dessert is ‘La Buche de Noel’ – a Christmas Log. Historically, it’s a roll of Genoise with buttercream (flavours with chocolate, vanilla, Grand Marnier, coffee or many options). There are lighter versions which have a fruit-based icing. A nifty trick to pair desserts with wines is to use the colour. Chocolate desserts go well with dark-coloured wine like Port, while fruity desserts pair with lighter coloured wines like Moscato and Rieslings. But if you’re not a fan of sweet wines, head back to that bottle of Champagne – it matches all sorts of desserts perfectly!
You thought you were done, didn’t you? Nope. Digestif is the last step of a full French meal, the one that helps you ‘digest’! This involves your favourite spirit, be it a Cognac, Rum, Calvados or Agricole, together with coffee or tea and a few Christmassy nibbles like a piece of chocolate or a cookie. Put it all together and the grand French meal finishes with a bang (and a full stomach)!
If you go full-French for Christmas, make sure that you take your time, do not rush your meal, enjoy the food, the good wines and more importantly, the company. Too many people put a lot of pressure on themselves when pairing wines with food; while there are many ‘recommendations’, what’s important is that you enjoy it so don’t worry too much about the ‘rules’ because anything goes as long as it’s a wine you enjoy drinking. Merry Christmas!