Christmas is a magical time of the year when we get to eat delicious food that we wouldn’t usually eat, and drink warming, delicious wines. In this article, we’ll guide you towards the best Christmas wines, and let you know what their best food pairings are. In the spirit of keeping the party going, we will also tell you about some fun wine-related games that you can play after dinner, with friends or family.
Firstly though, we’re going to look at how the tradition of Christmas came about, and answer some questions about the wines, drinks and flavours that are most frequently consumed at Christmas time.
What are the traditional Christmas wines and drinks?
Before we launch into the best Christmas wines and flavours, let us tell you a small bit about the story of drinking at Christmas - it’s a fascinating one.
Christmas is essentially the Christian take on the midwinter celebration, observed by many different peoples and cultures across the world. In ancient Europe, Germanic Pagan peoples called it Yule, while the ancient Romans had a version called Saturnalia. Gift-giving was an important part of these celebrations, as was dancing and heavy drinking.
While Yule was more focused on ale and blood sacrifice (a tradition we have sadly lost over time), Saturnalia was more of a wine-obsessed celebration. The idea that these celebrations were stamped out by Christianity is not entirely accurate. As Christianity became more and more prominent, these activities naturally moved over to the celebration of Christmas too.
The tradition of drinking and merriment at Christmas has continued to this day. Due to it being a midwinter celebration, traditional Christmas food and drink is usually wholesome and warming, and almost always quite indulgent. Centuries of tradition have led to a set of flavours that can be recognised as Christmassy, but what exactly are those flavours? These are some of the most frequently asked questions about Christmas drinks.
What does Christmas wine taste like?
Christmas wine tastes like cinnamon, roasted nuts, nutmeg, ginger, orange peel, star anise and cloves. Such flavours associated most with Christmas season. They can all be found naturally in some of the best Christmas wine varietals, like Sangiovese, but can also be added to the pot when making a delicious mulled wine.
What alcohol is best for Christmas?
Red wine, mulled wine and sparkling white wine are considered the best Christmas wines. They are comforting, and indulgent, and contain a lot of classic Christmas flavours. Mulled wine is also called Glögg in Scandinavia, and it originates from the Middle Ages. You can make it by combining a bottle of red wine with some orange juice, cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise, and any other herbs that you would like, and heating them all together in a pot.
What is the most popular Christmas flavor?
The most popular Christmas flavours in all recipes are cinnamon, nutmeg, cranberry and ginger. Christmas dinner is full of spice, but not in a hot way - it is warming, savoury spices like cinnamon and ginger that are most commonly used.
Christmas Wine and Food Pairings
There are a lot of things to take into account when choosing the best Christmas wines to pair with your dinner. Christmas dinner is usually meaty and full of savoury herbs but it can also have some wonderfully tart flavours, like cranberry sauce or mint sauce, and lots of roasted vegetables. All of these extra flavours can make things more complicated. The easiest way to choose the best wines for Christmas dinner is to focus on high-acid wines because they can cut through lots of fat and carbohydrates, and find one that matches your main protein.
Roast turkey is, without a doubt, the most popular choice of meat for Christmas dinner. It is unique white meat, as it can be dry, delicate and fairly mild-flavoured when compared to chicken or pork. Wines paired with turkey will be light-bodied because you don’t want to overpower the subtle flavour of the meat.
For red wine, we recommend Pinot Noir. It is one of the best Christmas wines, due to its high acidity, which cuts through lots of fat and starch, and its deep fruit profile, which can contain some Christmassy flavours. The Barda Pinot Noir from Argentina is a great choice. It’s light bodied with extremely focused fruity flavours, so it will enhance the meat without interfering with it. It also contains some smokey elements on the finish, which will interact wonderfully with the turkey’s herbs.
There are a few more options on the table when pairing white wine with turkey. You could think about Chardonnay, Champagne or Prosecco, but we recommend a Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre. Sauvignon Blanc’s are almost always refreshingly acidic, with light herbaceous notes, and this one also contains some saline notes - perfect for pairing with a cut of dry, salty turkey.
For Christmas dinner, roast chicken is usually combined with some strong herbs, like rosemary, thyme or sage. Chicken pairs best with white wines, and it is good practice to keep it light-bodied.
We recommend a Chardonnay. It can be enjoyed by pretty much everybody, making it one of the best wines for Christmas dinner. El Enemigo’s Chardonnay is a great option, made in the Jura style and replete with flavours of roasted nuts and dried fruits. It is oak-aged, giving it a wonderfully creamy mouthfeel that will partner with a succulent piece of chicken flawlessly.
With roast chicken, you can also go down the sparkling wine route. Cremant De Limoux is a dry rosé wine from Languedoc, made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It’s ideal for embracing the indulgent nature of Christmas, and pairs well with a variety of food.
Roast goose is fatty and full of flavour, so you need a bold and acidic wine to balance that out. Slightly sweet whites can also be used, so long as they are powerfully aromatic, like a German Riesling or a Gewürztraminer.
However, our recommendation is one of the boldest red wines, a Barolo from Cordero di Montezemolo. It is filling, hearty, and full of dark berries and spice - all of the characteristics you need in the best Christmas wines. It’s an excellent choice for a dinner with a fatty goose as the centrepiece and lots of roasted vegetables.
Roast beef requires something full-bodied to match the richness of the meat. Several red wines would do the trick, but we recommend a Syrah/Shiraz, purely because its depth of fruit and spice notes make it one of the best Christmas wines you can drink.
The Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier blend blurs the lines between Old and New World Syrah styles and is our recommendation for pairing with roast beef. It is elegant, but contains the classic ripe fruit taste of Australian Shiraz, along with Christmassy notes of baking spices and smoke.
Pork can be paired with a wide variety of light to medium-bodied wines. In the interest of choosing something that matches the flavours of winter, we recommend a Carignan for your red wine option. This Terre Brune from Sardinia is a delicious choice, and one of the best red wines for Christmas dinner. It’s packed with spices that are reminiscent of mulled wine, dark fruits, and wild herbs, complementing herby pork and cranberry sauce beautifully.
If you are glazing the pork itself with something sweet, you might want to lean towards a white wine. This Sémillon is acidic enough to stand up to a full Christmas dinner, but also contains some hints of honeysuckle and flower blossom, which will complement a honey-glazed ham, or even a Coca-Cola ham, wonderfully.
Roast lamb is another wonderfully rich meat, which opens the doors to some bold, spicy reds, which are typically the best Christmas wines. You can opt for a Shiraz/Syrah, or perhaps a bold, tannic Italian red, like Chianti or Primitivo.
To keep your options as broad as possible, we’re recommending a reliable Cabernet Sauvignon, from a winery in California named DAOU. It’s the perfect companion for a herby roasted lamb, angular and deep with plenty of tart berries and dried herbs.
Roasted duck offers a nice alternative to turkey at Christmas, and has some added sweetness, which will make a big difference when choosing the best wine pairing.
For a red, something bold and juicy will match a decadent and herby roast duck. You can go for a Spanish Rioja or Tempranillo, but we recommend a Sangiovese wine, stuffed with Christmas flavours. We haven’t mentioned any Sangiovese wines so far, and it would be a crime not to, as they are one of the best Christmas wines you can buy. Our choice is this Chianti Classico from Querciabella, which is packed with ripe fruits such as cranberry and cherry, and savoury herbs and spices, such as rosemary, cloves and cinnamon.
Duck is pretty common in Asian cuisine, and is a natural pairing for a Riesling with hints of sweetness. If you would prefer white wine, we recommend this Austrian Riesling from Knoll winery. It would complement a crispy roasted duck beautifully, with its complex, ripe stone fruit flavours and subtle hints of sweet blossoms and honey.
One of the most popular vegan/vegetarian protein options at Christmas, a nut roast is pretty versatile, and the best Christmas wines will complement it very well. It is intensely savoury, so you could go for a Pinot Noir. Georgian amber wine is worth considering, like this tannin-heavy Rkatsiteli, which will match excellently with a protein-rich, umami-flavoured nut roast.
However, if you want something that will fit with everything else at the table, we recommend this Grenache from Sardinia. This is another great Christmas wine, full of dark fruits and dry herbs. It has a fantastic structure, so it can stand up to any rich gravies that accompany your Christmas dinner.
We also recommend you to try our special Christmas tasting case. It has interesting variants of sparkling, white and red wines, which are also great for the family holiday.
Above all, Christmas is an opportunity to spend time with family and friends. The wines listed here aren’t just the ideal pairings for your Christmas dinner, they can also serve as gifts for your nearest and dearest. You can even incorporate them into the evening somehow. After dinner, it’s traditional to keep drinking and break out the board games. Perhaps you can play a round of charades, but with answers limited to the best Christmas wines?
In fact, there are a lot of fun wine games that you can play, but we will go into further detail about them in a separate article. Whatever your goal is, we hope this article has made your decision, and your Christmas celebration, just a little easier.