Food & Wine Matching:Christmas Main

Christmas simply isn’t Christmas without turkey and it has been a traditional favourite since Victorian times. Like most poultry it is medium-weight and is not powerfully flavoured; it also has a low fat content which is why it has to be constantly basted whilst being cooked.

Match its weight with a full-bodied white or a medium-full red wine, but the lack of fat means the wine must not have too much tannin (tannins react with fatty protein molecules and will seem very harsh in the absence of fat).

So red wine fans must select a wine with low tannins; this might be an old wine (tannins precipitate out with age) or a wine made with a variety naturally low in tannins. Another reason for avoiding tannic reds is that often the bird is covered with bacon to stop it drying out during cooking, but this adds salt to the dish, and salt and tannins clash.

So now you’ve grasped all that, here’s the rub! The most powerful flavours are usually found in the accompaniments, so these also need to be considered when choosing wine. Cranberry and redcurrant sauces are fruity and sweet and will not go with a mellow aged red wine – instead choose a young, ripe, fruity wine low in tannins (remember the fat content) like:

If you prefer your turkey with traditional English accompaniments (bread sauce and chipolata sausages) then a full-bodied Chardonnay a white wine from Côtes du Rhône is a good choice for white wine lovers. Their roundness and weight will match the smooth sauce and the bird’s weight. If you prefer red wine, a mature Claret or Rioja would work well – aged wines have less tannin. As wines mature they also develop secondary aromas and more often than not begin to smell like green vegetables, so they also echo the flavour of everyone’s favourite Christmas vegetable, Brussel Sprouts.

Other Main Courses

  • Goose or duck
    Match the weight with red wines, balance the oiliness of the meat with high acid/tannic wines, and complement the flavours with wines that taste of raspberries and cherries. Red Burgundy is perfect, or maybe a Right Bank Claret.

    White wines need to be medium-sweet and high in acid, such as

  • Roast Beef
    Beef demands red wines to match its flavours, but the type of red wine depends on the cut. Low-fat cuts like fillet need low-tannin wines like Beaujolais Cru or very mature Claret, whilst a rib of beef demands a more tannic wine such as a good Red Bordeaux or top quality Cabernet Sauvignon from New World regions 
  • Venison
    Low in fat but full of flavour, venison works well with the berry fruits found in Red Burgundy. Choose a mature example so the tannins aren’t too high
  • Turbot or Salmon 
    The regal fleshy turbot demands an elegant stylish white with a fair the fish’s weight and complement its flavours. A Chablis Grand Cru or White Burgundy from the Côte d’Or are classic choices. With salmon you might choose to serve a lighter red, like a New Zealand Pinot Noir, but only if there’s no buttery sauce accompanying the fish
  • Nut Roast
    This dish is fairly substantial so opt for fruity reds to balance the weight and flavour. Chilean Merlots work well
  • Porcini Risotto
    Match the silkiness of the risotto and big flavours of the wild mushroom with full-bodied but very mature Red Burgundy(old Red Burgundy develops mushroom characteristics with age that will match the porcini)

More about Christmas Food Matching