Christmas is going to be very different for most of us this year.
But just because it might be smaller and quieter, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t treat ourselves when it comes to food and drink.
In fact, some people (okay, we mean us) think it’s more important than ever after what’s been a thoroughly trying year.
But choosing wines for Christmas can be daunting, even if you’re a seasoned seasonal sipper.
Which wine or wines should you match with Christmas dinner, given there might be numerous courses and various dishes? What should you drink with the leftover cheese? Can you match wine with chocolates? And is it okay to cook with cheap plonk or do you need to use something decent?
Then there’s what to crack open when you’re slumped in front of the TV watching box sets? And which wines you should buy for a present if you’re looking to impress.
Feeling overwhelmed, we asked the experts for advice.
An off-licence with a difference, Grape to Grain opened their first wine merchants and cheese emporium in Prestwich in 2016, and their second in Ramsbottom in 2017.
They’ve kept us thoroughly entertained – and informed – throughout the pandemic with their fun live virtual tastings.
Here are the team’s top tips for Christmas.
What to drink with Christmas dinner
This can be a tough one, admits Grape to Grain’s Tom Sneesby.
“A lot of people like to ‘build up’ to a red wine with their main course, but turkey can be quite bland and as a white meat does present some difficulties when pairing red wines.
“Personally, this year I am having a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau with my turkey. Slightly chilled so it won’t overwhelm the bird, it’s super juicy and fruity.
“We loved the Louis Tête ‘Le Pot’ 2020 (£15.60) on our Beaujolais Day tasting in November; any Gamay will do the same job, though.
“Alternatively, I would go for a BIG buttery white. A lot of turkeys are butter basted, so why not lean into it with a rich, buttery Chardonnay like Chateau Ste Michelle Columbia Valley Chardonnay (£18.40)? Integrated oak and lively acidity keep it zippy whilst also offering layers of WOW!”
And if you really want to splash out?
“If you’ve got the cash, then spend it like you stole it on David Moret ‘Les Narvaux’ Meursault 1er Cru (£97.15)… Absolute f**king fire juice – people will be talking about it for the next ten bloody Christmases,” Tom laughs.
Speaking of money, how much should we spend on wine?
That’s almost an impossible question, says Tom.
“You don’t need to spend millions of pounds to drink great wines – we have some amazing Vinho Verde by Quinta de Lixa in Portugal and it’s about a tenner.
“I don’t like Shiraz. I’ve tasted £15 bottles and £150 bottles and the extra spend didn’t make me like the grape more.
“The trick is to speak to your friendly local wine merchant and find out what style, grape or region you like and then double down on that.
“More money doesn’t mean a better wine drinking experience, but once you have your vibe nailed down then once you start spending £25+ you should start really seeing the benefit.”
But leave the supermarkets alone when it comes to wine, suggest the Grape to Grain team.
“You MIGHT grab a bargain, but it’ll be rare.
“Drop £30 on a bottle of Bogle Phantom, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah instead. It’s like getting hugged by the bottle and will warm your cockles – and other parts of your anatomy – too.”
Can we cook with cheap wine?
The question we’re usually embarrassed to ask wine experts: can we use up that cheap and cheerful bottle in cooking – or should we only use what we’d actually want to drink?
“No, slinging a bottle of £200 Antinori Tignanello into your spag bol won’t make it better,” says Tom, to our relief.
“Save the good stuff for drinking.”
What could you drink with leftover cheese?
“Well, port and cheese is the default, and it’s hard to fault if I’m honest,” says Tom.
“An aged tawny port like the Sandeman 20yr old (£45) will express nutty flavours thanks to oxidising in the barrel. The hazelnut notes and fortified sweetness make this a dream with stinky blues and aged cheeses. Magic!
“The key is residual sugar when pairing with astringent, acidic cheeses like Stilton and creamy, tangy cheeses like goats cheese.
“Harder cheeses like Manchego or Comté will go with bigger, heavier reds. We love the Allegrini ‘Palazzo Della Torre’ from Veneto (£30.20) which uses partial grape drying, like Amarone, which is then infused into younger Valpolicella wines to boost the dried fruit notes. Christmas cake in a glass.
“If you want to pair a white, then the Yealands Late Pick Riesling (£19.25) from Marlborough is glorious! Sweet and sour in perfect balance.”
Can you match wine with chocolate?
Another one we’d usually hesitate to ask, for fear of being laughed at. But let’s face it, we all have a few half-eaten boxes lying around at Christmas, and can’t say we’re not tempted to scoff them with a glass of something…
“The pros will say no, as the lipids (fats) in chocolates coat the mouth and make dissecting wines difficult,” say the team.
“But we say GO FOR IT!! In 2020 if it feels good, it does good, so have at it and enjoy.
“Try and go for a red with lifted acidity to try and cut through the voluptuous chocolate – the Alpha Box & Dice Enigma (£25.20) is an Italian grape, Barbera, grown in McLaren Vale, South Australia.
“Bright acidity, which is classic Barbera, is then plumped up with ripe fruit, blackberries, blueberries and sour cherry.”
What should you crack open in front of the TV?
We’re watching trashy TV, so… how good does our wine have to be?
“Well this is a tightrope between cheap enough to be guilt-free and pricey enough that it’s whompable and doesn’t make your face screw up,” says Tom.
“I would say spending between £10 and £15 will go well for a Tuesday, but maybe a touch more on a Sunday… It’s the weekend, treat yo’self.
“For a white I would go for a Juan Gil Muscat (£13.95) – it’s like a fruit salad!
“For a red we love the Finca Las Moras ‘Los Intocables’ Black Malbec (£14). It’s aged in ex bourbon whiskey barrels so the black fruit gives a KAPOW with some butterscotch, vanilla and coffee.”
Which wines work well as presents?
Luckily, Grape to Grain recently did a whole tasting session about this very subject – so you can watch online to get all the top tips, whether you’re buying for your boss or your in-laws.
“Try and find out SOME info, as going into this blind can be difficult,” suggests Tom.
“Otherwise, try and spend as much as you can (this could be £10 or £100) on something quite crowd pleasing…
“People have weird issues with Chardonnay and Riesling; we at Grape to Grain absolutely love them both, but some people heard horror stories from the ‘80s and ‘90s and it’s stuck.
“Also, Shiraz and Natural wines can split the room. Malbec usually hits home, and so does a Kiwi Savvy B…”
But the ultimate Grape to Grain choice? It has to be Champagne.
“Avoid the biggest houses as their entry level stuff HAS to be made every year, and lots of it, so the fruit quality suffers,” advises Tom.
“We love smaller growers and producers like Alfred Gratien Brut Classique NV. It’s about £50 because it’s a smaller producer with a focus on quality – it just got 97 points on one of those wine judging panels.
“More importantly… it tastes absolutely banging.”
And speaking of fizz… what should we drink at New Year?
If you’re going to miss the sociable element to New Year’s Eve this year, Grape to Grain are hosting a luxury live virtual tasting, starting at 10pm and culminating in a midnight countdown.
“Drink what we send you and party with us!” suggests Tom.
“Or if you can’t join us, then try and go for something bubbly. You can’t beat the ritual of popping something fizzy…
“Plus if your socially distanced house party really gets going, you can F1 it all over the place!”
And the final top tip?
“Whatever you’re drinking, just make sure you order more than you think,” says Tom.
“Nothing worse than running out!”
We couldn’t agree more.
Thirsty? Find out more about Grape to Grain’s wine selections and live tastings by clicking the button below.