There is no better time to enjoy lavish feasts, wines and Champagnes than at Christmas. Renowned wine expert Daniel Primack talks to The LuxPad about his favourite choices; from the best wine to go with seasonal favorite turkey, to the best drink to toast Christmas morning with…
A lesser known fact amongst the British is that just across the Channel, the French Christmas lunch is somewhat different to a typical yuletide table in Devon, London, Birmingham, or Preston. The French start with a large seafood platter, often Oysters for those so inclined, otherwise, lobster, prawns, scallops and other bivalves all feature. A second course will consist of foie-gras and bright green leaves, then a main course of Capon (a castrated oversized male chicken) plus roasted vegetable. A cheese course eventually arrives then a sweet dish as the conclusion. This wonderfully hedonistic and could be said to put the typical British Christmas lunch in the shadows.
Nevertheless, tradition has a wonderful taste of its own and with the best ingredients accompanied by the excuse to buy finer wine than usual, the Turkey or Goose will be shining example of Epicurean delight. Goose is in fact more traditional, the turkey having been introduced to the British after the Second World War by the Americans. If you are fortunate enough to have a large family around the table it is hard to feed many people with even the largest goose.
The first drink if the day on the 25th of December should be a sparkling one. In the last couple of years, Prosecco has outsold even Champagne in the UK in spite of the UK being the largest market in the world for Champagne. Prosecco is fine for informal celebration, but on the big day it should be Champagne or one of the world class Sparklers now produced in England. Your first glass could be with breakfast and the second while you prepare lunch. Champagne is ruled by the Grand Marques, ‘the big houses’ such as Moet et Chandon, Bollinger, Tattinger and Veuve Cliquot to name just a few but the real hidden gems of Champagne are the ‘grower’ or ‘Domaine’ Champagnes, often 1 man making a few barrels in his garage. Seek them out and they will reward with more complex and interesting results plus better value for money. Look out for names such as Gimmonet, Bereche, Savart, Vilmart, Agrapart and Tarlant. There are hundreds of growers each making a style and flavor special to them. To keep it English, world beating producers, as recently written about in The Daily Telegraph, are Hoffman and Rathbone, Wiston, Gusbourne and Coates and Seeley.
The most popular starter in the UK is smoked salmon, perhaps with thins of sourdough toast. An alternative is a glorious king prawn cocktail. These 2 dishes need wine with depth, subtle aromatics and good acidity to cut through the protein, and while pink food can command pink wine (bone dry rosé) a Loire or South African Chenin Blanc will work marvellously. Try ‘Saumur Blanc’ from Guiberteau, a dry ‘Montlouis’ from Ludovic Chanson or Adi Badenhorst’s Secateurs’ Chenin.
Both Turkey and Goose are marvellously adaptable and can be drunk with rich whites or lighter reds. White Burgundy (Chardonnay) is hugely popular yet Red Burgundy (Pinot Noir) is a winner. Avoid oaky styles of either as the wood flavors will overpower the lighter meat. “Cru” Beaujolais is excellent value for money, offering beautiful wine at affordable prices. “Cru”means the wine comes from 1 of 10 Villages or “Crus” in Beaujolais which is to the south of the heart of Burgundy and North of Lyon. Each ‘Cru’ has a typical yet differing style with Fleurie, Brouilly, Regnié and Chiroubles being the most elegant. Seek out Beaujolais producers such as Sunier, Foillard, Lapierre, Metras, Bouland or Descombes.
If Cheese is to come before the prerequisite Christmas pudding, a little known fact is that white wine accompanies most cheese better than red. A good rule of thumb is to choose a white wine from the same region as the cheese. You could certainly continue on with the wine from the main course instead. If it’s British cheese such as the epic goat Brie from Sharpham or one of the many offerings from Whitelake Dairy in Somerset, the varied top class wines from Camel Valley in Cornwall would be ideal or perhaps 1 of the 2 whites from Stopham Vineyards in West Sussex.
The final combination of a Tawny Port or an aged medium sweet Madeira with Christmas pudding will clearly show how underrated these 2 drinks still are. Tawny Port is aged in barrels in Portugal for 10, 20, 30, 40 years and then bottled to be drunk soon after. The older, the darker, richer, nuttier and more complex they get. Madeira has several styles with the one called “Bual” being a refreshing choice with pudding. Again, the older the better from top producers Oliveira, Blandy and Barbeito to name just a few.
To really get the most from your wine choices and to easily find alternatives to the wines mentioned, your local independent wine merchant will offer artisan choices, curated advice and better value for money. The same can be said of cheese from specialist retailers including Cartmel Cheeses, La Fromagerie, Neal’s Yard or Androuet.