A Wine School guide to Christmas

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Photograph: Jason Lowe

Photograph: Jason Lowe

As 25th December approaches, Barbara Drew, a member of our expert Wine School team, offers some wise words on how to keep Christmas chaos at bay – and the wine flowing.

The table piled high with a hefty bird, plus trimmings; a constant battle to avoid flaming more than the Christmas pud as paper hats waft by candles; crossed arms pulling crackers (and sending the contents flying across the spread): Christmas can be chaotic – but then often the best parties are. While we may not be able to offer advice on how to avoid burning the bread sauce or managing difficult relatives, we can make sure that your vinous selections are unparalleled.

Planning the bottles to accompany Christmas lunch is one of my favourite parts of the season. After all the preparation, and enough peeling and paring for a team of sous chefs, the fun begins with the apéritif. Ideally served as soon as guests arrive, this has the added advantage of putting idle hands to use, relaxing everyone, and giving you time to finish things off in the kitchen. Champagne is the classic choice, but an alternative is an elegant dry Sherry, such as a light Fino, which is so old school that it is all the rage in East London and – as it happens – is utterly delicious.

Next on to the starters: a light white wine is usually a winner. White Burgundy is a classic match with many dishes and can generally pair well with poultry as well, giving you the option of serving it with the main event. Alternatively, a zippy but relatively neutral white from Italy could suit, such as Fiano or Etna Bianco.

As the meal continues, a richer white can easily work – as can a delicate but smoky Pinot Noir; try the Mary Delany Pinot Noir from Elgin. Alternatively – for something with a little more chew – a crisp and crunchy Chinon would bring out the brightness of the cranberry sauce and offset the richness of the meat; definitely one for lovers of dark meat.

By this point in proceedings things tend to take a more leisurely turn, and a complex dessert wine that can be savoured with the Christmas pudding is ideal. While Sauternes and Tawny Port are good, classic matches, I tend to plump for a slightly lighter, fresher choice, such as a Madeira or ice wine, both with beautiful acidity (for maximum benefit, serve well chilled).

Of course, no Christmas table is complete without a cheeseboard. Typically Stilton is a popular choice, and a classic match with a fruity Port. For a more subtle end to the meal, try a nutty Comté with a Meursault, or what about a sliver of aged Parmesan and a glass of vintage Champagne?

Of course, the best bit about hosting Christmas lunch is not having to do the washing up, giving you time to take a second run at the cheeseboard and linger over another glass of wine.

Explore potential pairings for your festive meal or enjoy an effortless pre-Christmas celebration at one of our seasonal events.