Bottles for the bird: wines that work with goose


Photograph: Joakim Blockstrom

Photograph: Joakim Blockstrom

Butchers across the country are taking orders for a festive bird, leaving only one question for customers: turkey or goose? For those plumping for goose this Christmas, our Wine Club Manager – Katie Cooper – suggests whites and reds to partner its rich, fatty meat.

In my house, planning the festive feast takes as much time as cooking it. It’s one of the most laboured-over meals of the year: guests’ expectations are high and the pressure is on for all to have a brilliant, memorable day, unsullied by a lacklustre meal. Selecting the wines to accompany the main course is an important part of the process and inevitably food and wine matching tends to revolve around the bird chosen for Christmas Day.

A recent survey suggested that as many as 76 percent of families in the UK sit down to turkey on 25th December and there are many excellent wines to match with this popular choice: a mature Claret will have the softness of tannin to flatter the bird and a decent white Burgundy, for those who prefer white wine with their white meat, will fare well because its inherent roundness and medium body reflect the gentle character of the meat. Many people choose Pinot Noir because of its low tannin content too: look to Burgundy or New Zealand for the best examples.

But, if you’re part of the minority who are venturing beyond turkey and serving something more traditional (after all, turkey is an American import), then goose may be on the menu. Rich, gamey and succulent it has more going for it in the flavour stakes than its American cousin. While still classed as a white meat, its richness marks it out as quite different to turkey and thus different wines will provide a better match.

All that intensity of flavour can be a challenge for a mild-mannered Pinot Noir or mature, soft Claret so look to Italian reds instead for robustness of flavour and clean acidity to offset the rich, oilier meat. Barolo or Barbaresco from Piedmont will work well, as they are made from the Nebbiolo grape which can withstand powerful flavours (just think of all the truffle dishes from the region). If your budget is constrained by an unexpected overspend on presents, or by a large number of guests, then their more modest sibling, Langhe Nebbiolo, will also work well.

If white is called for by the table then you might like to consider a medium-sweet wine from Alsace or Germany; a Riesling Spätlese perhaps. The naturally high acidity of these wines, along with a touch of sweetness, will cut through and complement the fattiness of the meat perfectly. Alternatively look at a fragrant and aromatic Pinot Gris which will have the character to withstand the onslaught from the goose.

Finally, don’t forget food and wine matching should not be confined to the bird alone. The other flavours on the plate should be taken into consideration too and that’s a long list when you’re talking about Christmas Day: crunchy goose-fat roast potatoes, braised red cabbage, earthy parsnips, the ubiquitous sprout dish, bread sauce, cranberry sauce… the list goes on.

As with all food and wine matching, you and your guests’ tastes should be the final influencing factor. You will know your audience and, if a medium-sweet Riesling is a step too far, then play it safe and go for something more crowd-pleasing. After all that hard work in the kitchen you will want the meal to be remembered for all the right reasons.

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