How to make the most of magnums this Christmas


An illustration by Eleanor Crow depicting a beef Wellington and three magnums of fine wine, with a number of wine glasses around the table. It's a hearty and festive scene.
Illustration by Eleanor Crow

Nothing makes a statement quite like a magnum of fine wine. But beyond its magnificence, a bigger bottle also helps a fine wine to age more slowly, while offering plenty to share around the Christmas table. Below, you’ll find stories and advice to help you make the most of magnums over the festive season. 

Magical moments  

For Joshua Friend, Christmas is all about creating special memories with friends and family – and magnums, he believes, are the secret ingredient that brings it all together.  

Christmas is coming, but for me, it can never come soon enough. It’s my favourite time of the year, all about family, friends, good food and wine. When I recommend wines for my clients to drink, I often rave about magnums at any given moment, which led to someone asking me a very simple question: why are magnums better? 
The first thought in everyone’s head is an obvious one: let’s face it, they are incredibly Instagrammable. But let’s briskly brush the hashtags and Insta-nonsense aside and focus on what really matters: the wine.  
They’re considered to age better than 75cl bottles; the greater volume within the bottle allows for a slower interaction with oxygen, leading to an arguably better wine in the long term. To give you a recent example, I recently tasted a magnum of 2014 David Moreau, Santenay, Premier Cru, Clos de Rousseau: it was singing, still incredibly fresh with great acidity and plenty of crunchy red fruit. Alongside a 75cl bottle of the same wine, the difference really showed. The smaller bottle was still bright, but more autumnal, with notes of bonfire, smoke and forest floor. Yes, it was delicious, but it showed its age in comparison. 

There’s a sense of awe and theatricality when you slam down a magnum in the middle of the table. Burgundy winemaker Jacques Devauges, of Clos des Lambrays, explained it to me quite well. He said that if you put down a normal-sized bottle of Clos de Lambrays, people will start to think, “Is there going to be enough to go around? Paul certainly likes to drink – he’d better not have it all!”. Whereas with a magnum, all anxiety disappears. You’re guaranteed at least your fair share of a wine you’ve been dying to taste. It brings a sense of calm. 

Typically, when I think of magnums, I think of special occasions. My cellar is stocked with an array of magnums, with many future Christmases in mind. The longevity of the ageing brings a sense of assurance that these wines will perform exactly as they should, when the moment to uncork them arrives.  

Magnums are still a bit niche. You might not have the space in your fridge or cellar – especially with the turkey taking up a whole shelf – but my advice would be to make room. Celebrations and Instagram likes aside, magnums facilitate something more special: sharing magical moments with friends.  

How to decant a magnum  

As we enter party season, Henrietta Gullifer shares some key advice for serving a fine wine magnum to your guests.  

This is going to be the year of the magnum. Gone are the muted, intimate festivities of last Christmas; this time, it’s all about large parties, extended family get-togethers and prolonging the festive season as much as we can. I believe a magnum is the best way to get into the celebratory mood, as well as being perfect for larger gatherings. 

Magnums may seem a little daunting, particularly when it comes to decanting the wine. I’m afraid that opening the bottle early won’t give you the same benefit as decanting, as the oxygen exposure is minimal. The main purpose of decanting is to aerate the wine slightly; exposing it to oxygen will soften the texture and enhance the flavour. An older wine may also need to be filtered and decanted to remove any sediment that has collected over the years as the wine ages. The physical act of pouring is more important than the shape or size of the decanter that you use – especially as many of us don’t have magnum decanters around. 

Any large jug should work. Ideally, I’d recommend investing in a good filter funnel. Pour slowly, keeping the bottle on its side to reduce the chances of transferring the sediment. You can serve your wine from the jug. Alternatively, you could pour the wine back into the bottle – this is known as double decanting – for a little wow factor. Bear in mind that, for this, you will need a funnel. I would also recommend rinsing out the bottle. There isn’t a strict time frame for decanting wine, but I recommend doing it a few hours before, which gives you plenty of time. 

Cooking for a crowd 

Michelin-trained chef Stewart Turner is used to cooking for a crowd; he does it every day from the kitchens of No.3 St James’s Street. He imparts a few quick dinner-party wins.

Large formats are always a bit of a showstopper. They’re great if you’ve got a full house or if you have a crowd coming over at Christmas – or any time, for that matter. Preparation is key: you want to enjoy the party as much as your guests. Being stuck in the kitchen all night is no fun – that I can tell you from experience! My top tip is to think about your menu carefully. Consider which dishes can be prepared in advance, like canapés that just need a quick finishing touch, or a starter that can be pre-plated.  

Like a magnum, a large sharing dish has a real wow factor. Think beef tomahawk with a gratin dauphinoise or a whole roast turbot. A classic wellington is always a winner, whether it be beef, venison, or vegetable. The whole thing can be done in advance – it just has to be cooked at the last minute. I recently made a salmon wellington, which was a real success. Cooking on a theme is also a great idea. For instance, a spiced, slow-cooked shoulder of lamb with couscous, flat bread and homemade hummus makes a great Levantine feast, and most of it can be prepared in advance. 

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