From warming mulled vino to luxurious fizz, Christmas is a time to indulge in wines of all kinds. Here Tristan Darby from Bristol Wine School offers his top tips for choosing wines this festive season…

Interview with Tristan Darby

Which wines would you recommend to someone who is hosting a Christmas gathering and wants to ensure they have a good variety on offer?
This is a very tricky and broad question, but I do go by a few general guidelines. In terms of sparkling wines, I recommend rose varieties. These tend to have a bit more weight and structure than usual sparkling wines, making them suitable for both starter and main-course matching. When it comes to white wines, Riesling comes in top for me. Riesling is one of the most under-loved of the classic white grape varieties, but it has a fantastically broad spectrum of sweetness and an all-important level of acidity that cuts through fat and richness.

Pinot noir is undoubtedly one of the most versatile, food-friendly wines. It produces lighter wine than a lot of other grape varieties and has a subtle tannin structure due to the thin skin of the grape. Lighter, fresher pinots tend to go with foods like hams, paté, charcuterie and creamy sauces. Fruitier pinots from New World areas work with roasted meats and mildly spiced food, while full-bodied pinots work better with lamb, venison, beef or cassoulet.

Wrapping Christmas presents while enjoying a mulled wine or two is a festive tradition for many – which varieties of wine are great for mulling?
I mostly go for the most full-bodied, smooth and fruity wines at the cheapest price on offer at the time. You are going to infuse it with spice and fruit, so buying a decent bottle doesn’t really matter! My little tip is to add a good tot of Somerset Cider Brandy or Calvados into the mix for an extra fruity, warm, alcoholic kick.

 Christmas Wine Tips from Bristol Wine School

Which wines would you be pleased to find wrapped up under the tree?
Any! I’m fascinated by wine from all over the world in its myriad of different styles. Being a ‘wine person’ people tend to shy away from buying wine for me, but despite the fact that I work with it every day, I never lose my enthusiasm to try new and interesting things.

Which wines would you pair with the traditional Christmas turkey with all the trimmings?
The difficulty in matching wines for the Christmas roast is the sheer variety of flavours on a single plate, from starchy potatoes to savoury sprouts and sweet cranberry sauce. There is a risk of losing the wine underneath them all. So I go for wines with a decent amount of chutzpah and a touch of sweetness – usually a well-oaked New World chardonnay, and a rich New World pinot noir from somewhere like Central Otago in New Zealand.

How about those going for a different bird, such as duck, goose or a three-bird roast, or perhaps roast beef, venison, pork or a nut roast?
Hmm, I’ll stick with the aforementioned wines to keep things brief, but my true answer here would be very long as you’ve mentioned quite a variety of different meats that would each change my wine choice slightly (geek!).

A festive dinner wouldn’t be complete without the Christmas pud – can you recommend a dessert wine to match?
Christmas pudding can vary in style (and also the amount of brandy sloshed on top) so to be safe I’d probably go for something sweet and fruity with enough body to stand up to the strong flavours in the pudding. I’ve found best success with French fortified Muscat grape wines such as a Beaumes de Venise from the Rhone, or St Jean de Minervois from Languedoc.

Classes at Bristol Wine School

Finally, which wines and Champagnes are best to see in the New Year with?
If I was looking to save money, I’d go for a good New World, traditional-method sparkling, such as Cap Classique from South Africa or an Argentinian or Tasmanian bubbly, which come in at around £10 to £15 a bottle. If I was looking to spend a bit more, I’d plump for vintage Champagne from a good year like 1995 or 2002. Although there are some good-value, interesting non-vintage Champagnes available (Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve is a personal favourite), for me, when well made, vintage wines truly justify the price point and reputation.

If you fancy booking yourself onto one of Tristan’s excellent wine-tasting courses at Bristol Wine School, you might just find a nice little discount code hidden under one of our advent calendar doors.

Michelle Grady

Michelle Grady

Michelle is an ex-Fed Up & Drunker who has now been released into the wild.

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