The annual holiday meal provides that rare opportunity to go all the way and open up the best bottles you can afford. And with the entire clan gathered at one large table, you can be sure there will be plenty of toasts and plenty of refills, so it's a marvellous opportunity to serve different wines, perhaps even several, with each course. Selecting and purchasing those wines can be a straightforward and pleasant task -- with so much fuss over other holiday details, who needs to stress about wine? To get the most enjoyment from your wine-shopping experience, it shouldn't be left to the last minute. If ever there was a good time for you to stock the wine pantry, then this is it.
Chef Ian Muggridge's traditional English menu featured in this issue (see "A Heritage Christmas: All the Trimmings," page 147) is a classic, with turkey, time-honoured side dishes and pudding. Thankfully, poultry is one of the easiest foods to pair with wine. Look at the back label of any bottle -- red or white -- and if food-matching suggestions are offered, they're bound to include chicken. Of course, turkey is poultry, but it isn't chicken. The main difference is that chicken combines dark meat (legs and thighs) and white meat (breasts and wings), while turkey, duck, goose and most other domestic birds have darker meat throughout.
Unless your stuffing and side dishes are exceedingly sweet or spicy, any wine served should emulate the natural characteristics of turkey's best friend, cranberry sauce, which is fruity and acidic (sugar is added to the sauce to reduce the tartness, but only enough so it doesn't bite back). Red wines like Beaujolais or those produced from Pinot Noir or Zinfandel tend to fit the bill best. If you have guests who can't or won't drink red, opt for a young German Riesling or Gewürztraminer that has "Kabinett" or "Spätlese" prominently displayed on the front label. Rieslings from Canada will do very nicely if they have a hint of residual sugar. Look for "off-dry" or "medium dry" on the label for the right level of sweetness. Al though, in general, it's difficult to make a bad decision with a holiday menu, you should avoid big, tannic, "monster" reds and over-oaked dry whites. Save those massive Amarones and Australian shirazes for roast beef and charbroiled steaks, and the oaky whites for osso bucco.
Starter wines can be as gentle as Chablis, unoaked Chardonnay, Riesling or a high-end bubbly. Choose a wine with a lower level of alcohol; 13.5 or 14 per cent may be too high for guests with empty stomachs. For the end of such a celebratory meal, the main consideration is that the wine be sweeter than the dessert. It's the perfect time to open a pink icewine or tawny port, but any good "sticky" will do. Other classic matches, especially with Christmas pudding, are oloroso sherry, malmsey Madeira and Mavrodaphne, a Greek speciality.
Konrad Ejbich's traditional Christmas wine list
These may not all be available in every province. Take this list to your local wine merchant, and ask him or her to suggest some similar alternatives.
Domaine Chandon, Brut Classic ($24)
Leon Beyer, Pinot Gris ($17)
Peninsula Ridge, Inox Chardonnay ($13)
Turkey & trimmings
Bouchard Père & Fils,
Beaune du Château Rouge ($40)
Ravenswood Vintner's Blend, Zinfandel ($20)
Georges Duboeuf, Beaujolais Brouilly ($17)
Jackson-Triggs, Cabernet Franc Icewine ($75)
Graham's, 10-Year-Old Tawny Port ($28)
D. Kourtakis S.A., Mavrodaphne of Patras ($12)
(Prices will vary in local markets.)