In France, Christmas meals lasting anything up to 6 hours are de rigeur. But, with more than 200 wine varieties to choose from – how do you know which are the best wines to drink at Christmas? We asked Laurent Yung of the renowned French wine club, SomMailier for some tips!
How the French drink wine at Christmas
The French truly understand how to celebrate the pleasures of the table. Whether in an elegant Parisian attic apartment, a rustic farmhouse or a grand château surrounded by vineyards, Christmas is a chance to get together with family and friends and enjoy good food, wine and company. The French see Christmas as a time to indulge. Fresh seafood and fine cheeses alongside delicious wines are among the stars of the table.
Champagne, sophisticated reds from the Rhône Valley, Burgundy and Bordeaux, and lusciously sweet dessert wines like Sauternes are all favourites. Here’s how to perfectly pair so you can match French wine with holiday foods to help you enjoy wine like a Frenchie during the festive season.
Perfect guide to pairing French wine at Christmas
Extravagant boozy Christmas parties aren’t common in France. People tend to meet up to celebrate the holidays with a glass or two of something decadent and delicious. Festive French cocktails include Kir Royale, a gorgeous ruby-hued drink made from Champagne and a splash of Crème de Cassis or blackcurrant liqueur. Or maybe a classic Sidecar made with citrusy Cointreau and warming Cognac.
Vin chaud is also popular, a fragrant spiced warm wine. If you fancy trying vin chaud at home, don’t use an expensive French red wine. Copy the French by picking up an everyday, not costly, bottle of red. Add festive spices like cinnamon, cloves and cardamom and maybe a shot of Cognac (recipe for vin chaud). In Normandy and Brittany, cider replaces wine for a cidre chaud drink, a little bit lighter but just as joyful and uplifting.
Wines for Christmas dishes
In France, Christmas Eve is the pinnacle of the Christmas feasting season. Beautifully decorated tables are perfect for a sumptuous Christmas feast and the very best French wines. Known as le réveillon or the “wake-up” dinner. It is not uncommon for the French Christmas Eve dinner to include elaborate five or six course menus that can take up to six hours!
Kick things off by opening a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine. The bubbles are guaranteed to get you in a festive mood. According to scientists, the magnesium, potassium and zinc in Champagne really does make you feel happy. Champagne goes with pretty much everything but it’s tradition in France to serve it with canapes. For salty oysters and smoked salmon choose a Champagne with a decent acidity balancing freshness to help to cut through the heavy, oily texture of the food, cleanse the palate and leave you ready for the rest of your feast.
Wines for starters
For starters which have a sweetness to them (foie gras for instance), pair with a glass of chilled sweet wine like Sauternes, Barsac or Monbazillac or a semi-sweet Côteaux du Layon. These luscious golden wines are gorgeous to look at and offer the perfect mix of richness and fresh acidity. Or you might choose an off-dry French white wine like Riesling from Alsace or even an intense, buttery Chardonnay if you prefer to avoid overwhelming your palate with a sugary wine at the start of the meal.
Other classic entree options include classic garlic snails paired with a crisp Chablis from Burgundy where these little guys are especially popular, or hearty pork rillons made from confit pork belly. These meaty treats are a speciality from the town of Tours in the Loire Valley and make a great match for local Cabernet Franc from Chinon or Bourgueil.
Main course wines
The main course or plat principal comes next. The centerpiece is usually a large bird, roast turkey, Guinea fowl or pheasant. It’s usually stuffed with a chestnut mix. Lobster, crab, duck or seasonal game like venison or boar are also popular. With such a smorgasbord of flavors on the table, most families keep their main course drinks simple and classic. This is the ideal moment to bring out a Grand Cru Bordeaux, a good Burgundy or a fine Chateauneuf du Pape.
Wines for cheese
No French feast would be complete without a cheese course which usually comes between the main course and dessert. A choice of cheeses might include the softies: creamy cow’s milk Vacherin, Brie de Meaux or Camembert. Then it’s on to the hard cheeses – Comté or Cantal. Complete your cheese board with a tangy goat’s milk Tomme de Chèvre and a piquant blue like Roquefort or Bleu d’Auvergne. Here the choice of wine all comes down to personal preference. Pick a Beaujolais cru or Languedoc red to go with the hard cheeses, a decadent Champagne for the creamier cheeses, or try the classic sweet-salty combo of Sauternes and blue cheese. Here’s how to create a perfect French cheese board.
Wines to go with desserts
After that button-popping meal, you might enjoy a lighter dessert. In France a bûche de Noël is the number choice. A chocolate sponge cake shaped and decorated to look like a Yule log (here’s how to make one at home). This sweet treat should be paired with a wine that is even sweeter, so great choices are a glass of Banyuls, a fortified wine from the rugged Languedoc-Roussillon, a demi-sec Champagne or even a chilled Cointreau on the rocks.
If you can manage one more sip, it’s the custom in France to close the meal with a digestif. Try a small serve of appley Calvados, Armagnac, Cognac or something a little more unusual like the herbal liqueur Génépy which is made in the Alps.
French wines in the USA
Laurent is a wine expert who runs SomMailier.com, a French Wine Club in the USA. Become a member and every three months you’ll receive three or six bottles of boutique French wines. Every handcrafted bottle has been carefully selected by wine experts in France. And, you’ll also receive detailed information about wine and food pairing ideas to help you really discover French wine. We think a club membership is the perfect Christmas present! Get a special introductory offer of 10% on any product – just use the code TGLF2022 on the check out page…