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Perfect pairing: top wines to match your Turkey

The beauty of our favourite festive fowl is that it pairs well with a wide variety of wines. So do you opt for your usual choice this year, or try something different? Here’s some advice from our pairing expert, Fiona Beckett, plus 10 suggestions for perfect bottles to bring your Christmas meal to life.

If you’ve cooked – and written about – Christmas turkey as often as I have (which is a lot), you may think there’s nothing more to be said on the subject of what you should drink with it. But can I gently suggest that you might be wrong.

It’s not that there are likely to be options out there that you’ve never thought of – it’s more that it may be possible to do it better, more cheaply, and more in tune with the guests you have round your table this year.

Even if you plan to bring something special out of the cellar this year – I mean, you are a Decanter reader, after all – I suggest it’s wise to have younger wines as back-up, and not only because one or more might be corked or over the hill. Not everyone enjoys older wines, and if it is a big party and they are likely to drink a lot then you might also want something more affordable to hand.

It is of course not just the turkey (which will rub along perfectly amiably with most wines) but the trimmings you need to match with, which are, after all, the main point of Christmas lunch. Of which the stuffing, cranberry sauce and whatever gravy you’re serving are the main issues to contend with.

I find it helpful to consider how traditional your menu is going to be. If the meal is predominantly savoury (ie, chestnut stuffing, classic veg, traditional, British-style gravy), I’d be more inclined to go for a classic red such as a Bordeaux or a Rioja. If it’s more modern in style, with, say, a spicy or fruity stuffing and jazzed up Ottolenghi-ish veg, you might find a brighter red like a Shiraz or a New World Pinot Noir would work better.

It’s also, of course, a question of personal preference. If you can’t drink your favourite wines at Christmas, then when can you? I have a weakness for wines from the Rhône and Languedoc with turkey and could frankly have filled the whole list with them. But I must admit I was impressed by what Tuscany currently has to offer around the £10 mark, and also by the more fruit-driven styles of Bordeaux and Rioja. Sneaking in one that nearly made it onto the list, try the Bodegas Palacio, Glorioso Reserva Rioja 2016 (£11.95-£14.99 Ocado, The Wine Society), which has an almost passito-like ripeness that would make lovers of slightly sweeter reds very happy.

Something white

While I like white Burgundy, particularly mature white Burgundy, with turkey (a discovery I actually made at a Decanter tasting some years ago when a Chassagne-Montrachet came joint top), I generally find red Burgundy too light – or too fragile if it’s a venerable bottle. I’d rather have Beaujolais, which I reckon is also the best pairing for the leftovers.

Other full-bodied whites such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Hermitage, while good candidates for turkey, are really not worth fielding straight off the shelf – there’s an awful lot of underaged white Châteauneuf about, which is why I’ve included the Sablet Côtes du Rhône Villages in my line-up.

And frankly, if there aren’t that many of you, why not drink Champagne, which goes with everything. Gonet-Médeville Tradition 1er Cru Brut (£33.50 Lea & Sandeman) was another that just missed the cut here. Save it for New Year’s Eve if you don’t drink it on the 25th.

The wines to match: 

Wines grouped by colour and ordered by score, in descending order.

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