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My father loves to drink Pol Roger, especially as Christmas approaches. Starting in early December, he brings a bottle to just about every holiday party and dinner event on his calendar. I’ve seen him drink Pol Roger with everything from festive cheese platters to Christmas ham to gingerbread cookies. No dish is too salty, too sweet, or too hearty for his favorite bottles of Blanc de Blancs and Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill.
Champagne is one of the most versatile wines to pair with food. In fact, if you’re ever in doubt about which wine to pair with a complex or unusual dish, chances are Champagne is an appropriate choice. However, although Champagne is complementary to most foods, not every Champagne pairs equally well with every type of food. To find the best Christmas Champagne to serve with dinner or dessert, consider the style and sweetness of the wine as well as which flavors you want to highlight in the meal.
The Best Christmas Champagne to Serve with Dinner
Three years ago, I was invited to my cousin’s house for Christmas Eve dinner. I knew they were planning on serving a traditional beef tenderloin dish, and I decided to bring a bottle of wine that would complement the main course. Going through my cellar, I saw plenty of great options, from Super Tuscans to New-World Cabernet Sauvignon. However, when my eyes landed on a bottle of 2005 Bollinger La Grande Année Rosé, I instantly knew it was the perfect wine for the occasion. This particular Bollinger label has a savory, smoky quality that complements beef, while the tart cherry flavors excite the palate. When I brought the bottle to dinner, my cousin was surprised that Champagne could pair so well with such a bold, rich Christmas dish. The wine had a wonderful, celebratory quality, and was also a nice change of pace from the usual Bordeaux or California Cab.
To pair Champagne with fish over the holidays, look for lighter, more floral wines that contrast with the fatty seafood.
Champagne pairs well with a wide range of savory Christmas dishes, from fine cuts of beef to roast turkey. The key to finding the best Christmas Champagne is to research tasting notes for each wine in advance–don’t make assumptions based solely on the Champagne’s style. For example, not all rosé Champagne tastes as savory and smoky as Bollinger’s La Grande Année Rosé. If you choose a rosé Champagne that is too delicate and sweet, then a rich, hearty dish will likely overpower the wine.
Here are a few Champagne recommendations for Christmas dinner based on the type of main dish being served:
- Turkey: Roast turkey is a Christmas staple in many homes, and this dish pairs well with just about any type of Champagne. A quality rosé Champagne brings tart red fruit flavors to the table, which beautifully complement any poultry. I find that a Champagne with plenty of acidity and cherry notes has some of the quality of cranberry sauce when served alongside the turkey. Consider Dom Ruinart Rosé, which has fruit-forward notes of pomegranate and pink grapefruit, or non-vintage Krug Brut Rosé.
- Beef: Champagne pairs surprisingly well with certain types of beef. While I would avoid serving Champagne with a dense, intensely flavored dish like beef bourguignon, for cuts of beef like prime rib or tenderloin that are generally cooked simply to underscore the quality of the cut, Champagne is an excellent choice. A rich, creamy, full-bodied wine is the best type of Champagne to serve with beef dishes like these. 2008 Louis Roederer Cristal is one excellent option.
- Ham or Pork: Spiral-sliced ham and pork tenderloin are on the menu in many households this time of the year. The problem with these dishes is that they often have very assertive flavors. Many traditional pork tenderloin recipes involve lots of herbs, while hams tend to be sweet, smoky, and salty. On the other hand, pork is also a relatively delicate meat, so serving a bold California Cab isn’t the best choice either. For this type of holiday dinner, rich, concentrated Champagne that isn’t bone dry will work perfectly. The sweetness in the wine will balance the richness and saltiness of the food, yet won’t overpower the dish, either. A great wine to serve with ham or other pork dishes is 2002 Piper Heidsieck Millésime.
- Root Vegetables and Squash: Vegetarian dishes are also perfect candidates for a Champagne accompaniment. Typically, plant-based Christmas dinners are full of dense, buttery squash and starchy root vegetables like potatoes and parsnips. Brut Champagne brightens these dishes, making them feel less dense and heavy. A good option to serve with a vegetarian meal is a slightly earthy Champagne like non-vintage Billecart-Salmon.
- Lutefisk, Salmon, and Other Seafood: Some households skip turkey and ham in favor of seafood for the holidays. Traditional seafood Christmas dishes like lutefisk and baked or broiled salmon are rich and oily, making Champagne an ideal accompaniment. Some of the best Champagne pairings I’ve ever had are with fried or oily foods, as the Champagne helps refresh the palate in between bites. To pair Champagne with fish over the holidays, look for lighter, more floral wines that contrast with the fatty seafood. A good option is non-vintage Deutz.
If you’re unsure whether your wine will be overpowered by the main course, choose non-vintage Champagne. You don’t want to serve a fine, aged bottle of 1971 Moët & Chandon Dom Perignon unless you’re certain that the wine can stand up to the meal.
The Best Christmas Champagne to Serve with Dessert
A Christmas celebration isn’t complete until you’ve indulged in a few holiday desserts. Christmas desserts are often rich and very sweet and the wine you serve should complement these flavors, but you don’t have to stick with doux Champagne only. There are plenty of wines that have a high dosage but that don’t come across as overly sweet on the palate. Last year I served a bottle of non-vintage Jacques Selosse Sec Exquise as an aperitif before our Christmas Eve dinner. Our small group only got through half of the bottle, so we came back to it and finished off the rest with dessert a few hours later. The wine was complex and lively enough to drink on its own before dinner, yet it still had enough sweetness to complement our homemade spice cake.
The key to a perfect dessert and wine pairing is to consider not just the sweetness level of the wine, but also its subtler flavors, like spice, earthiness, and fruit.
Here are some of the best Christmas Champagnes to serve with traditional holiday desserts:
- Pumpkin or Sweet Potato Pie: A demi-sec or doux rosé Champagne complements the subtle spice in a pumpkin or sweet potato pie. Many rosé blends have an earthy quality that will bring out flavors like cinnamon and nutmeg. Consider Taittinger Nocturne Special Edition Rosé, which is high in sugar but also crisp enough to balance the richness of the pie.
- Plum Pudding: Fine vintage Champagne pairs beautifully with plum pudding. This dessert isn’t as sweet as some of the others on this list, and it often tastes fairly tangy, so you can get away with serving a drier Champagne with it–in some cases, even brut will work. Look for creamy older vintages like 1989 Veuve Cliquot Cave Privée Brut Rosé, as the concentrated flavors of the wine can stand up to a dense Christmas cake.
- Pecan Pie: This supremely sweet Christmas dessert typically goes best with Sauternes, however, you can serve Champagne alongside it if you put some thought into your selection. Serve a demi-sec vintage with nutty, toasted flavors which will complement the spices and pecans in the pie and bring out the depth in the wine. Look for Champagne like Louis Roederer Carte Blanche Demi-Sec.
- Shortbread and Gingerbread Cookies: Just about any Champagne will complement a shortbread, gingerbread, or other simple cookie, as long as the cookie doesn’t have a thick layer of frosting on top. Buttery cookies pair well with brut or extra brut Champagne. Consider 2006 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, which has enough acidity to cut through the sweetness of the cookie. If you want your Champagne to pair well with a spicier gingerbread cookie, then choose a Champagne with subtle spice flavors. A great example of this is 1992 Philipponnat Brut Clos des Goisses. These Champagne suggestions also hold true for other holiday cookies, like biscotti and sugar cookies.
- Chocolate: The best Christmas Champagne to pair with chocolate truffles or simple chocolate desserts (like a flourless chocolate cake) is a vintage that tastes fruit-forward. Because chocolate can be slightly bitter, your Champagne choice doesn’t have to be exceptionally sweet to complement this dessert. A brut vintage with a fruit-forward flavor profile will bring out the sweetness in the chocolate. A good example of this type of wine is 2006 Charles Heidsieck Rosé.
Doux and even most demi-sec vintages are harder to find nowadays than basic brut Champagne. The most popular Champagne vintages are on the dry side because these often have more complex flavors and a greater potential for aging. However, even if you can’t locate any quality bottles of demi-sec or doux Champagne this holiday season, you can still pair a great brut vintage with many classic holiday desserts. The key to a perfect dessert and wine pairing is to consider not just the sweetness level of the wine, but also its subtler flavors, like spice, earthiness, and fruit.
How to Find the Best Christmas Champagne for Your Celebration
The best Christmas Champagne to serve with dinner or dessert depends entirely on what your family’s traditional dishes are and the flavors that appeal most to you. Regardless of what your annual Christmas celebration entails, you’ll find the best Champagne by shopping online. Relying on your local wine shop to supply all of your Christmas Champagne makes it much more difficult to compare the flavor profiles of the wines, and your selection will be very limited. Shopping online allows you to quickly compare tasting notes from dozens of different wine critics and select the wines that will complement every course of your holiday dinner. Moreover, you can order all of your wine weeks in advance from the comfort of your home, allowing you to skip the holiday crowds. With hundreds of bottles to choose from, finding a delicious Champagne online to serve with your Christmas ham is a fun process that will get you in the holiday spirit.
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