budget hacks, pairing tips and more

Over the Christmas and New Year holidays, we’d bet more vino is bought and consumed than any other time of the year. But how do you choose a drop that will please everyone? One that will pair excellently with those barbecue prawns or that ultra-rich glazed ham? And how do you stock up on the best bottles without breaking the bank?

Laurent Rospar, head sommelier, curator and wine expert at Little Prince Wine, was kind enough to share the answers to all your burning questions – plus, a few extra tips on how to keep your wine game flowing well into 2024. Bookmark this guide for the next time you find yourself in the bottle shop feeling stumped!

Thanks for helping us out, Laurent! What’s your number one tip for buying wine for the festive season?

My number one tip is to try to go light on alcohol. Champagne can kick up the party quickly, so if you’re looking for something more mellow and budget-friendly, choose a Tassie sparkling instead. 

What wine would you recommend to go with a classic Christmas lunch? For example, a turkey or glazed ham and roast veggies.

I tend to lean towards crisp, fresh whites for a traditional Christmas lunch. A Canberra riesling or an Alsacien wine will work exceptionally well. For reds, I myself like a cabernet franc with turkey or ham.

If you need an all-rounder that complements your main dish and traditional sides, grab something versatile and medium-bodied, like a pinot noir. If you’re serving a lamb roast, reach for a robust red wine like a cabernet sauvignon. These wines balance the hearty flavours of your main with a bit of earthiness from the wine. 

Interesting suggestions. But seeing as so many of us are feeling the pinch these days, how do you pick the best value wines to enjoy over the festive period? 

The best value wine comes down to two things. First, your selection must appeal to a wide range of preferences, so stock up on crowd-pleasers. Next, your wine choices should also be friendly to your wallet. Balancing both factors is what gets you the best value. 

If you’re having a traditional Christmas lunch, make sure to get something for every taste. I recommend a good value summer riesling, pinot or gamay. You can even chill a shiraz for the old-timers in the group. You can grab a great bottle of each of these wines for around the $28 to $35 mark. 

Great points! Now, many Aussies do a more seafood-driven lunch, with lots of fresh prawns, lobster or crayfish. Could you advise on wine pairings?

When you’re serving a seafood lunch, keep your wine selection light and fresh. If a seafood platter is on the menu, I recommend a chenin blanc from the Loire Valley. Its crisp, refreshing flavour pairs well with prawns, lobster and fish. It’s a versatile match without overpowering the food. 

If you’re serving oysters, the best match is a muscadet. Shellfish and white wine are a beloved combination for good reason, and a light-bodied muscadet is known as the ultimate oyster wine. Its dry acidity creates a combination that’s both punchy and delicious.

Some of us do a barbecue for Christmas – any picks for chilled reds that will go well with snags and marinated meats?

I recommend a chilled gamay for a Christmas barbecue, specifically the gamay from the Beaujolais Villages. My next pick would be a chilled fleurie to pair with barbecue meat. 

If a chilled wine is not on the cards – whether by preference or lack of room in the fridge – choose a Beaujolais Villages morgon or a gamay from Sorrenberg in Beechworth.

Wow, those are some unique options! If we’re buying wine to gift to friends and family over the festive season, what’s the easiest way to make the best choice without breaking the bank? 

Gifting is tricky because you’re trying to find that sweet spot between staying on budget and choosing a wine that wows. And of course, you have to get them something they’ll want to drink. For a guaranteed winner, I recommend the Heathcote Collection shiraz from Mitchelton Winery. It’s great value for money and gives a good impression. This bottle comes ready to gift in a beautiful bag. It’s also a wine that not everyone has tried yet — and who can pass up a good shiraz? 

Is decanting really necessary, and if so, how do you do it? 

You’ll be happy about this if you’re not a wine connoisseur. Modern wines don’t call for decanting as much because they’re designed to be ready to drink. If your wine comes with a screw cap, you can be confident it’ll be at its best as soon as it’s poured from the bottle. 

There are a few exceptions to this. A new vintage of cabernet or merlot may benefit from a quick decanting. If you have an older vintage nebbiolo or Bordeaux, for example, I would recommend opening and decanting. The wine can be poured into a decanter or wide red wine glass. 

Any Christmas food and wine pairings you recommend that we haven’t already covered?

If you haven’t yet decided on your holiday menu, I recommend choosing something new based on these wine pairings — it’ll give your guests something to talk about. 

If you’re a fan of pan-fried fish, serve it with a gamay. To impress your guests when you serve oysters, pop open Picpoul de Pinet. If you’re venturing into roast duck this season, pair it with Spanish vermouth Rojo.

The key to Christmas food and wine pairings is to have fun with it. With so many appetisers, mains and side dishes passed around – and lots of different bottles corked open – there’s a plenty of mix-and-matching going on anyway. It’s a great opportunity to find your own favourite flavour combination.

What are your picks for an easy crowd-pleasing wine that’s likely to suit everyone at the table?

The one thing that brings a smile to everyone’s face? A Spritz on a hot day. My recommendation for a crowd-pleasing drink at Christmas is an Aperol Spritz with a nice prosecco. 

We’re so grateful for you letting us pick your brains, Laurent. Cheers – and Merry Christmas!

With more than 30 years of experience, Laurent Rospars is the vivacious head sommelier and curator at Little Prince Wine, a boutique Melbourne wine store and wine bar in St Kilda. From a childhood spent trimming beans in the Loire Valley to overseeing kitchens across the globe, Laurent’s journey has culminated in a passionate focus on curating exceptional wine experiences. As a storyteller and guide, Laurent encourages palates to explore new territories. His wisdom echoes: drink widely, stay curious and follow your taste buds, making every sip an adventure.

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