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It’s a match: Rob Buckhaven’s guide to choosing your Christmas Day booze

by Rob Buckhaven

published on 17 December 2021

My debut book, The Alcorithm – a revolutionary flavour guide to find the drinks you’ll love, was born out of an obsession with flavours. In my weekly Metro drinks column, I recommend tipples of all shapes and sizes, from wine, gin and cocktails through to tequila and sangria. With similar flavours shared by drinks you wouldn’t necessarily expect, I have put together a unique flavour adventure, based on the ‘if you like this, you’ll love that’ algorithm, or alcorithm.

Choosing your Christmas Day booze can be an overwhelming process, but the alcorithm is here to help with that too. Whether your feast is based around red meat, white meat, game, fish, or a nut roast, find the best bottle to accompany your meal with my flavour-led guide.

Red Meat

Roast Beef and Hermitage

Roast beef’s intensity depends on factors like the breed of cow and how long it’s cooked. As a rule of thumb, go for something with similar notes like a beefy, peppery Syrah from Hermitage in the Rhône. I file this wine under flavours of roast beef and black tea in my book and also mention how it tastes like chewing on a spartan warrior, in a good way. They were vegan though, allegedly, so I’m not sure how that works…

Lamb and a Margarita

When pairing with mild-mannered lamb, mix yourself a Margarita. Tequila’s earthy notes will mirror the meat’s, and its green peppercorn and herbaceous nuances, enhanced by the sour-grassy-zesty profile of the lime, are a slam-dunk with a garlic and rosemary crust. A minty Mojito will also cut the mustard.  

White Meat

Turkey and New Zealand Pinot Noir

If we cater for the most prominent flavours on the Christmas table, we’ll most likely be looking at the cranberry sauce, sprouts and a herby stuffing. It doesn’t have to be a New Zealand Pinot Noir, but their unique, UV-heavy environment draws out the grape’s crunchy red berry and violet notes, which perfectly complement the flavoursome power-plays on the plate. The quenching acidity of these wines slices clean through the gravy, too.

Herb-roast Chicken and a Dry White Vermouth & Tonic

Treat vermouth like a wine (it’s a wine-based beverage after all) aromatised with a host of herbs, peels, roots and spices similar to those found in gin. With its wormwood and juniper base notes, Vermouth’s party trick is a kick of bitterness which, combined with tonic, will offset the light sweetness of chicken meat. It will almost act like an accompanying sauce, working together with the herbs in the chicken to conjure something truly memorable.

Roast Pork with Crackling and English-style IPA

There’s an embarrassment of riches in roast pork; white and dark meat with chewy, crunchy, salty, fatty, umami-rich crackling. Can you tell I like crackling? Much in the same way as a quenchsome, high-acidity red or white would slice through the richness, a Citra hop-led IPA would very effectively do the same job. Hops are high in alpha acids and essential oils with an innate bitterness that offsets the sweet pork meat for a melt-in-your-mouth moment.

Game

Roast Goose and English Sparkling Rosé

Slap yourself on the back for being adventurous if you’re going goose-over-turkey on the big day, which sounds like you’ve fallen over. Way more gamey than turkey, goose often shares a plate with port-braised red cabbage and roast chestnuts, which present their own set of challenges. Leave it to the Pinot Noir-dominated credentials of English sparkling Rosé, with enough sweet fruit and mouth gushing acidity to tenderise the goose meat and complement the tricky trimmings. 

Orange-stuffed Duck and an Old Fashioned

This may seem like a pairing too far, but bartenders already infuse bourbon with duck fat and the Old Fashioned is garnished with an orange, not unlike duck a l’orange. Convinced? You will be once I tell you that high alcohol absorbs fat more easily. The duck meat will mesh beautifully with the inflections of barley malt syrup, vanilla and plantain in the cocktail, punctuated by the orange zest notes in the accompanying bitters.

Fish

Dover Sole Meunière and White Burgundy

No need to flounder around (get it?) with your drinks pairing for this simple, classic dish. Pan-fried sole with a beurre noisette requires the heavy lifting capabilities of a Puligny Montrachet, which no other wine can truly match. With its reputation as the planet’s best expression of Chardonnay, Puligny has the youthful energy of a golden retriever, plus citrus-honey notes and a macadamia nut-like richness and texture which will even complement the optional capers.

Gravlax and a Gin Martini

Though we barely need an excuse to bust out the cocktail glasses, the purity of a gin-based martini is spot on to sear through this rich, herbaceous Nordic starter. Juniper is gravlax’s traditional preparatory spice, a conifer with a strong pine and citrus flavour game. It’s a similar story for gin, so whether it’s garnished with an olive or a twist of lemon zest, a martini is bang-on alongside gravlax, cornichons, capers, red onion, crème fraiche and the anise notes of rye bread.  

Vegetarian

Nut Roast and Amontillado Sherry

We’re talking densely baked umami flavours that aren’t a million miles from a regular roast dinner. This flavour profile is replicated rather intensely in the form of Amontillado Sherry, with a style that straddles a super-fresh, saline Fino and a deeply nutty, savoury Oloroso that smacks of olive brine and walnut brittle. It sounds obvious, but you’d need to make sure you’re serving this highly specific pairing to bona fide sherry fans, and if you are, then nothing beats it.

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