In Château Caplan, inhabited by a motley selection of unbelievers, there is little Yuletide discussion of births, virgin or otherwise, but much debate about birds. I have never liked turkey, and a certain similarity to another overweight and domineering North American butterball whose dubious popularity rests on an excessive regard for tradition and whiteness has only made me less keen.
What’s wrong with goose or capon – both birds with richer, darker meat – or for that matter, beef or lamb? This is heresy, of course, to which I say: well, yes.
Still, if you take dogma out of the equation you are left with dinner, and with a centrepiece with one overwhelming positive: it can go with almost anything. This is fine compensation indeed. I may not choose what I eat, but boy can I have fun choosing what everyone drinks.
Often, I choose white Burgundy. There are several reasons for this, the main one being that this region’s wines have two essential elements that turkey lacks: variety and flavour. This is a compliment to the wine, but not in fact an insult to the bird. Turkey is all about the sauces and the stuffings. There are 17th-century recipes for truffle-perfumed bouillon or an onion sauce with orange juice, lemon peel and claret. Today’s options are usually simpler – but that just gives more scope to the wine.
Burgundy, in white wine terms, stretches 125 miles from Chablis to Mâcon, via the legendary wines of the Côte-d’Or, but the grape is reliably Chardonnay. Our Christmas dinner generally begins with oysters, which are a beautiful match for the lemon and gunflint of Chablis, before progressing to the much-discussed bird. Avoid the acidity of cranberry sauce, or opt for red wine, but otherwise Christmas, and creamy sauces such as bread sauce in particular, is a fine excuse to go crazy with a fabulous bottle from Hubert Lamy in St-Aubin or Domaine Coche-Bizouard in Meursault.
There are also excellent cheaper options: I’ve always felt that Mâcon’s proximity to Bourg-en-Bresse, home to the world’s finest chickens, makes it an obvious accompaniment to poultry. The north has one of France’s finest co-operatives, La Chablisienne. Further up the Christmas wish list are premier cru Chablis such as Domaine Pinson’s Montmain or Jean-Marc Brocard’s Montée de Tonnerre; the former as pure and stark as a Christmas snowfall, the latter warmer, richer, but still laced with lovely acidity.
In the south, you can meander among the price brackets, trying the lush, honeyed Domaine Guillemot-Michel Viré Clessé Quintaine against Meursault Clos des Grands Charrons from Château de Meursault, which is deeper, more complex and more than twice the price.
The Wine Society has an excellent range, from £10 a bottle to £100, including several mentioned here, and if you aren’t yet a member then that’s the Christmas present sorted, too. On 25 December I will raise a glass, shining golden as a tree ornament or a heaven-sent star, and toast the near-infinite diversity of beliefs, of readers and of wines. Then I shall lower that glass, descend from my high horse, and give the turkey its due.
Next week: Felicity Cloake on food
This article appears in the 28 Nov 2018 issue of the New Statesman, How the Brexit fantasy died