Entertaining at home? Planned your festive menu to allow for the different tastes of your guests? This is where pairing comes into its own, so that every dish has its perfect partner.

Portugal is a sea-faring nation and home to some of the freshest, most delicious seafood in Europe. It also has the highest consumption of fish per capita of any European country. The question is, what to pair with it?

That grand Christmas dinner is almost here: when else in the year can we enjoy Champagne for breakfasts, heavy reds for lunch and great Ports for afternoon relax? It’s the season of delícious foods.

Good sparkling wine is sacred in these moments of celebration, followed by a white, and also a red of medium structure and good softness. And finally, it is essential to open a fortified wine for dessert to comfort the soul and cheer the spirits. Fortunately, there is a large repertoire of Portuguese wines with this profile, and many good options of high quality and good prices, in each region of Portugal.

But as joyful as the Christmas meals can be, it’s nearly impossible to find a few bottles that will hit the right note with every element. Choosing a wine for each dish on the Christmas menu is often difficult, either because of the dynamics of the dishes that arrive at the table together, or because of a large number of guests. For this reason, it is necessary to choose a small portfolio of labels, which cover the largest number of dishes with well-achieved harmonization.

That’s where we can help you now… just read on for our guide to festive food and wine pairings!


At Portuguese Christmas, the bacalhau is the boss, particularly on Christmas Eve. The most consumed fish in the country, it’s said there are 365 different ways to cook it – one for every day of the year.

Traditionally on the 24th, it’s a case of ‘Cod with all’ a dish that includes  boiled potatoes, boiled egg, Portuguese cabbage, and sometimes carrots and chickpeas, watered with a good oil that is heated with onion and garlic.

While a medium-bodied red would work well with this dish, the naturally higher acids in white varieties make for a nice match with the inherent saltiness of the dish. But some body is also needed., so it’s time to head to the Dão region of Portugal, to the birth land of one of the country’s great, indigenous whites, Encruzado. The lovely creamy, tropical flavours are supported by naturally high levels of acidity and there’s enough weight and power to stand up to bacalhau. A delicious pairing and well worth trying!


Roasted turkey is also present on Christmas tables in Portugal, though less frequently than bacalhau. As tradition dictates, turkey can only be consumed after the Mass, which is why it is often the choice for Christmas Day. But to non-Portuguese, turkey remains the star of the show.

Pairing wine with roast turkey is certainly not difficult. The meat’s succulent flavour and juicy texture works well with an array of diverse grape varieties and that opens the door  – and taste buds – to both rich balanced whites, and earthy, fruit-driven reds.

The nuances matter when pairing wine with turkey; how you prepare your turkey will dictate the choice.

Pinot Noir You can’t go wrong with this, when served alongside a classic, roasted turkey with gravy. Select a new world Pinot Noir from California or Argentina, or you might prefer a real classic from France’s Burgundy region, or a German Spatburgunder.

Chardonnay No matter which region you look to, you can’t go wrong in pairing Chardonnay with your turkey; its oaky notes will bring out more complex flavours and textures from the turkey, while a fruity and crisp Chardonnay such as Chablis or Burgundy offers a delicate mouthfeel. Regardless of your choice, the acidity and fruitiness are constants that make for an excellent partner.

Champagne contains high acidity, which pairs well with traditional roasted turkey and can be drunk throughout the meal, including with dessert.

Riesling A dry, German Riesling is an outstanding choice to accompany turkey. Forget the explosively sugar-ridden bottles that used to dominate the market – dry Riesling is back, and better than ever. The drink’s high acidity and minerality add a delicious.

Beaujolais Another popular choice for roast turkey. The Beaujolais Cru is a young wine that is light and high in acidity, making for a distinct and enjoyable match. Beaujolais Nouveau is also a popular choice  – this light and fruity variation will complement the turkey, and its low alcoholic content will effortlessly highlight sweeter flavours.

Sangiovese The Italian Sangiovese is another excellent choice – its subtly spicy flare helps bring out more unique, savoury flavours in your turkey.


If there’s a cheese deserving attention all on its own, it just might be Stilton. Made entirely from cow’s milk sourced from three English counties, the tall ’cylinders’ of cheese stand apart. Named after the Cambridgeshire village where it is made, Stilton carries a wallop of flavour and crmbly texture. It is smoky, nutty, and savoury, a real Christmas special.

Creating wine and cheese pairings is challenging, but a good pairing is well worth the effort, especially when it comes to blue cheese whose strong flavours can clash with many wines. In general, it can be said that the bolder the cheese, the bolder the wine. Blue cheeses need strong wines or sweet wines to balance their flavours. Consider these:

Port wine A traditional pairing for Stilton is the Port wines what you can pair with other types of blue as well. The challenges posed by tannins and high alcohol are offset by the wine’s intense grapey sweetness. Look for an LBV (Late Bottled Vintage) Portsin your wine shop, which is ready to drink upon purchase (as opposed to Vintage Port, which is meant to be cellared).

Sherry Another type of fortified wine with a strong flavour profile, the sweetness of Sherry works well with the pungency of the cheese. A very old, oxidative sherry like the nutty Oloroso is particularly good.

Malbec This medium to full-bodied red with notes of dark fruits (such as blackberries and plums), cocoa, and leather is a great partner for blue cheese.

Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Sauvignon is another medium to full-bodied red option. While it shares some similarities to Malbec, it does feature stronger tannins, making it the more intense of the two. If you pair Cabernet Sauvignon with a milder blue, however, you might lose some of the more subtle notes of the cheese.

Tokaji Aszu Some white wines also make for a great pairing with Stilton. One excellent option to consider is Tokaji Aszu. This sweet, white dessert wine features notes of dried apricots, figs, dates, and nuts. All these flavours appear also in the golden, sweet Tokaji wines of Hungary, which are labeled with a number from 2 to 6 that denotes their sweetness, 6 being the richest.


Dessert is a big deal in Portugal and no meal is complete without a sweet finale, especially at Christmas time. Bolo Rei, quite literally ’King Cake’, is traditionally eaten over Christmas. Shaped in the style of a crown, its oft, sweet dough is embedded with dried fruits, nuts and baked until crunchy. A lovely tradition in Portuguese families is to hide a small token in the cake somewhere, and whoever finds it has to either make or buy the cake the following year!

With a sweet dessert like the Bolo Rei, the best to drink something that brings out the fruity character, without overpowering it. Moscatel de Setubal is perfect for this; tangy and sweet with lovely flavours of apricots, nectarines and honey. Make sure you taste a younger bottle as they can get quite smokey, dark and nutty with age; delicious, yes, but not quite right with Bolo Rei!


There is an argument that you don’t need anything to drink with the classic Christmas pudding, especially if you’ve sloshed brandy all over it, but if you’re pairing other courses you might fancy a small glass of something sweet.

If you serve a rich sweet wine like a Moscatel or a sweet Sherry, you can make an already rich pudding overwhelmingly rich. On the other hand, a lighter dessert wine such as a Sauternes or a glass of sparkling wine can get lost amidst all the rich spicy fruit.

In my view, the type of wine that works best is a dessert wine with flavours of orange or apricot, an aged Tawny Port or rich Madeira. Try a ten or 20-year-old Tawny which is slightly less sweet than a Ruby Port or a Late Bottled Vintage and I think the nutty flavours work well together. Serve it as they do in Portugal, lightly chilled.

Less-sweet wines such as non-botrytised, late-harvest Rieslings can match less-sweet desserts. The rule of thumb is the sweetness of the wine should be equal to, or greater than, that of the dessert. Otherwise, you won’t be able to taste the wine.

If you’re a beer fan you might enjoy a bottle of barley wine (an extra-strong ale) with the pudding. Or serve your pud with a small well-chilled glass of Grand Marnier or other orange-flavoured liqueur.

Words: Livia Mokri

Share This Story