Early bird Christmas tips – the things you need to think about now

Whether you're thinking about decorations, food or how to pair the perfect wine, Berry Bros. & Rudd’s Wine Club Manager Katie Rolph offers essential advice on hosting the perfect festive feast.

Even the most competent of home cooks, and the most welcoming of hosts, can find themselves bowing under the burden of expectation when catering for family and friends over Christmas.

Anticipation has a lot to do with it. The build-up seems to start earlier each year, with summer barely in the rear-view mirror before negotiations start over whose turn it is to host, which bird to serve, or which table setting will guarantee the least friction between warring relatives. By the time Christmas Day arrives it can feel like one’s festive imaginings of the happiest day of the year are but a wistful memory.

But it needn’t be this way: with careful planning, thoughtful preparation and no small measure of liquid lubrication, Christmas can go off without a hitch. Here are some key tips on how to pull it off.

Prepare, prepare, prepare

  • Plan your menu for the three main days of Christmas well in advance. Think about guests’ likes, dislikes and allergies – but above all be guided by what you like to cook, serve and eat. You will feel much less stressed with a tried-and-tested family favourite than trying something new at the 11th hour. Place your food orders in a timely manner too, and delegate their collection to someone else.
  • Lay the table for Christmas Day after supper on Christmas Eve. Include place settings to ensure the cook can sit nearest the kitchen.
  • Decide on, and locate, serving plates and bowls in advance so you are not scrabbling around for them at the last minute.
  • Go further by starting the day with the dishwasher unloaded and the bin empty for ease of clearing up. Save space in the fridge, and take advantage of the British weather, by cooling wine in a large chiller bin outside the back door.

Be generous with your wine choices

  • Place your wine order early. This gives you plenty of time to chase up the delivery if it is delayed, or order more if temptation means you’ve tucked into it early.
  • Never underestimate the power of decent Champagne (or sparkling wine) to get everyone in the party mood. Starting the day off with some bubbles will set a happy, festive tone and (hopefully) smooth away any familial tensions.

Food and wine matching tips

Christmas is a time for excess so, if you wouldn’t usually, consider treating your guests and serving a different wine with each course. Don’t be too constrained by so-called “food and wine matching rules”, but instead trust your instinct and some general guidelines:

  • Match the weight of the food with the weight of the wine: a roast rib of beef will best complement a full-bodied red wine, such as those from Bordeaux; whereas delicate shellfish will do well with a light-bodied, mineral white wine like Chablis.
  • Wines with high acidity complement fatty foods well: try Sauvignon Blanc with smoked salmon. The crispness will cut through the oily fish beautifully and leave a whistle-clean feeling on the palate.
  • A touch of sweetness generally enhances salty foods. Roquefort and Sauternes is a classic match; the saltiness of the cheese is balanced out by the intense sweetness of the wine.
  • Tannin is found in red wine, but not all black grapes were created equal. The thicker the skins of the grapes, the more deeply coloured the wine and therefore the more tannic it will be. Tannins are softened by fatty proteins and so choose a tannic wine such as Cabernet Sauvignon to match rich meats like lamb.
  • Sweetness can be difficult to judge but generally, aim to serve a wine that is as sweet, if not sweeter, than the dish it is accompanying. Many sweet white wines, such as those from Bordeaux, have high acidity too and these make a great match for rich, Christmassy dishes such as pâté.

Go further by joining a Wine Club who will put together a mixed case to fulfil all your entertaining needs. Berry Bros. & Rudd’s Wine Club offers a “Christmas in a box” option with their November Napoleon Mixed Case (£240). Featuring top fizz, Grand Cru St Emilion, a brilliant white Burgundy and a deliciously nutty Sherry, its 12 bottles will see you through Christmas Day and take all the hassle out of selecting the wines yourself.

Embrace easy shortcuts

  • Plan a cold starter that you can prepare and plate up in advance. No-one wants to be poaching 12 eggs to top a smoked haddock risotto while the turkey is resting impatiently nearby.
  • Cook what you can in disposable trays to save on washing up. Turkey roasters can be found in most supermarkets, but you can also cook your potatoes in tinfoil trays to avoid the inevitable, and tiresome, pan-scraping that comes at the end of a long meal.
  • Go further by part roasting potatoes the day before then finishing them off in the oven on the day; not only does this get much of the work done in advance, but it also saves on oven time while still delivering a deliciously, crunchy spud.

Set the scene… and relax

  • Create a soothing playlist with at least three hours’ worth of music so you don’t need to refresh it mid-meal. Plan some favourite games to keep the party going in the inevitable post-lunch lull.
  • Take at least 20 minutes after completing your preparations to get ready yourself. Nobody wants to see the host looking harassed or stressed.
  • Light candles and the fire to create a cosy, welcoming atmosphere. Prepare a great reception drink (a fabulous G&T with top ingredients is a crowd-pleaser – No3 London Dry Gin from Berry Bros. & Rudd is perfect) to greet your guests in style.
  • Delegate the less glamorous jobs (collecting up discarded present wrappings, noting down who received what to make thank-you card writing a doddle, keeping drinks topped up and handing round the canapés) to ensure you can sit back, relax and enjoy the fruits of your labours.

Find out more about Berry Bros. & Rudd’s Wine Club at bbr.com/wine-club or by calling 0800 280 2440. If you join before 26th October, quote COUNTRYLIFE to receive a free magnum of Berry Bros. & Rudd Good Ordinary Claret with your first Wine Club case.