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How to Drink the Best Restaurant Wines at Home This Christmas

The bottles diners love on menus, brought to the festive table

Peg restaurant and wine bar on Morning Lane, Clapton, east London
A selection of restaurant bottles.
Samuel Ashton

Everyone needs help figuring out what wine to buy for Christmas. Even the most erudite wine buyers turn to companions for input, desperately hoping for a bit of reassurance that the festive cheer will not be sullied by a bad drip.

For the average person, finding a balance between easygoing, cheerful wines and proper meditative bottles, often for a crowd, adds a layer of complexity to the buying process. Luckily, London’s got an incredible wine scene, and the best bottles at its bars and restaurants are just as good on the table at Christmas. This list compiles those wines, explaining what suits every situation. Cheers.


The Champagne

Life is short, so seize the moment, and buy the Champagne. The Laherte-Freres Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature has made its mark on wine lists all about town for its super lean, super clean, all mineral profile: it gets the palate salivating and makes for an excellent way to kick off an evening. For those looking for something with a bit more biscuity roundness, Mouzon Leroux’s “L’atavique” shines in its value for money: complex, long, and generous in every way.

The “fill it to the top” sparkling wine

Once the fancy wine’s done, and everyone stops pretending to care about what’s in their glass, it’s nice to have a couple bottles of of easygoing sparkling wine on hand. At Cadet, Christophe Lindenlaub’s “Tu Bois Quoi Là?” jaune is a permanent staple of the by-the-glass list, and for good reason — it’s got all the bells and whistles of a proper apéro wine.

At the Camberwell Arms, Sunday roasts often start with a glass of Els Vinyerons Pragadeu cava, which gives drinkers that slightly angular, bone-dry bubble. And at Cafe Deco, Davide Spillare’s “L1” garganega from Veneto graces the “special pour” by the glass offering, with its balance of gentle ripeness and bright acidity. Meanwhile, Filipa Pago’s “3B,” a Portuguese sparkler, gives ballerina-pink in the glass and just a touch of well-poised fruit on the palate.

The non-alcoholic option

For anyone not drinking alcohol, there’s only one bottle those in the know are reaching for: “L’Antidote” by Domaine des Grottes. Made by a winemaker, and composed of a blend of gamay grapes, apples, and a load of herbs and spices, it’s got a seriously grown-up, almost amaro-like charm, while still being incredibly drinkable. Already sparkling, there’s no need for added bells and whistles: just serve it fridge-cold in a wine glass.

The warm-up bottle

A bottle for the cook and the company they keep in the kitchen, while the turkey’s in the oven. Domaine Goepp’s riesling offers a bracing tingle, as a touch of carbonation at the start settles into bright, limey acidity and lots of minerality. Or, a chillable, featherweight red that’s quietly become an East London favourite: Terre di Pietra’s “Piccolo Peste.”

The big Christmas bottles for a crowd

Nothing screams celebration more than a comically large bottle of wine, so if there’s a good group of thirsty friends and family, there’s no better time to go for a magnum or jeroboam wine. Patrick Bouju and Justine Loiseau’s 2020 “Cailloux” is a ridiculously easy bottle to love, making the rounds from 40 Maltby Street to P. Franco, Hector’s, and all across town. For a big group having proper dinner, something with a bit more structure like the 2017 Santuvario Lozio really fits the brief, listed at Quality Wines and so well-suited to rustic, gamey cooking. For a really serious pour, there’s still a few jeroboams of the Curtet “Autrement” 2016 floating around. Concentrated but light on its feet, mineral-dense and gorgeous, it’s a geeky number made for a group that wants to give their wines a proper swirl.

Blow-their-minds wines

For the gathering open to trying some new things, here are two fiercely loved wines that evoke strong reactions in everybody who drinks them. For the white, something with a bit of reduction that lends a struck-match note really wows people — Francois Ecot’s “Troma-Onirique” 2020 (often poured at Ducksoup in Soho) has that searing, smoky minerality. For a red, consider a cabernet franc from Francois Saint-Lo. They’re stocked, vintage after vintage, by all the best wine shops in London, which admire their immense elegance, charm, and individuality.

Wines to satisfy the picky ones

Some are a touch harder to win over, needing a couple wines that are well within their comfort zone. Domaine des 13 Lunes “Apremont” has been a long-standing runner at Planque, where the history and farming suit the natural wine crowd, but the palate says “very considered pub white wine.” Meanwhile, Domaine Cosse Maisonneuve’s “Le Combal” has become a fixture on a gastropub wine lists, finding a permanent spot at the Clarence Tavern. It slots nicely into the world of actually interesting red wine, while still being true to its full-bodied malbec nature.

Wines that go with turkey...

Turkey calls for juicy, crunchy reds — something the natural wine community does very well. There’s the ever-popular Ruth Lewandowski “Feints” for a bit of American flair on the dinner table, or Simon Rouillard’s “Laisse Aller C’est Une Valse” for the Francophiles. If it’s got to be white, the wines of Chateau Yvonne have turned up at pubs and Michelin-starred restaurants alike; its Saumur Blanc balances texture, complexity, and minerality.

... And with beef

Piedmontese wines fit Christmas food like a tailored suit, but their price point can be prohibitive at first glance. However, with some research, drinkers can traverse the region without breaking the bank. The wines of Le Piane have started popping up more and more in London, and for good reason — there’s rustic charm and elegance there in equal measure. Alternatively, lesser-known varieties like dolcetto offer great value, like that of cult winemaker Roagna, which is still somehow less than £30. Both of these wines graciously accept a bit of decanting.

Christmas wines with clout

For anyone heading to a Christmas dinner where the host will spend two days cooking, before busting out some of their finest wines on to a table set like something out of House and Garden, there is no alternative: bring an elite-level bottle.

There are tonnes of options that don’t require a new mortgage — just pick something they might not buy themselves, like a truly excellent maceration of Tokaj from Slovenia. Layers-deep with beautiful aromatics, it’s the nerds-only 40 Maltby Street wine that staff swoon over but don’t often sell. A Valtellina nebbiolo from legendary winemaking family Ar Pe Pe would also fit the bill, especially the opulent single-vineyard cuvees from 2011 or 2013.

Finally, perhaps the greatest wine gift of all time: A well-aged Vin Jaune from an iconic producer like Labet, Bornard, or Macle. This will bring Christmas cheer to last a lifetime — or, at least, one very fabulous dinner.

DUCKSOUP

41 Dean Street, , England W1D 4PY 020 7287 4599 Visit Website

The Camberwell Arms

65 Camberwell Church Street, , England SE5 8JB 020 7358 4364 Visit Website

Cafe Deco

43 Store St., London, WC1E 7DB +44 20 7323 4501

Planque

322-324 Acton Mews, , England E8 4EA 020 7254 3414 Visit Website

40 Maltby Street

40 Maltby Street, , England SE1 3PG 020 8076 9517 Visit Website

The Clarence Tavern

102 Stoke Newington Church Street, , England N16 0LA 020 8712 1188 Visit Website

Quality Wines

88 Farringdon Road, , England EC1R 3EA Visit Website

Bright

1 Westgate Street, , England E8 3RL 020 3095 9407 Visit Website

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