GRAPEVINE; KATHRYN McWHIRTER ON WINES TO GO WITH CHRISTMAS LUNCH

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I NEVER really appreciated the traditional British turkey until the year I spent Christmas in Germany. The celebratory meal was on Christmas Eve: boiled carp, muddiest of all fish, sauerkraut and lager, followed by a salad of reconstituted dried fruits. And Christmas lunch, no big deal in Ger-many, was warmed-up carp and sauerkraut, and leftover dried fruit salad.

But amid the comforting trappings of a Sussex Christmas, I sometimes stray quite cheerfully from turkey to other meats. This year, it will be goose, and with it a mature claret for my husband (who especially enjoys mature wines) and an Australian Cabernet for me (I always plump, incompatibly, for something young and fruity). The flavour of Cabernet Sauvignon, young or mature, blends beautifully with rich goose flesh. For a Cabernet-based claret, I'd choose the rich and complex 1989 La Reserve de Leoville-Barton (pounds 11.99 Oddbins) or the lovely, lighter 1990 Chateau St Bonnet, Medoc (pounds 7.45 selected Sainsbury's); or from Australia a scrumptious, soft and rich 1991 Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon (pounds 7.99 selected Somerfield, Wine Cellar, Berkeley Wines, Oddbins, EH Booth, Thresher, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up, Majestic and Eldridge Pope). Cabernet is bad news, however, if the stuffings include sage. The combination tastes bitter. A fruity Merlot is the answer for goose with sage. White wine drinkers might try a German Riesling Halbtrocken or Kabinett from the Rheinpfalz or Rheingau. 1992 Lingenfelder Riesling Kabinett (pounds 5.49 Wine Cellar and Berkeley Wines) would be a delicious choice, and far better than the reds if you're serving fruity sauce or stuffing.

Big birds can be a bit of a hassle to cook. It's temptingly easier to quick-roast some little game birds. Syrah is often the grape that chimes in best with game. For grouse, pheasant or mallard, try the thickly raspberry- fruity 1993 Crozes Hermitage, Alain Graillot (pounds 8.49 Majestic), or the softer, smooth 1995 Concha y Toro Syrah, unfiltered (pounds 4.99 Oddbins).

Our freezer is already bulging with a huge rib of organic beef for Boxing Day. But though "beefy", in the sense of big and robust, may apply to the living beast, the meat is easily overwhelmed. Some wine gurus believe rare meat tames tannin. But it doesn't for me, and I'd avoid tough, high- tannin reds however the beef is cooked. Gamay, the Beaujolais grape, is a star, especially from named villages such as Fleurie, Brouilly or Saint- Amour. Two of the best this Christmas are 1993 Morgon les Charmes, Domaine Brisson (pounds 6.79 Co-op) and 1994 Morgon, Jean Descombes (pounds 6.99 Thresher, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up). Horseradish, incidentally, is a wine killer, guaranteed to make your pounds 7 wine taste like pounds l.99.

Beaujolais is also a brilliant partner for the Christmas ham, smoked or unsmoked. White wine drinkers might try the mouth-filling and tangy 1994 Chablis Saint Martin, Domaine Laroche (pounds 8.49 Majestic) or, for a strongly oak-smoked ham, the delicious, oaked white 1990 Marques de Cceres Rioja Blanco Crianza (pounds 4.99 selected Sainsbury's and Oddbins).

If your Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a turkey, the wine for you is Australian Shiraz. The great Shiraz bargain this Christmas is the wonderful, intensely flavoured 1992 E & E Black Pepper Shiraz (pounds l0.95 Co-op). A little cheaper, 1992 Penfolds Kalimna Bin 28 Shiraz (pounds 6.99 Asda, selected Tesco, Co-op, EH Booth, Oddbins, selected Somerfield and Majestic, Thresher, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up) is nearly as good. Turkey can stand up to richer wine flavours than chicken, and not-too-tannic reds tend to go better than whites, especially when you take the stuffings into account. But the Chablis above goes quite well. Like horseradish, cranberry sauce is bad news for wines. And sage clashes with Shiraz, so you might choose a soft, fruity Merlot for sage-laced (or chestnut) stuffings, such as the easy-drinking 1994 Concha y Toro Merlot, Rapel (pounds 3.99 Waitrose).

With a smoked salmon starter try a subtle California Chardonnay - 1993 Flora Springs Carneros Chardonnay (pounds l2.99 Oddbins) is just right. To lighten the Christmas pudding, Asti Fontanafredda (pounds .99 Majestic) is a fine example of that unjustly scorned fizz that for me sets the seal on the perfect British Christmas lunch.

! Kathryn McWhirter is co-author with Charles Metcalfe of Sainsbury's Pocket Food & Wine Guide (pounds 2.95)

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