Well. ‘tis the season to be Jolly, especially if you happen to be in line for a city bonus, or if you happen to be one of our many purveyors of all things alcoholic. The wine trade sell more wine in December than any other month, a fact that may not come as too much of a surprise. Among all of the claptrap that we are bombarded with over the run up to Christmas and indeed over the holiday period, we will be told variously to ‘drink responsibly’ not to over indulge by an assortment of stern-looking dieticians, that ‘Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas’ without a particular brand of toilet tissue/ cosmetics/ terrible medley of awful pop songs and that we are getting an assortment of ‘half price wine bargains’ by various merchants.
Now I’m aware that this may be familiar territory but once again the supermarkets are up to their old tricks and sadly this year some of the other players are following suit. The usual rash of 50% deals on unheard of champagnes are already in evidence and are accompanied this year by a variety of still wines that are only worth the discounted price. Remember, if you don’t recognise the label then buy a bottle and try it before getting stocked up. There are some genuine deals around, more of which below. It pays to shop around and the internet provides ample opportunity to do so. Still, enough generalising, here’s what I recommend over the festive period to really make things go with a bang.
Essential things to have in the house at this time of year for when people come round for a drink…. Gonzales Byass Tio Pepe Fino Sherry – Widely available – dry and crisp, serve well chilled and in small measures. Plymouth gin – a fuller flavour than many other brands and very smooth, make sure you serve a good measure of spirit, plenty of ice and a big slice of fresh lime. Non-Vintage Champagne – there are usually lots of deals out there. Champagne Cocktails – remember, don’t use Champagne, use a cheaper fizz like Sainsburys taste the difference Cava, and remember use high quality mixers. For Bucks Fizz, only freshly squeezed Orange juice, waitrose do a good peach juice for Bellinis and most shops will sell cassis for Kir Royale.
Winter punch can be fun – have a look at Captain Morgan’s website for a great recipe for a mulled rum punch. If you do mulled wine then go to the trouble of making it yourself. Spend a fiver or so on some heavy red like Merlot or Cabernet, buy some fresh oranges, cloves and cinnamon sticks. Please don’t buy the sachets, they are pretty dreadful and the bottled stuff is even worse.
There’s only one thing to drink before lunch itself and that is fizz. If you don’t like Champagne then try making a fizzy cocktail (see above). If you really want to impress then it has to be vintage. This is serious vino, really rich and full-bodied and worth every penny. Most Champagnes are high in acidity which means they will also go really well with starters and even the bird itself, so long as you don’t go too heavy on the stuffing.
So what to have with that slightly unedifying, overgrown chicken that usually ends up drier than a British reservoir? The good thing about Turkey is that you can have either white or red with it (or indeed both but I’m not allowed to encourage you to excess). For whites you need something fairly light flavoured but with a bit of body, one of the best options being Chablis. Assorted merchants will have deals on Chablis, all are fairly good so plump for around £8 and you should be OK.
Reds are pretty much the same in terms of weight and fruit – medium bodied is best and red fruit flavours go well, so Pinot Noir from Chile or New Zealand should be good. Of course you must not forget that despite turkey being light-flavoured, if you have the whole tranche of extras on your plates you may need something with a bit more power. Sprouts, angels on horseback and of course the cranberry sauce can overpower white wines. If you want to be really bold then try buying a Sancerre rose.
Next up is the pudding. A variety of wines go well with Christmas pud, but my pick of the bunch this year has got to go to Campbell’s Rutherglen Muscat. This is really sticky, unctuous stuff which tastes a bit like sultanas and brown sugar in a glass.
If you still have room in your wine stomach then the last of the Christmas traditions is Port. I could write an entire article on this stuff but I don’t have the space, so a brief word or two… Best value can be found, much as I hate to say it, at the supermarkets. Their own-label vintage ports are all made by excellent producers and only cost around fifteen pounds. For a little bit more you can get a mature wine like Dow’s Quinta do Bomfin 86 or Taylors Quinta da Vargellas for £25 or so. These are wines made in good but not great years, when you consider their full vintage cousins will set you back 3 times the price then they are very good value. For a lighter alternative try some 10 or 20 year old Tawny ports like Warre’s Otima – it’s just that little bit less challenging after a full Christmas experience.
Finally, if you want to revive flagging relatives then go back to champagne – I find everyone soon perks up at the sight of fizz. Best cure for a hangover on boxing day? Champagne. What to drink at New Year? Champagne.
Please remember that if you do run the full vinous gauntlet this Christmas that you may be over the limit the next morning and black coffee does nothing for your blood alcohol level.