At this time of year, Britain spends more on wines, spirits and liqueurs than at any other time. As well as entertaining friends, catering for parties, and procuring those special, more premium wines to match the meal on the big day itself, it is also a time when alcohol changes hands as a gift.
Don’t get stuck in a wine rut this festive season. Try ringing the changes to your traditional Christmas tipples, making your parties stand out for all the right reasons.
The local chalk soil and climate is very similar to that in the Champagne region, so if you love Champagne’s crisp apple, or brioche, toasty and biscuity flavours, you will love English Sparkling Wine. It’s a great gift, particularly for anyone from outside of our region, and makes a perfect accompaniment to festive treats like smoked salmon, gravadlax, crab or oysters.
Those with a sweeter tooth may well prefer to stick to Prosecco. It’s Britain’s number one fizz by far, and probably set to top the wine charts soon. So popular is it, that M&S now even make Prosecco flavoured crisps!
Or, brighten up cheaper supermarket Prosecco by turning it into a cocktail. Whip up a traditional Bellini by blitzing some canned peaches to a pulp, & adding a spoonful or two to your glass. You might also add a generous slug of peach liqueur. I like to use good quality liqueurs such as those by Briottet which are made with real fruit rather than just alcohol, flavour and sugar. Other liqueurs that work well in fizz are the classic Crème de Cassis (blackcurrant), and there are a wide range of new flavours that work just as well. Try some exotic Lychee, or even Violet if you fancy something more floral. Or back at M&S, the Fragola with wild strawberries can add a visual delight as well as a taste sensation.
There’s no need to have 2 pots on the go - simply add a shot or two of Calvados (an aged apple spirit, similar to Brandy), for those who aren’t watching their alcohol intake. Like Brandy, Calvados comes in a range of ages and quality levels.
You might also enjoy a glass after dinner instead of a more common Cognac or Whisky. In Normandy, where Calvados originates, there’s even a tradition of taking a small glass of Calvados part way through a large meal as a way of creating a “trou” or hole, allowing diners to finish the meal comfortably.
If you’re feeling even more adventurous, try some warmed Japanese saké While warming won’t do much to improve the flavours of a premium Junmai Daiginjo style brew, the inexpensive saké styles readily available in supermarkets will mellow, becoming smoother and rounder on warming. Just remember that it won’t lose its high alcohol content, so be careful not to serve too much.
When it comes to after-dinner drinks, you might again consider Japan. Umeshu, a plum infused style of saké, somewhat akin to Sloe Gin, makes a wonderful alternative for fans of Amaretto and is possibly the best drink match for the mince pie I’ve ever tasted.
Their survival depends on your support. They’ll help you choose exactly the right bottle, whether it’s a gift, or for matching your most important meal of the year. And if you still need help, I'm available. You can lay on a Purple Teeth Wine Tasting party as a gift.
Enjoy the holiday season and always remember to drink responsibly and leave the car at home.