Today, December 11th, is the third Sunday of Advent. It’s also known as Gaudete Sunday, which hailing from the Latin meaning “rejoice” means that today is the day when we are officially supposed to make merry!
That’s my interpretation of it, in any case, and I rarely need to look far to find inspiration!
Strictly speaking, however, the period of Advent (the 4 weeks before December 25th) is supposed to be a time of anticipation, preparation and frugality before the twelve days of feasting.
At this time of year, I like to verify that I have something more than a dusty bottle of sherry to tide me over until the New Year.
In approximative chronological order, here are 12 tipples that you should have in your drinks cabinet over the festive period.
A good, dry Gin
To me, there is very little more frugal than a traditional gin and tonic. By “traditional” I mean a generous pour of gin, topped with tonic water, three ice cubes and half a slice of lemon in a tumbler or highball glass. None of this fancy Spanish malarky, served in balloon glasses and “giftwrapped…”
If you want something more special than the run-of-the-mill classics (Gordon’s, Bombay and Tanqueray) try Dodd’s Gin, Chase or Caorunn. Of vital importance, make sure the tonic water is of good quality and hasn’t gone flat.
Move over mulled wine; we don’t want that headache-inducing, carpet-spoiling, gloopy red wine this year.
Chances are that in the run-up to Christmas, you’re going to have people round for a mince pie or to watch festive films. Contrary to what the internet says, red wine hot chocolate is certainly NOT the answer. Instead, think about making a spiked apple juice.
If you don’t have the time to make the mixture yourself (you’ll need brandy, a cinnamon stick and some cloves) keep a bottle of Winter Pimms on hand.
Despite opting for Touraine Sauvignon Blancs for the other 364 days of the year, there’s something deliciously reassuring about the classic Sancerre at Christmas. Elegant French sauvignon blanc goes really well with seafood and oysters and is enjoyed by young and old alike.
Look for François Cotat and Vacheron – both great natural wine producers in Sancerre – or Alexandre Bain‘s Pouilly Fumé from the other side of the valley.
The oldest Amarone you can afford
In recent years, Amarone has been snubbed by the wine trade. Being such a substantial wine, it doesn’t play nicely with sommeliers and it has already enjoyed its heyday with international journalists. That being said, it still has a place at my table over Christmas.
Take a typical Christmas Eve evening meal – gammon, roast potatoes, red cabbage – and add Amarone! Throw in a log fire and you’ve just hit the sensorial jackpot.
Once the Amarone has been finished, and you’ve moved over to a comfortable chair in front of the fireplace, there’s only one thing for it – a single malt, peated whisky!
I love the mingling of smells between the roaring log fire and the caramel coloured liquid in my glass. Don’t underestimate the pairing potential of peated whisky and strong cheeses, such as a 30-month Comté or Roquefort.
Although you can now find peated whiskies from the four corners of the globe, the most traditional are those from Islay, just off Scotland. Names to look out for include: Ardbeg, Bruichladdich, Bowmore and Caol Ila, but my personal favourite is Kilchoman.
Upon waking up on Christmas morning, let’s upgrade the traditional glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice to an indulgent Moscato d’Asti.
The moscato grape is superbly aromatic and at only 5.5% alcohol won’t get you off-track if you’re still working out your turkey timings. I have a soft spot for La Spinetta‘s Moscato d’Asti (Bricco Quaglia or Biancospino.)
Once you’ve got past the taste of toothpaste, it’s time to move onto something more serious!
It should go without saying that no celebration has ever really got underway before a bottle of bubbly has been popped. A glass or two of Champagne will whet your appetite before the main meal.
It’s actually not as easy as you may think to pair a wine with the traditional Christmas lunch; there are too many strong flavours and fatty meats to take into consideration.
A safe go-to wine is Gigondas from the southern Rhone. A blend of grenache-shiraz and mourvedre will accompany the other blend of turkey-stuffing-and-gravy. Whilst being more elegant than Cotes du Rhone, it won’t be as attention-seeking as a fine Chateauneuf-du-Pape (although if I’m coming round to yours for Christmas lunch, I won’t turn my nose up at a CNdP!!)
If you’re having Christmas Pudding, (and if you’re not, why on earth not!) the best wine pairing I’ve found so far has been a Pedro Ximènez.
Pedro Ximènez is the name of the grape variety and also of the type of fortified dessert wine from southern Spain. With its notes of honeyed raisins, sun-kissed figs and dark chocolate, it is delicious with our rich Christmas dessert.
Keep an eye out for Toro Albalá‘s aged expressions; sweet, but not overly so.
A bottle of Madeira is a beautiful thing to keep in your drinks cabinet because once opened, it will not spoil over time. Should you not finish the bottle (but, I mean, why not?) you can happily tuck it away for the next occasion. However, once you get used to drinking Madeira (and when a really good one), you find yourself asking why you took so long to catch on.
Sercial or Malmsey? Blend or vintage….? To help you choose the right bottle of Madeira, read this series of articles.
Personally, I love Barbeito‘s Verdelho and I’d serve it after the meal, to be savoured by itself.
A Refreshing Pale Ale
This list would not be complete without at least a passing mention of some hops. For, despite my well-documented passion for wine and spirits, there are some occasions which most definitely call for beer.
One of these is washing up. My least favourite menial task becomes infinitely more bearable if there is a glass of refreshing Pale Ale, IPA or maybe an American Pale Ale nearby.
Try to find your local craft brewer (don’t tell me there isn’t one near you!) and get a range of brews to try out.
A bottle of Bourbon
Bourbon (American whisky made with at least 51% corn spirit) is a very versatile spirit to keep on hand. On lazy occasions, I make a simple cocktail (just a spoon and a glass is needed) by stirring a teaspoon of maple syrup into a drop of bourbon. Add a little ice (which should be a staple in your freezer, even during winter) another glug of hooch, a drop of Angostura (or Dr Adam’s Christmas bitters) and a twist of orange.
To drink by itself, I love the richness of Blanton’s but if you’re going to follow my advice, you can get away with something even simpler such as Heaven Hill or Elijah Craig.
And on that note, all that’s left is for me to wish you a very Merry Christmas! I’m off to the pub!!