What’s hot this Christmas in spirits and wines
From Dan Humphrey, drinks consultant and founder of the Summerton Whisky Club
Christmas is creeping up on us fast and it’s time to turn our thoughts to drinks and what’s on offer. This time of year, we are happy to spend a few quid more on quality and it’s a trend that we’re seeing outside of the festive season too!
Starting with spirits. Despite the talk of Brexit and a recession many of us are willing to pay more for an artisan spirit which provides a more satisfying drinking experience. There are a raft of new spirits to whet the appetite.
Craft gins are still making the headlines but what about a slightly different serve this time of year? Move over the traditional gin and tonic. How about hot gin? You may wince but don’t knock it until you try it! Hot gin cocktails are causing a bit of a stir in the bar scene and according to some mixologists it’s all in the recipe. See below for suggested ingredients.
Classic Christmas Hot Gin
- 2 measures Jeffrey’s Tonic Syrup Original Recipe (find this on Ocado or at www.jeffreystonic.com)
- 1 measure Gin (Tanqueray Sevilla works well)
- 4-5 measures of boiling water
- A slice of Orange, or Orange peel
Good craft gins to go after this Christmas are Puddingstone Pudding Cask Gin, a gin made with distilled Christmas Pudding and then finished for 40 days in bourbon and port barrels (£36 from https://puddingstonedistillery.com/shop/), and Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Blackfriar Pomegranate & Rose Gin (£16).
Don’t forget those in NoLo aisle too. This is where you’ll find the low or no alcohol brands, ideal for those in the driving seat or for those who simply want to avoid alcohol. Seedlip’s gin at 0% abv is widely available, also try Lidl’s offering – CeroCero for under £10.
This spirit is growing in popularity and rightly so. There are so many to choose from, starting with the light and crisp, Bacardi-style white rums, or golden rums, ideal in your Christmas mojito, through to the dark aged rums that are known for their rich and fairly robust flavours. Spiced rums are definitely coming into their own with warming tones, great in cocktails or sipped neat.
For cocktails, we like Flor De Cana Clasico 5Yo Dark Golden Rum for its velvety smooth taste with hints of tropical fruits, chocolate and vanilla (Tesco, £15). For spiced rums try Dark Matter Rum, from the first rum distillery in Scotland (Tesco, Amazon, £29) or for the discerners that like their rum aged and neat, Appleton Estate Signature Blend Jamaican Rum is an inexpensive option (Asda, Ocado, £16) and above that there’s Plantation Extra Old Barbados Rum which is a little pricey but well worth it, perfect next to a warm fire on a cold Christmas evening (£51 from Laithwaites Wines, https://www.laithwaites.co.uk/product/3262517).
Whisky is widely tipped to overtake gin driven by traditional high-end brands and a new wave of distilleries bringing more choice and innovation to the masses.
Bars have been picking up on this trend, with whisky cocktails, becoming more prominent.
It is also leading to a twist on tradition at Christmas, with many replacing their port with a glass of port-finished whisky, for which we can recommend, Tomintoul 15 Year Old Portwood Finish Single Malt Whisky (£64 from Tyndrum Whisky, https://www.tyndrumwhisky.com/tomintoul-15-year-old-portwood.html).
When looking for that special bottle to impress friends, we can suggest London distillery, Bimber’s second release (£65 from Bimber, https://www.bimberdistillery.co.uk/shop-1), or something a little more traditional with Auchentoshan American Oak Single Malt Scotch Whisky (£20, Asda, Sainsbury’s).
And those wanting an easier way into whisky, why not start with a bourbon, such as Woodford Reserve (£23 Ocado, Sainsbury’s) which mixes well too, if desired.
This is where it gets very interesting because everyone has their favourite and if you’re hosting Christmas day, you’ll need a good selection of red and white wine to keep family and friends well catered for. And Champagne or sparkling wine is a must to celebrate the special day.
So, what are the best reds and whites to go with turkey? Some say you have to have a low tannin red to ensure you don’t overpower the food, others recommend a fruity white wine. We say go with something that is not too heavy and the colour is down to personal choice. We have a few suggestions within the different price ranges.
For a low tannin red wine that pairs well try a Fleurie (£10.99 from Waitrose) or if you prefer something gutsier go for an Argentinian Malbec (from £5 upwards at Tesco). If you need a good all-rounder, a juicy Merlot will pretty much go with everything on your Christmas plate (Yellow Tail from Sainsbury’s at £7).
For whites you could try a Pinot Grigio (from £6 at M&S), Pinot Gris (Freeman’s Bay Pinot Gris from Aldi at £5.99) or an oaked Chardonnay (Boschendal Chardonnay at Waitrose Cellars for £10.99) will work well too!
Christmas is a time for indulgence and Champagne is such a nice treat for parties and the big day itself. If you want something special you can’t go wrong with the likes of Veuve Clicquot or Bollinger. Both are dry, creamy and toasty with fine bubbles and are utterly decadent.
However, if you don’t want to shell out around £40 upwards for bottles like these from the big-name Champagne houses you might want to check out some alternatives. Certainly, if you’re catering for large numbers over the festive season, we would recommend considering some of the following:
Look for the word crémant on the label. These are made outside of the Champagne region of France and therefore cannot legally be called a Champagne, but they’re made using the same Champagne method of fermenting inside the bottle and with a variety of different grapes. They are great value too. Try Aldi Exquisite Crémant du Jura priced £8.29 or L’Extra par Langlois Crémant de Loire, £11.99 from Majestic.
Made in a similar way to Champagne, cava comes from Spain and can be made from several grape varieties. It is cheaper than Champagne as they are typically produced using machinery rather than tipped by hand, and are quicker to make which results in a lighter, less complex taste. Try a bone dry, citrussy cava such as Friexenet Sparkling Cordon Negro Brut Cava, £8 from Asda.
- Prosecco, Pignoletto and Asti Spumante
Prosecco (which can be described as Frizzante on the label, or gently sparkling) made in the Veneto region of Italy is a great party fizz, but the cheapest ones can be a bit sweet and mediocre. Unlike Champagne and cava, the secondary fermentation occurs in tanks rather than in bottles. Pignoletto is a lesser known Frizzante from Emilia-Romana region which has a bit more character than prosecco. We like Waitrose Chiarli Vechhia Moderna Pignoletto Brut £9.99
Asti spumante is a sparkling white wine from the Piedmont region of Italy. Made with Moscato grapes, it’s quite sweet and usually low alcohol. Enjoy this one with mince pies! Gibo Asti Spumante £7.00 per bottle from M&S is foamy and fun.
- English bubbly
English sparkling wine have been winning international awards for some years now as the South of England has similar soil and climate conditions to the Champagne region. There are lots of vineyards producing great stuff from chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes. Ridgeview Bloomsbury £28.00 from Ocado is zesty with honey and peach notes and a refreshing finish. Enjoy as an aperitif or as a Bucks Fizz with orange juice on Christmas day morning.
For something extra special…
Summerton Whisky Club take the guesswork out of your Christmas tipple selection – join the club by December 4th, and we’ll deliver a bottle of premium, unique whisky that you can’t find on the supermarket shelves to your door. And then we’ll deliver another bottle every other month thereafter – so you’ll be able to enjoy carefully curated whiskies throughout the year.