Wine & Food

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    What to put in your Christmas drinks cabinet

    18 December 2020

    The drinks section of the supermarket is more crowded than ever. Lead booze scientist predict that gin distilleries will soon outnumber people in some parts of the UK. By 2030 there will be more low-intervention wine labels than there are stars in the Milky Way (probably). While all that choice is nice to have it does make for a lot of difficult decisions when stocking the Christmas drinks cabinet. Here to take the hassle out of things are some of the best options for staying merry this festive season.

    Four Pillars Modern Australian Gin, 41.8% (£33.50, Marks & Spencer in store)

    In the crowded gin market, it can be difficult for smaller brands to stand out. Four Pillars in the Yarra Valley does so simply by making very, very good stuff. The distillery’s latest offering to reach the UK uses red and green Szechuan peppercorns, which in this form show their citrussy side. Also in the mix are classic juniper, creamy macadamia nut, and something red and cranberry-ish that might well be West Australian Quandong fruit, but who knows. This makes superb gin and tonic but be sure to try it in a dry Martini garnished with a grapefruit twist. This is the Christmas gin you’re looking for.

    Cotswold Sherry Cask Single Malt, 57.4% (£64.95, Direct)

    Everyone’s making whisky these days; Taiwan, Finland, even the bloody English are getting in on the act. This is a rich and warming dram from one of the rising stars of the English whisky scene. Maturation in casks that previously held nutty Oloroso and raisin-y Pedro Ximenez has lent this whisky plenty of Christmas flavour. Expect an oily malt with cherries and sugared almonds, panettone, mulling spices, and Espresso Martinis. Cotswold distillery uses floor malted local barley, fermented for more than 90 hours to promote complexity and fruitiness. Don’t be put off by the high ABV, it just means there’s more of it to love – you can always add a little water to chill things out if you like.

    Muscat Beaumes-de-Venise 2012, Vin Doux, 15% (£20.95, Berry Bros. & Rudd)

    When the traditional Christmas cheeseboard comes out (one blue, one soft, one hard, one weird – as per regulations) it’s tempting to balance those strong flavours with big red wine. Port and Claret, however, are not your only options. Sweet whites are easy to overlook as they’re not much drunk in these parts but they make a nice change and often represent great value for money. This Muscat from the Rhône Valley is full of orange blossoms, peaches, apricots, and honey but also brings some acidity and nuttiness to keep the sweetness in check. When you first taste this you might think it’s too pretty to stand up to mature cheddar or Stilton but you’ll be surprised. Serve lightly chilled with cheese or take a little glass as an afternooner.

    Nicolas Courtin 2013 Brut Champagne, 12.5% (£29.99, Majestic)

    Quite simply a good vintage fizz at a reasonable price, exactly what you want on Christmas morning; and again in the afternoon, and maybe a bit the next day to take the edge off. This is a real crowd-pleaser of a Champagne that also brings enough complexity to satisfy the more seasoned wine botherers in your group. It tastes of fresh straw, toasty hazelnuts, yellow plums, and those fluffy white baguettes that probably aren’t traditional in France. This is well-made wine that shows plenty of bottle age and punches well above its price tag. Not to be missed.

    Diamond (Versailles Still) 14-Year-Old Rum, 55.6% (£52.95, Master of Malt)

    A bit of winter sunshine from That Boutique-y Rum Company. The Versailles still at Diamond distillery in Guyana is one of the last remaining wooden pot stills in the Caribbean. At one time these improbable pieces of kit supplied the backbone of navy rum blends – heavy spirits with unique aroma and character. This is a perfect example of that style, unsweetened, undiluted, and packed with flavour: Pineapple cubes, liquorice, candied peel, and herbal teas – just brilliant. There’s lots of fun to be had making classic rum cocktails with this, it’ll be great (if complete overkill) in a daiquiri. To get the best out of it, though, just drink it after dinner like a nice brandy.

    Vault Vermouth Bianco, 15.5% (£29, Direct)

    Stylish white vermouth made in West London using English natural wine, lemon verbena, and chamomile. The brainchild of Dan Joines – seen lately at Sorella in Clapham and Darby’s in Nine Elms – Vault Vermouths and bottled cocktails have been quietly winning fans around the country since 2018. A glass of this lightly honeyed bianco with lots of ice, tonic water, and a wedge of orange is a lower ABV alternative to your G&T and comes with much less risk of a hangover the next day. Your Christmas Eve secret weapon.

    Chiroubles Daniel Bouland 2018, 14% (£19.95, The Whisky Exchange)

    Lovely, characterful Beaujolais with plums, cranberries, and black pepper. A medium body, lots of juicy fruit, and not much grip makes this a nice match for your Christmas turkey. It’s the sort of wine you can line up several bottles of before dinner and wonder where they went. A real knockout

    St. Bernardus Christmas Ale, 10% (£4.50, Hop Burns & Black)

    A taste of Belgian Christmas with an absolutely brilliant label. This traditional abbey ale is rich and creamy with russet apple, cocoa beans, and foam bananas on the nose. It also wears its ABV lightly so be sure to sip and savour. Would be fantastic with a slab of dark chocolate and some hazelnuts. A real treat for the beer lover in your life. Many thanks to Jen at Hop Burns & Black for recommending.

    Kyrö Dairy Cream Liqueur, 16% (£18.25, Master of Malt)

    This is the only time of year when drinking a large (large) glass of creamed booze is actively encouraged so you should make the most of it and get in a really good one. At Kyrö distillery in Finland they make cream liqueur using single malt rye whisky and milk from local farms. It’s still fun and sweet and accessible but the use of quality ingredients gives this a bit of extra depth and dimension. Tastes of toffee, toast, and white chocolate. Drink over ice or throw some in an iced coffee.

    Mon Blanc 2018, White Blend, 12% (£24, Littlewine)

    An Austrian blend with prominent Riesling and Gruner Veltliner, fermented on the skins for a little extra oomph. Technically that makes this one of those trendy orange wines your dad’s afraid to try, however this should absolutely bring him round. It’s nicely balanced and not super funky. Expect white flowers, green fruits, and soft herbs – slight tartness and the tiniest bit of tannin from those grape skins. It’ll make good friends with vegetarian main courses; anything with squash, mushrooms, or fresh goat’s cheese. You can buy this by the bottle but it’s included in the Littlewine wine club ‘grower’ selection for December – their subscriptions start at £50 a month, include carbon neutral shipping, and make great gifts. Check them out.

    Hacha Mirror Margarita, 18% (£35, Direct)

    Exactly what you wanted for Christmas but didn’t know it yet; a perfectly clear Marg in a bottle that takes the hassle out of pre-dinner cocktails. Deano Moncrieffe’s clarification of the classic formula has been a hit since he launched his Bethnal Green Tequila joint Hacha in 2019. Thankfully not even the events of 2020 have stopping him brining his creation to the people, as the Mirror Margarita is now shipping nationwide. It’s a smart mix of Blanco Tequila (or Mezcal), malic acid, and grapefruit oil. Just pour over ice and serve with a few snacks.

    Aerolite Lyndsay 10-Year-Old whisky, 46% (£44.95, Master of Malt)

    We often think of Scotch whiskies – particularly smoky styles – as big, overpowering drinks, suitable only for after dinner sipping. What this bright, citrussy, single malt from the island of Islay demonstrates is that they can be enjoyed at any time of the day. Well, any time after lunch, let’s say. There’s plenty of vanilla biscuits, sheep’s wool, sherbet lemons, rockpools, and coal smoke. It’s a great sipper but makes a mean whisky highball as well. Large measure of Lyndsay, an equal amount of soda water, plenty of ice, and maybe a little mint sprig and you’ll be sorted. A nice gift for single malt lovers.