WITH holidays from work, and friends and family popping round, Christmas is the ideal time to supplement the drinks cabinet with tipples that don’t get a look in during the rest of the year.
Next week, we’ll review wines to serve with Christmas lunch, but today here is a selection of other drinks to enjoy during the festivities, from the traditional to the bizarre – and even the born again.
Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without a dram to enjoy and the new Grant’s Signature Blended Scotch Whisky (£18 or thereabouts in Tesco and other stores) fits the bill nicely. It’s mellow and smooth, with a balance and depth that neatly brings together toastiness, barley sugar and chocolate. Designed for younger drinkers (no problem if you add ice, for example), Signature also avoids the peaty smokiness that can deter some new whisky drinkers.
An unusual twist on a winter favourite comes from Ginger Grouse (RRP £2.25), a ginger beer with a “splash” of Famous Grouse blended Scotch whisky. On its own, Ginger Grouse is warming yet still refreshing, with sharp fresh ginger aromas hitting your nose, followed by sweeter crystallised stem ginger flavours in the mouth. But adding it to apple juice and winter spices creates an unusual twist on mulled cider.
Another unusual choice is Amarula Marula Fruit Cream Liqueur (down £1 to £12 until Tuesday at Sainsbury’s), a liqueur blended from cream and distilled marula fruit from South Africa. Amarula leans heavily on its mellow tropical fruit flavours to avoid the pronounced creaminess that bedevils some dairy liqueurs, and then adds in toffee and nutty chocolate undertones and a hint of lemon to give a multi-dimensional alternative.
For the start of the meal, madeira – surely, one of our most neglected drinks – deserves more attention as an aperitif. Blandy’s Alvada Five Year Old Madeira (£12.99 for 500ml at Waitrose Cellar) certainly appeals to me – with its deep ochre colour and rich yet mellow flavours. There is freshness from the sharp orange acidity, but that is matched by lingering touches of demerara sugar, burnt caramel, raisins and figs along with walnut-centred nuttiness.
Sticking with fortified wines, we have an irreverent variation on the theme with Croft Pink Port (£12.99 in selected Co-op stores). Floral aromas lead into strawberry and red cherry flavours that remind me of fruit salad sweeties. This port is light and gently rounded, with lively acidity and a spicy depth, making it a good alternative to white port as a chilled aperitif. Like Signature, this is aimed at a younger audience and – whisper it softly to avoid heart failure among crusty old traditionalists – is highly regarded in cocktails.
And if cocktails are your thing, then the Edinburgh Gin cocktail kit (£45 at John Lewis or the distillery shop) is bound to appeal. The attractive gift box includes a bottle of Edinburgh Gin Raspberry Liqueur, which is full of fresh raspberry aromas on the nose, and then sweeter raspberry jam and cough sweet flavours on the tongue.
Finally, for those after something sweeter – and with a splash of nostalgia – Babycham has celebrated its 1950s roots by launching retro Cream Soda and Cherry Soda flavours (£3.50 each at Asda). The Cherry Soda worked better for me, completing a successful marriage between its pear and green apple acidity, and the sweetness of the cherry.
2014 Robertson Winery Chenin Blanc Breede River Valley, South Africa, 12.5 per cent
An ideal party season white with a youthful, citrus zing that slowly gives way to red apple and cinnamon flavours which, in turn, develop a classy smooth, honey and caramel finish that is rare at this price.
£5.94 until 2 February at Majestic, where minimum purchase rules apply
2011 Tulga Crianza Toro, Spain, 13.5 per cent
Like that chenin, this Christmas special at Lidl is another wine to punch well above its price point. Enjoy the rounded, slightly creamy texture and gentle tannin that brilliantly support its cherry and plum fruit with marzipan, vanilla, cinnamon and eucalyptus as a pleasingly complex backdrop. Sophisticated fare at a party wine price.
£5.49 at Lidl