As the time for end-of-year entertaining approaches, Angela Mount imparts an oenophile’s expert insight into the perfect Christmas drinks party
With the festive season almost upon us, thoughts quickly turn to hospitality, as well as shopping for presents and the Christmas feast. Early December is the time when many of us realise that another year has almost gone by, and we throw drinks parties to assuage the guilt of having forgotten to invite friends, select neighbours and family round over the past months – so, ahead of the main event, here are a few tips to ensure smooth and relaxed entertaining, from a vinous perspective!
1. Get your numbers right
To calculate the amount of wine needed, work on the basis on six glasses per bottle. If you’re planning a relatively big party, enlist the help of a local wine merchant, such as Corks of Cotham, Grape & Grind or Averys, who also offer free glass hire if you buy your wine from them.
2. Keep it cool
Invest in some big plastic bins, and fill them with lots of ice and water to chill white and sparkling wines. In the worst case scenario, fill the bathtub! It’s okay to pop wine bottles in the freezer for 15 minutes for a quick chill down, but don’t leave them longer than that. Never put fizz in the freezer – the expansion as the wine freezes will make the bottles pop, resulting in no fizz and a horrid freezer mess.
3. Golden rule
Never open your best bottles for a Christmas drinks party; wine is the support act here, not the star.
4. Fancy some fizz?
The big debate here is always whether to serve Champagne, or sparkling wine on these occasions. Certainly never bring out your best Grande Marques. If you do go down that route, head straight to Aldi – their Champagne Monsigny Brut NV, from the renowned house of Philizot, is a staggeringly low £9.99, and ticks all the boxes. Alternatively, try Tesco Finest Pignoletto (£8) – a northern Italian fizz – to ring the changes from Prosecco. Averys also stock a deliciously creamy, ripe and food-friendly Almery Cremant de Limoux Brut (£12.99).
5. All white on the night
White wines need to be lively and fresh. You don’t want to weigh guests down with heavy, oaky wines – the style needs to match the upbeat mood. Sauvignon Blanc continues to top the popularity charts, but you could always opt for a searingly crisp and elegant, fresh herb and gooseberry-strewn version – the Loire Cave de Valencay Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Corks of Cotham, £9.49). Or try a lively Italian white, as an alternative that pairs well with food. Averys Antigniano Grechetto ‘Broccatelli Galli’ 2015 (£7.99) would be a great value option, bursting with zesty lemon and grapefruit freshness. Otherwise, if you’re serving smoked salmon, or spiced canapés and dips, a slightly aromatic white would be better. Bath merchant Great Western Wine offers a delicious Gruner Veltliner from New Zealand, with notes of nectarine and ginger, and a tangy lime bite – Yealands Estate Gruner Veltliner 2014 (£12.95, available by mail order).
6. Something more substantial?
As far as reds are concerned, the message is simple; avoid heavy, tannic wines and stick to either lighter style, juicy reds, or richer, but very soft styles. Barbera d’Asti ‘Ceppi Storici’ Araldica 2013 (Grape & Grind, £7.99) is cracking value, and offers a riot of deliciously smooth, lively, black cherry and plum fruits, with a soft, spicy backbone, and a bright, fresh style. Ripe, fruity reds, including Grenache and Pinot Noir are also good options. Waitrose’s award-winning Baron De Ley Rioja Reserva (down to £9.99 since 9 November), with its rich, voluptuous, silky style, would also be a great party choice, especially if you’re serving more substantial dishes, such as braised beef or pulled pork.