I have a few rules I abide by when I host any sort of holiday soirée, almost all of which revolve around the drink department. The only other one, really, is to create a music playlist that’s no more than half-full of Christmas music, otherwise the novelty gets old a little too quickly.
After many years of being left with a good armload of unconsumed bottles, I’ve made it a bit of a priority to ensure that the majority of cheer being poured is fairly decent. When “What can we bring?” is the refrain, I have to admit I like to get nice and specific. At the same time, I do like to imbibe drinks that have some element of holiday festiveness to them, without going to the blatantly obvious like mulled wine or eggnog.
Many local craft breweries are prolific enough in their offerings throughout the year, but most offer an extra winter ale or two as lights get strung up and carolers start singing. Plenty of times these winter ales can be fairly boozy, not to mention the large-format bottles they’re packaged in. I’m not a fan of slugging back 650 millilitres of a 12-percent beer (I’m a lot of fun when I do, though), but I do like to try a few sips of the many seasonal concoctions local brewers come up with. The answer, for me, is to make a night of it by encouraging guests to each bring a couple bottles of these holiday brews; then everyone can crack ’em open, grab a glass, and sample splashes of each over the course of an evening. A couple of recent favourites are Phillips Brewing Company’s Longboat Chocolate Porter (5.2 percent, $4.99 for 650 millilitres, B.C. Liquor Stores), which is a little more dynamic and fresh than you might think, but still lively with chocolatey aromatics and flavour, and Russell Brewing Company’s Naughty & Spiced Porter (6.5 percent, $6 to $8 for 650 millilitres, private liquor stores), loaded with cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and ginger that really jumps out of the glass, with a little oak aging to round it all out.
Sparkling wine tends to flow this time of year, and clinking glasses of the stuff is the epitome of good times and cheer. Ruggeri 2013 Giustino B. Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore (Veneto, Italy, $39.99) should hit B.C. Liquor Store shelves by Monday (December 1), and I was quite charmed by the sneak preview I recently tasted. Hey, I’m not even a Prosecco guy; I usually find the northern Italian sparklers too sweet or too simple. This bottle is anything but; it absolutely bursts with aromatic clementines, perfectly suited to the season. The finish is quite dry, with a tiny dusting of white pepper to keep you on your toes. It’s a subtle sparkler, not too intense, and the bubbles are quite fine and elegant. Do keep an eye out for it.
If you’re putting out a bunch of salty snacks and expect a lot of grazing at your do but still want to stick to sparkling, go ahead and pop the cork from Escorihuela 1884 Extra Brut (Mendoza, Argentina, $20.99, B.C. Liquor Stores). This traditional-method bubble from high-altitude vineyards in the Andes is made from 70 percent Chardonnay and 30 percent Pinot Noir. The second fermentation bolsters its fresh-baked-bread aromas that lead to kaleidoscopic flavours of apples, Bosc pears, starfruit, mangoes, and more; plenty of flavour for tackling that cheese board! If you’re looking to boost your sparkling wine into a holiday-themed cocktail, simply add a splash of Elephant Island Orchard Winery 2013 Crab Apple Wine (Naramata, B.C., $18.99 for 375 millilitres at the Elephant Island Wine website) to your glass. Even on its own, the wine is crisp, vibrant, and lip-smackingly delicious with fresh crab-apple flavours from start to finish.
Of course, you may be the one taking care of much of the wine, and want to make a splash without spending too much of your holiday shopping budget. Navarro Lopez 2011 Pergolas Old Vines Tempranillo Crianza (Valdepeñas, Spain, $11.96, B.C. Liquor Stores) is an outright bargain while offering plenty of flavour, style, and structure. Stewed dates, plums, and figs all swirl together with cloves and nutmeg and a few slivers of caramelized orange rind that add a little brightness. Suitably enough, the flavour profile is akin to a seasonal mulled wine, but there’s bright acidity and fine tannins that handily keep it from being too rich, sweet, or cloying.