Choosing drinks for Christmas can feel like a rather monumental challenge but in fact you should keep it fairly simple and go for the reliable and classic rather than being too adventurous. My recommendations below are a mix of classic and unusual.
On the first day of Christmas your true love should say to you “here’s a glass of fizz!” That’s my view anyway as no other drink says Christmas like decent sparkling wine. Champagne is of course my first choice but this year I’m suggesting Irish (well, almost Irish, given that it is made by a Limerick man). I also recommend an actual Irish fizz.
Stockists: Bradleys Cork, World Wide Wines, Le Caveau lecaveau.ie
English sparkling wine has come a long way and one of the most important people in the industry is Dermot Sugrue who also makes for some other well-known producers. This is 100% Chardonnay and has tropical fruit and brioche aromas and bright citrus and pear flavours and a zippy clean finish.
Stockists: Bradleys, Galvins, World Wide Wines, Redmonds, Independents
One of the best new ciders of the year with pungent ripe apple and a distinct elderflower tang and a dry clean finish. Poured into flutes it will look work just as well as any Champagne.
Stockists: O’Donovans, Vintry Rathgar, Jus de Vine, Independents
Cheap fizz is also a must over Christmas and this is a new Prosecco to me and the first I’ve been impressed with in a while. Don’t be put off by the screwcap, which I think keeps more fizz in than the cork versions This is lower fizz so has still-wine tax (sparkling is double) and is packed with lemon and white peach aromas, has relatively good staying power, character, and not a little finesse.
If a dozen or so drummers and pipers turn up at your door you are going to need some inexpensive reds and whites. There are lots of supermarket specials (I’d go for Spain, Portugal or Chile) at a low price but I’m going to suggest two from O’Briens.
In my experience white drinkers drink more so I’ve gone for bargain basement here but one with ripe white fruit fragrance and disarming freshness and character.
A blend of Aragonez (Tempranillo), Castelao and Touriga Nacional this bristles with simple fruity flavours — plums and fleshy red and black fruits.
Boyles Gin is exclusive to Aldi and made in small quantities with Irish apple and elderflower botanicals and has fine balance. Made by the excellent Blackwater Distillery and a steal at €24.99.
Other gins to watch for include Gunpowder gin (from Leitrim) in its attractive blue bottle and of course Blackwater, Shortcross, Bertha’s Revenge, and don’t forget Dingle Gin.
Of the many new whiskeys launched this year I’m going to single out two.
Redbreast Lustau Edition (€69.99) is aged in Oloroso casks from the great sherry house of Lustau and his ripe intense caramel flavours and a creamy spicy finish. Delicious.
Dingle Whiskey is rich, full-flavoured, and characterful despite its youth. Available in limited quantities at €65 this is one of the first Irish whiskeys from a new distillery in over 100 years.
For your Christmas day starter wine I recommend the Wiston Estate Blanc de Blancs (above) or if you want a still wine try this excellent Riesling imported by Wine Mason.
Stockists: Bradleys Cork, Green Man Terenure, Clontarf Wines
Riesling is the perfect wine for seafood, smoked salmon starters, and can also cope with soups, paté, and even prawn cocktail. This has sweet apple and ripe quince and lemon aromas, is rich on the palate, and finishes with a zingy apple acidity.
Turkey can cope with most red wines but seems to particularly match with Pinot Noir or Zinfandel but these work less well with ham and the trimmings. This year I’m breaking with tradition and suggesting a Bordeaux as I think its up-front fruits will work with both ham and turkey.
Stockists: O’Donovans Cork, Corkscrew, Deveneys Dundrum
This is the second wine of the Margaux estate Chateau d’Angludet and at a very good price. Despite its youth this has supple ripe tannins, generosity and richness and a fine cedar-tinged ripe plum fruit character.
Stockists: Bradleys, ballymaloe, Ardkeen Stores, Celtic Whiskey Shop, Mitchells
Made by Wicklow Way Wines from fresh blackberries and fermented just as you would wine from grapes. This is rich and plummy with a full ripe blackberry character and lingering sweet chewy darker fruits. Also watch for their Strawberry Wine (€21) which makes a good aperitif and will work well with trifles, lighter fruit desserts, and with strong cheese.
Fonseca are one of the great port houses and the Quinta do Panascal estate is their visitor centre and the source for much of their best grapes. This Single Quinta (made in a non-vintage declared year) is a bit of a steal at this price and has ripe blackberry fruits, delicious concentrated sweetness balanced by freshness and with a lingering cherry character.