It’s not a real dinner if there’s no wine on the table for us, but we’re not forgetting spirits and fortified wines either. Not only are they great for serving to guests, they make perfect Christmas gifts as well. Here’s our quick guide.
Picking the best fortified wines
Fortified wines have a distilled spirit added to them such as brandy. Generally we think about ports and sherries but there’s Muscat and Madeira too. Port is often served with the cheese board and, again, picking quality makes a big difference. You can find a much bigger range of fortified wines nowadays and you don’t have to stick with the usual choices.
A nice tawny port, for example, is great for serving with many chocolate desserts. The underlying sweetness and slightly nutty flavour acts as a real compliment to the bite of dark chocolate in particular. It’s also the perfect accompaniment to a plate of fine cheese, grapes and biscuits.
Muscat is another fortified wine that you’ll enjoy having at your dinner table on Christmas Day. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a light sweet such as lemon meringue and there are many varieties to choose from.
Picking the best spirits
When it comes to celebrating Christmas, picking quality spirits is just as important as your wine choices. You may have people popping in all over the Yuletide period, so it pays to be prepared. If you’re just buying the basics, you’ll need a scotch, a gin, a vodka and a brandy.
Gin is one spirit where there have been big changes over the last few years. The growth of smaller distilleries with their own unique brands and flavours has seen the market expand significantly. Gin also seems to have the monopoly on quirky bottle designs many of which we like to show off around Christmas.
In the scotch and whiskey stakes, there’s so much to choose from it can be mind-boggling. A smooth, well balanced single malt is going to cost anything between £25 and £50 and you don’t just have to look to Scotland for the best nowadays. If you fancy a little globetrotting, why not pick a high quality American whiskey? Most countries have their own distilleries and brands, some better than others.
Brandy is often used after the main Christmas meal is finished. A cheap bottle will be harsh on the back of the throat, so it’s worth investing in a quality one that goes down smoothly and leaves a good impression on your guests. A decent Cognac, for example, will set you back around £40 but is well worth the investment.
Vodka has had a renaissance over the last decade and there are excellent bottles out there from different distillers. A good quality product is going to cost between £30 and £40 and needs to be served straight. Keep it well chilled in the fridge for when unexpected guests suddenly appear.
Buying drinks for gifts
Christmas time is often difficult for buying gifts. What do you give the partner, parent, family member or friend who has everything? The answer is a fine bottle of spirits or an unusual bottle of fortified wine. There are two ways of doing it, of course. You could stick with the person’s taste or you can give them something a little different.
If you have an aunt who likes a tipple of sherry once in a while, then a classy fortified wine that’s different from her usual fare like D'arenberg’s Vintage Fortified Shiraz. People who enjoy a glass of whiskey in the evening may love a bottle of 10 or even 20 year old malt. A friend who likes their cheese board might prefer a Moscatel de Setúbal as an alternative to tawny port. White port and tonic, on the other hand, is the secret Portuguese G&T which can make a nice gift for gin lovers. Whatever you decide, there’s more than enough choice to make this a very merry Christmas for everyone!
To help you even further, we’ve curated a selection of exclusive offers and gifts.