Quick Recipes and Easy

What to Drink at Thanksgiving or Christmas

As Christmas is coming, with the inevitability of a credit card bill, and there are a whole load of things to worry about. Buying Christmas presents, usually an expensive and traumatic period, is followed by the Christmas card list, the decorations, the food, yes, all that food and cooking and normally the last on the list, the Christmas drinks. Christmas drinks are possibly the least thought about but are the subtle catalyst that can turn an ordinary Christmas into a fantastic one. Yes, you can go with all your normal standbys but Christmas is special and so should be your Christmas drinks. Although these tips are primarily directed at Christmas, they will work just as well for your Thanksgiving meal.

To start with, there are many traditional Christmas drinks like Egg Nog and mulled ale. My father used to place his beer into a pewter tankard, heat a couple of pokers in the fire, then plunge them into the tankard. This should only be attempted with metal drinks containers, I have a vague recollection of him trying it with glass and making a mess on the floor when it broke. This doesn’t really work with lager or other blond beers, a excellent bitter, brown ale or porter should be robust enough to take that sort of treatment.

Possibly the most traditional of all Christmas drinks is mulled wine, know in Germany and around the world as Gluhwein, this is a warm infusion of red wine, lemons, cloves, cinnamon and sugar. This traditional Christmas drink has a whole host of modifications, not only in the different regions of Germany but around the European continent. To the basic ingredients can be added rum, brandy, Calvados even, I have heard, vodka which would add a kick, but not much taste. Another well loved ingredient is the orange, either as slices or zest but I reckon you could add any citrus fruit that you prefer. Please do not forget to wash thoroughly and. if possible, get the unwaxed variety of fruits. Another variation worth considering is the addition of juices, orange or apple are best or some people add fruiy cordials, elder flower is quite refreshing, or even herbal teas. Any of these will make a different and fascinating drink for Christmas that, if you remember to make a note of how you have made it, could become your signature Christmas drink that everybody looks forward to.

The basic recipe is a bottle of red wine, make sure it has some body to it either a classic, but inexpensive Cabernet Sauvignon or another robust Vin du Pays, to which you will add 5 to 20 cloves, depending on your taste, a stick of cinnamon and 2 to 4 tablespoons of sugar, normal or demerara if you want to be bold. Chop a wedge of lemon and stick your cloves into the skin, this will stop them floating about in peoples drink, then slice the rest. Pour the wine and the rest of the ingredients into a saucepan and heat. Do not, I repeat do not allow to boil as this will remove all the alcohol and ruin the taste. This is the basic recipe so you can adjust to suit your taste, it is best served in heat proof glasses, but you can improvise.

Another excellent starter is, of course, Champagne, it is a very elegant way to kick your party off. Nowadays there are a lot of sparkling wines that can compete with the original Champagne, in England there are many Champagnes available via the supermarkets that are extremely excellent and at very competitive prices. There are also a number of excellent English sparkling wines made in the champagne method that are very excellent as well, in fact, global warming has led to a number of French Champagne producers buying land in the South of England and planting vines. If you want to make your Champagne go further serve a Bucks Fizz which is Champagne and orange juice or for a bit more sophistication, why not try a Kir Royale made from Champagne with a dash of Creme de Cassis, a blackberry liqueur

When it comes to the Christmas meal there are a whole range of drinks to reckon about, from the appetizer to the digestive, if you want a truly memorable day. If you are on a strict budget, you can choose what to drink to meet your pocket, so if an appetiser is more vital, drop the digestif or vice versa. When you are serving Christmas lunch, a Sherry is a grand way to kick things off but you have to reckon of your guests palates. A excellent bottle of fino and oloroso will cater to the dry and sweet taste with brilliant examples coming from Domeque or Harveys although there are a wide range of brilliant sherries around, even if your budget is tight. If you can only pick one type, then go for either a medium sweet or medium dry type.

A wine to accompany the main dish is purely a matter of taste, much is talked about the merits of red wine with red meat and white wine with fish or chicken but at the end of the day it really ought to be what you prefer, just because the gourmands try to intimidate you with their knowledge, you don’t need to buy into that, have a bottle of red and a bottle of white and let your guests choose what they want to drink, it is Christmas after all, not a society luncheon. That said, a small direction will not go amiss when it comes to choosing a wine for a special occasion. Certainly beef, turkey, particularly the dark meat, duck or goose will suit a excellent red wine.

A Bordeaux, perhaps a St Emillion or Fronsac will not break the bank, there are a lot more expensive wines in this region, but if you can afford them you should visit a fine wine shop with knowledgeable staff who will give you very excellent advice on the wines available. You could also try a Rioja from Spain, a Montepulciano from Italy or any of the Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Merlot or even, my favourite Malbec that are available from vineyards around the world, particularly Argentina. I must confess that my own particular favourite area is Cahors in France, they produce some huge bold wines with lots of body. If you are having a large number of people to dinner, you could buy your wine in a box, it is still very excellent quality and you don’t have to pull all those corks, just serve it in a decanter or a excellent jug. Serving any red wine this way is better as it lets the wine breathe, rather than just pulling the cork out of the bottle an hour or two before serving, if you reckon it can get to breathe through that tiny neck, try to breathe through a straw and you will get the thought.

For a white wine the standby is a excellent Chardonnay although you should be aware that some of the heavy oak overtones may be too much for a white meat such as chicken or fish. You may wish to investigate a French wine like a white Burgundy, or if you like very dry wine, a Sancerre from the Loire Valley. Others to consider are Pinot Grigot a grape associated with Italy but is grown around the world or a excellent German Reisling or Hock, Bordeaux has excellent white wines like Entre Deux Mers but you should question your local wine merchant or the wine manager in your local supermarket for thoughts. Some people will compromise and go for a Rose wine and there are a number of acceptable wines in this category, Mateus Rose is probably the best known, but Rose D’Anjou from France is very excellent and there are remarkable rose wines from California, Australia and other parts of the world.

If you are really pushing the boat out, you will want a wine for dessert and for a cheese course. The dessert course is ruled by Sauterne, an expensive wine whose king is Chateau d’Yquem at a price that Bill Gates may blink at. There are other Sauternes, less expensive but a more economical option could be a Malbec, from the same area, still very acceptable. You may also consider a Muscadet from either France or Spain.

For a cheese course. the classic wine accompaniment is Port, although a red or even certain white wines are acceptable, depending on the cheeses served. Ports come in several different qualities, white should be avoided as this is more an appetizer, but the rest is a matter of taste and budget.

At the end of the day this is going to be an enjoyable time and providing there are not any glaring errors people will delight in whatever you serve because this is a time of sharing and goodwill to all.

One final tip, a drink that is really hot right now is Perry, it is like Cider but is made from special pears it is going to be really huge in 2007 so get in first, if you can find some.

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