As a wine and food writer, I’m often asked for the best wines to pair with just about anything. From specific meals and special occasions to sporting events, holiday parties or simply the best wine to be drinking right now, I’ve become the default Dear Abby for friends and family in search of good wine. And now, with the holiday season upon us, the requests have started to flow. But this year, I’m changing up my usual list of handy reds and whites to suggest. Instead, I’m pushing cocktails.
Everyone expects the obligatory bottle bottle of bubbly, or “safe” wines--Pinot Noir and Chardonnay--at holiday gatherings, but I’m sort of bored with that. This year, I suggest adding a little fancy to the occasion. You can still serve your favorite wine picks at dinner, but try greeting your guests with the more alluring and festive appeal of wine, ports, and spirits if served in a less conventional way.
These are a few of my go-to picks that are perfect for holiday entertaining. They don’t take much time to make--some can even be batched early--and are sure to inspire a festive occasion:
Antique Old Fashioned:
There’s nothing quite as soothing as an Old Fashioned. For a holiday twist, try switching out the Rye or Bourbon with barrel-aged gin. Treaty Oak Distilling in the Texas Hill Country makes a unique style of gin that reveals enticing aromas of cinnamon and all spice as well as toffee and rich nuttiness on the palate, and it is a key ingredient for making this cocktail really sing. A perfect combination with orange oil and liqueur. This is a quick and easy riff on an old classic.
2 oz. Treaty Oak Waterloo Antique Gin
1 oz. Orange liqueur such as Grand Marnier
2-3 dashes Angostora bitters
Orange peel to garnish
Add ice to a rocks glass and pour gin, orange liqueur and bitters. Stir gently. Rim the glass with orange peel to release the oils. Drop the peel into the glass and serve.
Holiday Citrus Spritz:
As an apertif, there’s hardly anything as refreshing as an Aperol Spritz. But when the weather turns cold, this is a way to take its winter citrus notes a bit deeper. It's right on the mark with low-proof, wine-based cocktail trend. And, it's a light, effervescent way to kick off a festive event.
2 oz. Prosecco
2 oz. Izze Sparkling Grapefruit
2 oz. Aperol
2-3 dashes grapefruit bitters
Grapefruit rind to garnish
Pour ingredients into a Collins glass with ice. Stir until well chilled and strain into a champagne flute our coup and garnish with a grapefruit rind.
Pine Beetle Punch:
With the proliferation of distilleries all across the country, I love trying small batch creations from new producers who have boot-strapped their way into a new American dream. I recently stumbled on Wyoming Whiskey, an American distilled, barreled and bottled by 4th generation cattle ranchers who source all of their ingredients--corn, wheat and barley--from the Big Horn Basin of Central Wyoming. This is a smooth-drinking bourbon offers notes of vanilla, molasses and clove and toasted orange rind on the palate. It’s a perfect pick for this holiday punch from the Front St. Tavern in Laramie, Wyoming.
1 oz. Wyoming Whiskey
1/3 oz. Raspberry Liqueur such as Chateau Monet
5 dashes orange bitters
1 oz. cranberry juice
Serve over ice in a highball glass topped with Ginger beer and garnished with lime
Port is no longer an after dinner drink for gentlemen settling into a smoking room. Both the bold, fruity intensity of a young ruby port and the more complex barrel-aged tawny ports have made a stylish comeback as perfectly enjoyable post-dinner sippers on their own. But they also play well in cocktails.
A fruity way to break out the bubbles, this Ruby Sparkler adds a little depth to the average glass of champagne. You can use about any port, but I like the opulence of Fonseca Bin 27, a port made for early drinking with a rustic sophistication.
1 part young Ruby port such as Fonseca Bin 27
2 parts brut sparkling wine (well chilled)
Raspberries or blackberries for garnish
Pour port into well-chilled Champagne flute and top with brut sparkling wine. Garnish with a blackberry or raspberry and serve.
If you’re going to do a punch, you might as well make it a rich and soulful sipper like this spin on a classic British punch. Save the 20-year and older Tawny’s for enjoying on their own. I like Taylor Fladgate 10 Year-Old or Graham’s 10 Year-Old Tawny for this.
12 oz. of 10 Year-Old Tawny Port
8 oz. Armagnac
4 oz. aged rum
The peel of 3 lemons, cut in wide spirals
3/4 cup sugar
6 oz. fresh-squeezed, strained lemon juice
24 oz. water
1 whole nutmeg
In a 3-quart punch bowl, muddle the lemon peel and sugar. Let it sit for one hour. Stir in the lemon juice. Add Port, Armagnac, rum and water and stir again. Carefully slide in a 1-quart block of ice. Chill for 20 minutes and grate 1/3 of a whole nutmeg over the top. Ladle out small servings into punch cups. Makes 20-30 servings.