Drinking upscale for the holidays

The holiday season is a wonderful time of year filled with family, friends, festive get-togethers, and of course, great meals. What we sip with our festive foods should be something that is a notch or two above the ordinary. This is a great opportunity to pull out those special or rare bottles you’ve been hanging onto for just such an occasion.

When it comes to wine, nothing is more festive or special than bubbly. From the popping of the cork to the tiny bubbles that tickle your nose, there’s just something about sparkles that cry out celebration.

The best comes from France in the form of Champagne. The key to Champagne is the method – second fermentation in the same bottle. However, there are lots of great samples from all over the world made the same way. Look for the terms “champagne method,” “methode champegnoise,” “methode traditionelle,” or in Spain “cava” on the labels for similar styles.

For still wine, try single vineyard offerings that use the words “Chateau” or “Domaine” on the label. This means all fruit that went into making the wine came from one property. For French wines, especially Bordeaux and Burgundy, you might vie for “classified growths” (Grand Cru and Ie Cru for examples). Sweet wines are a perennial Christmas favourite, so try some vintage or date of harvest Port from Portugal, fabulous Sauternes from France or amazing, world-famous Canadian icewine.

When it comes to beer, the choices are endless and some of the best come from micro-breweries, small boutique operations that meticulously create superior brews. Check out the World Beer Awards (worldbeerawards.com) for great medal-winning examples.

Fabulous spirits also abound at this time of year (no pun intended). Lots of specialty bottlings of your favourites are available.

Whisky lovers rejoice. Those who dig Scotch will want to pull out all the stops with great single malts from the Highlands, Campbeltown or the islands and aged blended styles.

Bourbon aficionadas might go for special small batch versions or single barrel offerings.

If you’re a fan of Irish whisky, then a single malt (distilled at a single distillery and made from a single type of malted grain, usually barley) or pure pot still whisky might elevate the experience for the holidays.

Brandy is an all-time favourite of the cooler weather and especially Christmas. The best is from France in the form of Cognac and Armagnac. For both try “XO” (extra old – the youngest brandy in the blend is at least six years old, but usually closer to 20), “vielle reserve” (a grade beyond XO) or “hors d’âge” (beyond age – equal to XO, but usually beyond the official age scale). You might even find a vintage Armagnac. Any of these will make the holidays super special.

White spirits are big here too. For gin, why not vie perhaps for the London style (aside from juniper berries, it’s flavoured with natural citric botanicals) or Dutch Genever (often produced in a pot still and aged one to three years in wood barrels). Lots of wonderful flavoured vodkas will add a certain extra to holiday sipping and cocktails. Tequila is high on the list of festive sippers. Why not elevate your tasting pleasure to “reposado” (a tequila that is distilled more than once and fermented longer in French oak), “añejo” (a vintage tequila aged for a minimum of one to three years in oak) or “extra añejo” (vintage tequila aged for longer than three years in oak).

I haven’t forgotten about rum lovers either. Aged offerings are usually smoother and rounder and make for some very special sipping at yuletide. Anything 10 years or older is bound to please.

Christmas comes but once a year so why not treat yourself, loved ones and friends to an elevated sipping experience this year. Just remember to indulge responsibly and have a happy, safe holiday.


Edward Finstein is a wine writer, award-winning author, TV and radio host, educator, judge

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