Decatur Wine and Spirits
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Holiday Libations

The winter season is filled with holidays that allow families and friends spend more time together and celebrate. An important part of these celebrations are the drinks.

  Brown Shugga
Sweet and cheery Brown Shugga' seasonal beer from Lagunitas.

But choosing an appropriate wine or cocktail should not be an afterthought in that a great selection will help make your celebration unforgettable. It therefore makes sense to splurge a little and drink something nicer.

For instance, while you may want to have one of the standard lagers, why not pick up a christmas beer instead? Many craft brewers make seasonal brews that are a little stronger, richer, and subtly spiced. These beers are complex enough to stand up to hors d'oeuvres or to enjoy on their own. Some great ones are Anchor Christmas, Sierra Celebration, Lagunitas Brown Shugga, and Sweetwaters holiday ale.

A classic cocktail before dinner is another popular option. One suggestion is the traditional martini. Try the original gin used in the martini, Plymouth, or if Vodka is more your thing, try a handmade vodka from the U.S. such as Hangar 1 from California, or Titos from Texas.

With the weather getting colder, more people are also turning to the brown liquors. A good bourbon on the rocks or a lighter single malt scotch can be a great aperitif. Lighter Islay scotches or a highland scotch would be especially perfect to whet the appetite. A few great choices include Aberlour, Bruichladdich, Lismore, or Balvenie. All are fruity and light enough not to overwhelm the palate before dinner.

A signature cocktail is another way to spice up the party. An easy one is the perfect Manhattan. The drink includes two parts bourbon or rye to one part dry vermouth and one part sweet vermouth served shaken in a cocktail glass with a cherry.

A glass of dry white wine can also be a delicious aperitif. Have a bottle of sauvignon blanc or chardonnay in the fridge, or try something more unusual like a fruity Albarino from Spain or a crisp Gruner Veltliner from Austria. Inexpensive varieties of each are available that are very nice.

For dinner itself, you'll want to serve wine. What to pick depends upon what you are serving. But you should take into consideration not just the main course, but also all the traditional side dishes. Many of the sweet, spiced, or strongly flavored dishes will otherwise overwhelm a delicate wine or make a structured red seem too bitter.

For a red, look to a Pinot Noir, a shiraz, zinfandel, or a Spanish wine like a tempranillo or garnacha. These wines have a lot of fruit flavors in them that stand up to many of the holiday side dishes. Pinot Noir also goes with some main dishes that normally are served with a white wine, such as turkey. Cabernets, Malbecs, Meritages are likely to bee too tannic unless you are serving a robust cut of meat like a ribroast, steak, or game.

For a white wine, it is probably better to go with something a slightly off dry. Great choices include Riesling, Gewurtztramineer and Albarino. These wines are perfect with turkey or a pork roast.

Another option is a brut or extra dry champagne/sparkling wine. Especially nice is a decent Rose sparkler. The extra flavors it has are beautiful accompaniments to many meats.

After dinner, it is always nice to serve dessert followed by a coffee and a digestif. For dessert, almost all wines will be overwhelmed except for fortified wines like port.

A port, sweet sherry, or ice wine would be perfect. A vintage style port of late bottled vintage won't break the bank and is still a wonderful finisher on its own.

A sweet sherry like an Oloroso or Pedro Ximenez could be a dessert all its own.

Ice wine, made from the nectar pressed from grapes frozen on the vine, is particularly sweet and honey-tasting but with enough acidity to cut through the sugar and make it refreshing.

For the digestif, nothing beats great brandy or old single malt scotch. Choose one of the great brandies of France (Cognac, Armagnac, or Calvados), or a fine alembic brandy made in the U.S.

If you are serving coffee at the end of the meal, you might consider an orange liqueur like Grand Marnier or Couintreau. Baily's, Frangelico, Amaretto and coffee liqueurs like Kahlua or Starbucks are other good choices.

CristalFor New Year's Eve, obviously the drink of choice is champagne. Real champagne only comes from the Champagne region of France, and the pinnacle is Cristal, made by Louis Roederer. The 1999 Cristal (the one out now) is the best in recent memory.

Other champagnes that are great but are a little less regal include Veuve Clicquot, Pommerey, and Moet.

A great alternative to French champagne is sparking wine. Two especially good ones are Roederer estate and its premium expression, L' Ermitage. Bottled by the makers of Cristal, these wines are well priced and will knock your socks off with their flavor and finesse.

Cheaper alternatives include a Spanish Cava, an Italian Prosecco or Spumante (a little sweeter), or a nice Washington State sparkler like Domaine Ste. Michelle.

When choosing a sparkling wine, one thing to keep in mind is the sweetness level. Champagnes and other sparklers are graded from dry to sweet with the driest being Brut, followed by Extra Dry, then Demi-sec, and finally syrupy sweet Sec. Buy according to your preference.

If you spend a little time paying attention to your holiday libations, you can really make the seasonal gatherings and feasts more impressive and delightful. Happy holidays and cheers!


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