The wine questions I’m always asked at Christmas

If you're hosting this Christmas, be sure to take a moment to yourself with a good glass of wine or champagne - Ruby Fresson@A Human Agency

If you’re hosting this Christmas, be sure to take a moment to yourself with a good glass of wine or champagne – Ruby Fresson@A Human Agency

You should drain the wine you plan to serve on Christmas Day, and if so, when? What glasses can you buy to cater to the clumsy crowd of friends (breaks are inevitable) on New Year’s Eve? And is there a good zero alcohol option for non-drinkers?

These are among the most frequently asked drinking questions to me this time of year, here are the answers to these dilemmas (and more). And if you’re hosting this Christmas and you’re going to spend your days running around and taking care of others, be sure to plan a moment for yourself in peace with a good glass of wine or champagne.

My father would balance the red wine in the radiator to warm it up before serving. Do I need to do this?

No way. The most common mistake with red wine is to serve it too hot; it becomes soupy and cloudy and loses its definition. I’ve spent the last decade pointing out that red wine should be served at “room temperature”, but that doesn’t mean the 21C or 22C most people set their thermostats for. This means that if most reds are kept at home rather than in the pantry or wine cabinet, it may be helpful to chill them a bit before opening.

Now we’re all in energy saving mode, maybe that’s not the case anymore. My thermostat is now set to 13C for most of the day and 17C for a few bursts in the morning and evening (that’s three degrees warmer than my parents’s when I was growing up). This means I have to wear a jacket at my desk, but happily keeps red wine at a great drinking and tasting temperature.

Help! I just realized we don’t have enough glasses

Then I hope you live near an IKEA branch that sells my favorite cheap ones. The Storsint 37cl (£8 for a six-pack) is incredibly versatile. It can be a stemless wine glass (the bowl is tulip-shaped, which is good for wine), a water glass, or a cocktail glass. It’s handleless so it doesn’t take up much space in your closet, so you can buy in bulk, store the boxes and stack them until a lot of friends arrive next time. If you need to have stems for wine, Ikea’s Storsint Wine Glass 49cl (£12 for a six-pack) is also a good buy, but it eats up closet space.

How do I know which wines need to be drained and how long before serving do I need to open them?

This is a very knotty question and it’s really impossible to answer without tasting the wine first. So this is what you can do. Open the bottle a few hours before you want to drink, pour some and watch for 10-20 minutes to see how it develops. If it gets better, it may be worth draining. If it gets better and then loses its potency and flavor, store it in a (saved) bottle.

There is one exception to this: If the wine bottle is quite old and possibly delicate, I wait until the drinking point to open it. Old wines can be ephemeral once spilled—here and then gone—and you don’t want to risk all that scent disappearing.

And do I need a jug?

No. A pitcher or pitcher will do this just fine. The act of pouring into the chamber initiates the process of mixing the wine with the oxygen in the air. Also note that the wine glass itself acts as a mini carafe, so if you’re really stuck, place the glasses and pour the wine early.

What works best for champagne – mug or flute?

Short answer: none. Look, if you offer me a glass of good champagne, I won’t turn it down because it’s a mug or a flute. But using mugs and narrow, straight-sided flutes for good champagne is like playing your favorite tune (or opera piece) through your cell phone speaker. Pour the champagne into a suitable wine glass and you’ve just done the same thing as attaching it to the Bose and you can settle in and enjoy the wine in all its splendor and detail.

There’s something to be said for flutes though: the little ones make it easy to share a bottle of champagne, so they have their uses. Still, if I use them, I reserve them for sparkling wine cocktails.

Do you have any drink ideas to serve our house guests during the period between Christmas and New Year’s?

I like to be old but golden – a bit of cassis, dirt – white wine mixed with blackcurrant liqueur. When you come from a long walk, it is economical as you can use cold wine and warm currant flavor and cheap wine. Spirits expert Joel Harrison, co-author of 60 Second Cocktails: Amazing Drinks to Make at Home in a Minute, proposes a posh riff on an old favorite. “A simple and indulgent drink is hot chocolate infused with a rich, dark rum or a smoky Scotch whiskey—I love using the Bowmore 12. It’s the perfect way to curl up in front of the fire.”

Which cocktail is good for a New Year’s Eve party?

There are two main issues to consider here: a) how many people do you serve food to? b) What is their capacity to drink a short, strong cocktail at 8 pm and stay awake until midnight? If you have more than half a dozen guests then I would say “Stay away from the cocktail shaker”. Unless you have a tribe of youngsters willing to bartender at night (and trust that they won’t be having fun after five minutes), it’s more relaxing to plan non-labor-intensive drinks. As for the point about alcohol levels, I think it’s self-explanatory.

So, yes, if you have a small group of drinking hounds, it might be good to go to a martini bar with blini, salmon roe, and herring. I also like a Saketini with home delivery sushi (1 part Tanqueray Ten, 2 parts daiginjo saké, shaken with ice and strained into a martini glass). For everyone else, I recommend a pre-made punch or a tall drink like a glass. Alice Lascelles has a fine-tuned chapter on these in her book The Cocktail Edit.

I often make a Riesling Cup (I adapted the recipe from a recipe found in The Savoy Cocktail Book and also has it in my How to Drink). Mix a bottle of medium-dry German riesling with 160ml of Grand Marnier and 300ml of mineral water and add a few half slices of orange to the pitcher.

What are the best low/non-alcoholic options? I have quite a few friends who don’t drink and I want to make sure they feel well taken care of…

A drink selection is the best start because it feels more like a mainstream place than an afterthought. Fortunately, there are now many options. “I find that wine drinkers generally prefer low or no beer at all, perhaps just because it’s different,” says Laura Willoughby, who opened a tasting area and shop dedicated to little and no liquor in Covent Garden, London, and also founded mindful drinking. says. Motion Club Soda. Willoughby opts for Lucky Saint (Tesco, Sainsbury’s, £1.80 for 330ml), which I love too.

A vital quality of little/no drink is that it has flavors that force you to sip, not sip. The spicy heat does just that, making old-fashioned ginger beer a popular choice. A good contrast would be Everleaf Mountain (Amazon; £19 for 50cl), which contains notes of rosehip and cherry blossom and mixes well with the Fever Tree Refreshingly Light tonic water.

Beware of drinks with so-called “functional” (mood-altering) ingredients, which are not always recommended for pregnant women and some of them can interact with certain medications, such as antidepressants. You don’t want your guests to fill out a medical consent form before accepting a drink.

What will you be drinking this year? Let us know in the comments below

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