We all deserve to celebrate this festive season like no other. Rowena Marella-Daw recommends some of the best fine wines and spirits to greet the New Year.
It’s not surprising that demand for wine and spirits has shot up since lockdown was imposed in spring. This season, wine merchants are even more inundated with orders, as we stock up on our favourite tipples for the festive season. As we celebrate an unusual Christmas and New Year, apart from indulging in the usual supermarket drinks, why not treat yourself and loved ones to something special and different? From artisan drinks crafted in the UK, which support good causes, to fine wines and spirits that ignite your thirst for adventure, we’ve got them covered.
Wines of distinction
Clos Apalta 2015
All the way from Chile, we have a bold and rich Clos Apalta 2015, full of character like the century-old vineyards of Domaines Bournet-Lapostolle, where it was produced. From this verdant valley set against the glorious snow-capped Andes mountain range comes a full-bodied red made from bio-dynamically grown grapes comprising a complex blend of carmenere, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc.
What you get are notes of blackcurrant, cedar, spice, and a lusciously lingering finish that enhances the balance of fruit with crisp acidity and firm tannins. Vintners recommend stashing the bottle away to allow it to mature, then drink any time between 2022 to 2040-plus. Assuming you’re a young collector, that’s absolutely fine. But life’s too short and precarious these days. Drink now and enjoy.
Where to buy: bbr.com
Chassagne Montrachet, Bachelet Monnot 2018
Brothers Marc and Alex Bachelet are known for working their family-run Dezize-lès-Maranges vineyards in a natural way without the reliance on herbicides. They employ a technique called pre-ox, meaning the pressed grape juice is able to oxidise before fermentation, which prevents the white wine from ageing prematurely. This light white is low in tannins and has medium acidity. Lemony freshness evolves a while after opening, and on the palate it hints of honey, citrus, minerals and butter, placing you right in the heart of Burgundy and its stunning villages and vineyards.
Where to buy: bordeauxindex.com
Frerejean Frères Premier Cru Brut NV
From founding brothers Guillaume, Richard and Rodolphe Frerejean-Taittinger comes this signature Frerejean Frères premiere cru champagne that blends chardonnay and pinot noir in equal parts to produce an elegant bubbly that’s perfect for special occasions. Ageing for a minimum of five years, low dosage and delayed disgorgement help to achieve a delicate balance and develop complexity, while retaining the wine’s freshness. With minimal sulphites and lower sugar content, this is an aromatic, elegant bubbly with a pleasing nose of dried fruit, honey and almonds, moving on to flavours of apples and pears, candied fruits and brioche. Sheer delight.
Where to buy: honestgrapes.co.uk
Champagne Jacquesson Cuvée 742, Extra Brut
Many satisfied drinkers have described this dazzling champagne from Jacquesson as being silky in texture, and upon tasting you realise they’re right! Cuvée No. 742 comes from a blend of pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay vintages, and is aged for a minimum of 36 months on its lees before a further two months development in oak. This process results in a rich intensity that delivers a burst of floral notes, scrumptious orchard fruit and cinnamon. Brilliant with fish dishes, salmon and shellfish.
Where to buy: bbr.com
Waterford Organic Gaia 1.1 Irish Single Malt Whisky
It’s worth the wait for Ireland’s first certified organic single malt whiskey from Waterford Distillery’s Arcadian Series. Made from 100 percent organic, bio-dynamic and heritage grains grown by six specialist farms, Waterford Gaia was distilled in 2016 and bottled without any colouring, additives and chill-filtration. Long fermentation and slow distillation allow the best flavours from malted barley to come through, giving this whiskey its distinct taste and texture.
With notes of warm spices and cloves, Waterford Gaia’s smooth but intense journey of flavours is a superb choice for all consumer levels. The nose gives out orange and salted caramel, along with a wheaty earthiness that continues on into the taste, which offers a peppery and malty hit of pears, vanilla, apple, butterscotch and lingering aftertaste of mixed spice and cloves. A rare delight.
Where to buy: nickollsandperks.co.uk
The Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve Single Malt Whisky
Suntory is famously known as Japan’s oldest distillery, and among their specialist whisky range is their flagship single malt, The Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve. Like many Japanese whiskies, this is a whole different experience, multi-layered with a pleasing fruitiness. The nose delivers cherry, Mizunara (Japanese oak) and strawberry aromas. The taste gives out raspberry, peach, a hint of coconut, with a warming vanilla, cinnamon finish. Smooth and gentle, this a whisky best enjoyed neat, though cocktails such as a highball work well too.
Where to buy: thewhiskyexchange.com
Darroze Les Grands Assemblages 12 Year Old Armagnac
Les Grands Assemblages 12-Year Old is one of the youngest in the Darroze family’s armagnac collection and, like its siblings, carries its own unique character. The nose will present you with fruity aromas alongside liquorice, cinnamon and cigar, while the palate delivers a fiery hit nicely balanced with a sweet fruitiness. Not for the faint-hearted, this complex Armagnac pulls no punches – a little coarse at the start, it needs a few minutes to breathe in a glass before drinking to appreciate the intense flavours.
Where to buy: virginwines.co.uk
Sherry – A taste of Andalucia
Pedro’s Almencenista Selection Oloroso
Whether you’re feasting on game, red meats or even Spanish tapas, this rich and full-bodied sherry is a wonderful accompaniment. The must (mixture of skins, seeds and stems when grapes are pressed whole) is a feature of Oloroso, making it more fragrant and robust. With an average age of 20 years, this excellent wine is no exception.
Sumptuous and complex, it serves up warming aromas of toasted walnuts and autumn leaves that make a perfect introduction to subtle dried fruit sweetness that never competes with the semi-dry texture. Imagine sipping this cool sherry on a warm, balmy evening in Jerez. It’s best served chilled and consumed within one month after opening – though it’s likely to be finished long before that.
Where to buy: majestic.co.uk
Manzanilla Pasada Pastrana NV Hidalgo
It’s no surprise that this crisp, elegant sherry from the heralded Hidalgo family is regarded as a superb aperitif to complement those starters or canapés. Light and very dry, this is a single-vineyard Manzanilla from Hidalgo’s Pastrana vineyard in the Miraflores region of Sanlúcar, not far from the town of Jerez, and carefully matured in the oak casks of the Bodegas Hidalgo.
You are first greeted with an intense nose of apple skins and nuts, before indulging in the classic notes of almonds and orange peel, all backed up with a salty twang and a lingering finish. This Manzanilla should be served chilled, and can last up to two weeks in the fridge after opening. This is the perfect drink to get you primed for your next Spanish holiday. Ole!
Where to buy: majestic.co.uk
And the Tawny award goes to….
Berry Bros. and Rudd William Pickering Special Aged Reserve Tawny Port
Port has long been a festive favourite and this special aged Tawny is a particularly delightful treat. Rich in earthy texture though not overly sweet, this port blended specially for Berry Bros. and Rudd from Quinta do Noval’s finest Tawnies has a luxurious sherry-cask character, created from a blend of wines that produce warming caramel notes of dried fruits and nuts. A true fireside companion, enjoyed with cheese, chocolate, or both!
Where to buy: bbr.com
Tarsier Spirits Southeast Asian Dry Gin and Oriental Pink Gin
If the winter chill is making you long to be somewhere sunny, warm and exotic, then the Tarsier Spirit Southeast Asian Dry Gin should set you in the mood. Inspired by the backpacking adventures of co-founders Sherwin Acebuche and Tim Driver around the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, it gets its distinct name from the Philippine Tarsier, one of the world’s smallest primates, and an endangered species indigenous to the island of Bohol.
This award-winning dry gin brings seven traditional botanicals together with exotic flavours of the Far East, such as Calamansi, the Philippines’ answer to lime, but zestier and sweeter; Thai sweet basil, galangal and Kampot pepper. The result is a gentle citrusy aroma mingling with hints of sweet basil. On the palate, bitter almond comes and goes with juniper, before giving the stage to a peppery finish.
Produced in Manchester, this small batch handcrafted gin goes through a single-shot distillation, and is blended only with pure water. The bottle stands out for its beautiful Tarsier label illustrated by Juvel Tiu Modayno, a young Filipino artist from Bacolod. Each bottle bears an individual number, and 10 percent of profits goes towards supporting the Philippine Tarsier Foundation and other conservation projects in Southeast Asia.
Big on flavour and character, the Tarsier Spirit Southeast Asia dry gin can be enjoyed neat or in a gin and tonic. Then there’s the Oriental Pink Gin, which transports you to Indonesia’s rainforests and the Mekong Delta’s fruit orchards with floral notes of red dragon fruit alongside the sweetness of lychee and tartness of raspberry. Exotic cocktails in the collection also include the enticing Tropical Gin Old Fashioned (coconut-washed Tarsier Southeast Asian Dry Gin, jackfruit and Pandan Syrup, Orange Bitters). And if you’re already planning your Southeast Asian jaunt, Tarsier Spirit will be waiting in Singapore, Cambodia and the Philippines.
Where to buy: tarsierspirit.com
Mermaid Salt Vodka
“Like the gentle kiss of a mermaid,” says the bottle notes on this distinctive vodka. Well, for starters the bottle has an alluring shape, with fish scales etched on the white translucent glass. Aesthetics aside, there’s a silkiness that sets this one apart from some of the coarser vodkas, and the added novelty of being infused with a pinch of locally sourced sea salt makes this Mermaid an intriguing tipple. Hand-crafted at the Isle of Wight Distillery, and with a nifty 40 percent ABV, the subtle salt content adds personality to the flavour. Excellent neat, on the rocks, or as the leading player in a powerhouse cocktail, this refreshing vodka deserves a place in every mixologist’s bar.
Where to buy: isleofwightdistillery.com
Don Papa Rum
Rum has been selling like hotcakes since the lockdown, and if you’re looking to upgrade to a premium brand, go for award-winning Don Papa rum. Crafted on the foothills of Mt. Kanlaon in Negros Occidental, the Philippines’ sugar cane capital, this ‘liquid gold’ is named after Papa Isio (Colonel Dionisio Magbuelas), a leading figure in the Filipino revolt against the Spanish colonisers during the late 19th century.
Fast forward to the 21st century, and Don Papa is inspiring another revolution in the rum industry with its distinct style. A molasses base used to make the rum comes from an old strain of sugar cane, and when fermented matures in oak barrels for a minimum of seven years. The initial aroma comes from the fruitiness of caramel and tangerines, followed by vanilla. Delicate and smooth on the palate, hints of sultanas, vanilla and marmalade intertwine, leading to a long, textured finish with a hit of cinnamon. It’s deliciously intoxicating.
Just in time for this season, Don Papa crafted quirky cocktails based on winter classics: Rumpapapumpum, Negrense Tropics, Don’s Midwinter Dream and Mulling over Sugarlandia (recipes are available here: donpaparum.com), although this rum is also perfect neat or on the rocks. And judging by the high demand for Don Papa, this exciting small batch premium rum has already won many followers. Don Papa Rum is available in Sainsbury’s and Harvey Nichols.
Where to buy: donpaparum.com
Tom Savano English Garden Lychee Martini
When James Kerslake launched Tom Savano handcrafted cocktails a year ago, he couldn’t have imagined how 2020 would impact his business. As it turned out, the lockdowns have helped to boost demand for his concoctions, even winning awards and recognition in the industry. The Negroni garnered two stars at the Great Taste Awards, two gold medals and one silver at the Spirits Business Global Masters Awards 2020, not to mention the ‘Best New Product of the Year 2020’ accolade.
Another gold medal winner is the sensual Lychee Martini, which marries a double layering of sweet lychee and refreshing organic English elderflower vodka with Savano’s own version of a dry Italian vermouth. Other cocktails in the Tom Savano collection include the Caribbean Dawn Mai Tai, Devon Coastal Negroni, Single Estate Reposado Margarita, Smoky Maple Ragtime Manhattan and Kentucky Winter Old Fashioned. Ideal for all occasions, these elegant year-round cocktails are perfect for welcoming the year ahead.
Where to buy: tomsavano.com
St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
Each year in late spring elderflowers are harvested by hand and crafted into a special liqueur using centuries-old French traditions. Produced in limited quantities, up to 1,000 quality elderflower blossoms are crammed into a bottle of St. Germain, each one numbered and marked to indicate the vintage year. This stylish art-deco style bottle is perfectly matched by the liqueur’s exquisite taste. Its fruity aroma comes with a distinct flavour that’s hard to pinpoint – the closest descriptions are those of pear, peach, grapefruit and tropical fruits. And it’s this mystifying elegant flavour that gives a refreshing vibe and versatility to every cocktail. No wonder it’s an indispensable ingredient in every bartender’s cabinet.
Where to buy: majestic.co.uk
Binary Botanical beers
For those who like the idea of a cold beer but without too much alcohol or bitter taste, this Binary Botanical superior table beer definitely fits the bill. Developed by the Good Living Brew Company, this is a light yet satisfying accompaniment to food or just as a refreshing drink on its own. Unlike regular bottled beers, it has notes of tropical fruits and an almost prosecco-like taste, yet with a healthy hit of English hops, all followed by a clean, crisp finish. Hints of wine and cider add to the experience. The beers come in two different strengths (4 percent and .5 percent alcohol content), and are great chilled in a long glass. Binary Botanical is now available from all Sainsbury’s stores nationwide.
Where to buy: binarybotanical.com
Seedlip non-alcoholic mixers
The principles of distillation used for herbal remedies some 300 years ago have been given a 21st Century twist with Seedlip’s non-alcoholic drinks. In the old days, the word ‘seedlip’ referred to baskets used for hand-sowing – a fitting name for non-alcoholic mixers that harness the essences of florals, spices, herbs and fruits. The trio of concoctions are Garden 108, a blend of peas, hay and traditional English herbal distillates; Spice 94, an earthy mix from oak and Cascarilla barks, lemon and grapefruit peel; and a fresh and citrusy blend called Grove 42.
It’s a matter of taste, but for me, the Seedlip Grove 42 is the most delightful and versatile for its mix three varieties of Mediterranean orange, lemon peel, ginger and lemongrass distillates, and a touch of Japanese Sansho peppercorn. The clean citrusy scent is quite therapeutic, and when mixed with tonic or soda water, the lemongrass and yuzu flavours come through. A range of creative non-alcoholic cocktails recipes for Grove 42 are available from Seedlip’s website.
Acorn Bitter aperitif
A new addition to the Seedlip portfolio is a trio of Aecorn aperitifs: Aecorn Bitter, Aecorn Dry and Aecorn Aromatic. The Aecorn Bitter, as the name suggests, gets its tartness from natural distillates and extracts of grapefruit, bay leaf, orange, Quassia, honeycomb and oak, with English sparking wine grapes as its base. This goes well with Fever-tree Blood Orange Soda, and pairs with Seedlip Spice 94 to make a Nogroni. Seeplip and Aecorn drinks will hopefully keep teetotals happy, and those tempted to infuse them with alcoholic spirits are sure to get good results. We won’t tell anyone.
Where to buy: seedlipdrinks.com/uk