A Warm-Weather Guide for Navigating your Holiday Alcohol Needs
By Manny Santana
With temperatures in the 70s and 80s (and sometimes 90s), we live in a unique environment when it comes to the holiday season. Instead of snow, we have sunshine. That doesn’t always jibe with classic holiday images – Sinatra holding a martini by a warm fireplace, or Clark Griswold loading a massive fir tree onto his station wagon. But regardless of where we are, the holiday season brings the warmth of family, good food and great drinks, and there is no better time to eat, drink and be merry.
With that in mind, you’ll need to stock your at-home bar in advance of the myriad parties and family gatherings. Holiday drink is about indulging in comfort, so when making your purchases, think warm, savory, and fun: A great rum, red and sparkling wines, aged whiskey, vodka, and a variety of mixers and garnishes like soda water, lemons, maraschino cherries and cinnamon sticks. When hosting a gathering, I recommend starting with a classic shareable cocktail. Because this is South Florida, put a warm weather spin on it to keep everyone cool. In the north they drink the Hot Toddy; here you can impress with a local twist by serving the Gables Toddy. Start with two parts Bacardi Gold Rum or, to deepen the flavor, opt for a Bacardi Anejo Cuatro, add one part fresh lemon juice, one part cold tea, a teaspoon of honey, ice, and a cinnamon stick. Not only does it look amazing, but it smells great too. If you’d rather go simple or neat, try swapping your Scottish whisky for Japanese. The top trend in high-end whiskey this year comes from the Far East. Hibiki Japanese Harmony ($75) makes for an excellent holiday gift as well.
W. C. Fields once said, “I cook with wine. Sometimes I even add it to the food.” Consider this your philosophy when preparing for holiday parties. Good wine is food’s best friend. When hosting, pair your cheese and fruit with a light sparkling. I recommend the Cremant d’Alsace ($18). This French sparkling has a mild nutty undertone to balance the citrus zest. It pairs especially well with a soft French cheese like Brie or Camembert. If you want to add a little color to your flutes, pour a glass of the Cleto Chiarli Rosé Italian Sparkling. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better value at under $20.
When serving poultry, consider a red wine. Yes, a red. We think of white wine with white meat, but surprise and impress with a light red. The latest trend (and for a good reason) is Oregon Pinot Noir. If you’re looking for value, Oregon is a diamond in the rough with some of the best quality to value available. I recommend the Elouan Pinot Noir ($25).
Desserts and holidays pair like afternoons and cafecitos. They’re not only obvious but mandatory. While you could go with a standard dessert wine or digestif, why not use the opportunity as a final chance to demonstrate your epicurean prowess? Keep the party going with a Cuban coffee martini, a typical martini with the added bonus of your favorite espresso pick-me-up. If you aren’t already using Tito’s Vodka in your martinis, by the way, you should be. It is now the most popular vodka in the United States. Or add a shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream for color and flavor. So, no matter what the weather brings – a cold front of 65 or a balmy beach day in the 80s – you can serve seasonal favorites with a local flourish. Then you can send a pic of you holding a Cuban coffee martini to your friends up north.
Manny Santana is the owner of the newly opened Mystic Wine and Spirits, 248 Giralda Ave., 305.456.8553