Uncorking wine's true potential

Related tags Pinot grigio Chardonnay

Drinkers will be looking for ways to push the boat out when celebrating, so Christmas is a great time to introduce them to new varieties, says wine...

Drinkers will be looking for ways to push the boat out when celebrating, so Christmas is a great time to introduce them to new varieties, says wine expert Fiona Sims

It always feels strange to think about Christmas in September, but it pays to plan ahead, especially when it comes to wine. Bookings will soon start flooding in for the endless round of parties that will be fuelled, in most part, by uninspiring house plonk. But it doesn't have to be this way. With a bit more thought, you could offer customers something a tad more imaginative.

For party whites, go crisp and dry, avoiding those that have had any lengthy contact with oak (many people like the resulting vanilla notes, but it can quickly become cloying, and can clash with food). If the customer wants Chardonnay the variety most likely to be oaked ask your supplier for those that are 'lightly oaked or 'unoaked.

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc is currently gaining popularity, particularly those from New Zealand's Marlborough, where it shines. But if these are too in-your-face for party glugging then look to Sauvignon Blanc from warmer climate wine regions, such as California and Chile, where they tend towards the dry, soft and creamy.

Pinot Grigio still rules as the number one glugging white and, while it generally has little character, it is light and fresh, easily quaffable and partners a wide range of foods. But you could crank things up a notch and look to Pinot Grigio (or Pinot Gris as it's also known) from other countries.

Along with its sister Pinot Blanc, Pinot Grigio is at its most flavoursome in Alsace, while Germany, Austria and Switzerland also do well with the grape. In the New World you could push the boat out and look to Oregon, which has had great success with the grape, or even New Zealand, which now produces outstanding Pinot Gris.

For party reds the most versatile and best value glugs tend to come from New World countries such as Australia, South Africa, Argentina, Chile and California. You don't want too much chewy tannin, or wines that are too acidic but then you don't want alcoholic fruit juice either.

Great party reds include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Shiraz. Don't forget to look at blends of these varieties and don't rule out the Old World. French vins de pays are a great source of fruit-driven party reds, showing more terroir for your buck.

Try smaller Champagne producers

Of course nothing makes you feel more like a party than sparkling wine. If Champagne is the order of the day then think about smaller producers, who often provide as much complexity as the bigger names but with a cheaper price tag (avoiding any that are wincingly acidic of course). If the customer wants more flavour, then go for one with more Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier in the blend or made with all black grapes (Blanc de Noirs). If they want them light and creamy, go for Blanc de Blancs, made from 100% Chardonnay.

If the customer doesn't want to splash out on Champagne, consider the increasingly decent bubblies coming out of other regions in France, such as the Loire, Burgundy and Alsace, as an alternative. Italy, too, turns out some great sparklers. Prosecco, a crisp, refreshing speciality of the Veneto, is definitely worth a look and there's always cava from Catalonia in northern Spain, with its great value, yeasty, appley fruit. And take your pick in the New World from California to New Zealand. Plus England, of course: we just picked up the trophy for best sparkling wine in the world (Ridgeview vineyard's Merret Bloomsbury 2002), at the International Wine & Spirit Competition.

Taking the soft option

Serving a selection of mocktails is a good way of promoting responsible drinking and appealing to drivers. We've teamed up with Britvic to suggest some tasty alternatives without the kick.

Immaculate conception

One small piece of ginger

Half a ripe banana

12 to 15 blueberries

2oz strawberry puree

½oz of coconut cream

Dash of lemon juice

1oz Apple & Mango J2O

1oz Orange & Passion Fruit J2O

One scoop of crushed ice

Mix the ingredients in an ice-working blender, pour into a catalina (tall) glass (with no ice) then garnish with a sprig of fresh mint and three blueberries on a cocktail stick.

Cranberry Sauce

3oz grapefruit juice

3oz Orange & Cranberry J2O

R White's lemonade to fill glass

Crushed ice

Place all the ingredients, except the lemonade, into a glass and shake, then transfer the contents into a catalina (tall) glass and fill with R White's and crushed ice. Garnish with a fresh peach slice.

Tropical Sunset

1 bottle Orange & Passionfruit J2O

1 bottle Britvic 55 Orange

3 small cans Britvic Pineapple Juice

Fill up with R White's Lemonade

2oz Grenadine

Fill a jug three-quarters full with ice cubes, in the order listed, pour the drinks over the ice and garnish with fresh pineapple slices.

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