If you’re throwing a Christmas party, mulled wine has one thing going for it: you can make up a big batch and leave it for your guests to help themselves – no fuss for the host. But if by mid-December, you can’t face another glass of what is all too often sickly-sweet, tooth-coating stuff – let alone the thought of offering it to your nearest and dearest – here are four alternatives for festive party tipples that can be prepped in advance. Many draw on a long tradition of party punches and festive drinks that deserve to get more of a showing at this time of year.
Cava is so much more than an affordable alternative to champagne (or a welcome relief from the ubiquitous prosecco). Its toasty, brioche notes are a particularly good foil to refreshing apple and warm spice flavours: this spritz combines both, to create a warming but refreshing welcome drink. We especially like Raventós i Blanc’s wine, a biodynamic cava producer whose blanc de blancs can be picked up for not much over £10 online, and is far more interesting than many champagnes at four times the price.
For the spiced apple puree6 large tangy eating apples1 tsp ground cinnamonCaster sugar, to taste1 vanilla pod, split lengthways
To serve3 chilled bottles cava – we especially like Raventós i Blanc’s blanc de blancs, which can be got for just over £10 online, and is far more interesting than many champagnes at four times the priceApple crisps, to garnish (optional, but fancy)20ml shot bourbon per guest (optional, but fun)
Make the spiced apple puree in advance: core and peel the apples, then cut into quarters. Put into a large pan, add enough water just to cover, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until soft. Strain off the water and put the softened fruit in a food processor with the cinnamon (or use a stick blender).
Blend smooth, adding just as much sugar as you need to match your taste. Scrape in the vanilla seeds to round out the sweet flavours, then cover and chill until needed. The puree keeps for a week in the fridge, and will make more than 20 servings, but it’s great on porridge or stirred through yoghurt, too.
On the night of the party, prepare your glasses: for each guest, spoon a heaped teaspoon of apple puree into the bottom of a champagne flute or small wine glass. Add a dash of cava to wet the inside of each glass and swirl it around to mix it with the puree.
As your guests arrive, hand them a glass topped up with chilled cava and garnished with an apple crisp. To introduce even more festive warmth, add a 20ml shot of bourbon to each glass before you add the cava.
Not just for trifles (or grannies), sherry is a fortified wine that forms the basis of some of the oldest known cocktails, with recipes dating back to 1820. This version is made with amontillado and fresh fruit, served over ice. Because it’s not fashionable, you can get good sherry at great prices, making it ideal for catering for a big group.
To serve2 big bags of ice cubes or 1 bag of crushed iceA few punnets of blackberries and blueberries 1 big bunch fresh mint
The day before, make a simple syrup: take a litre measuring jug, fill it halfway with caster sugar (ie, 500g, give or take), then fill nearly to the top with boiling water. Stir to dissolve, leave to cool, then refrigerate. (You almost certainly won’t need all the syrup, but it keeps well and can be used in all sorts of cocktails.)
The proportions for the cobbler are simple, so it’s easy to scale up or down. One serving = 100ml amontillado + 20ml sugar syrup (or a 5:1 ratio of sherry to syrup, if you prefer). So, for 20 guests, combine two litres of sherry with 200ml syrup in a serving pitcher, then add the orange slices.
If you have ice cubes, crush them by wrapping one bag at a time in a tea towel and bashing it with a rolling pin (excellent post-Christmas shopping stress relief).
To serve, set the jug of cobbler, a bowl of crushed ice, highball glasses, the berries and the mint out on a table. All you or your guests have to do is fill a glass with crushed ice, top up with the cobbler and garnish with berries and a sprig of mint.
Warming, Christmassy spices work so much better with sharp, mouth-smacking cider than with wine, and the result is less alcoholic, too – ideal for anyone pacing themselves over the long party season.
Zest and juice of 2 lemons, peeled carefully in wide strips, with a potato peeler to leave as much of the white pith behind as possible3 clementines, peeled2 cinnamon sticks6 cloves2 star anise2 cardamom pods, lightly crushed with the flat of a large knife2 vanilla pods, split lengthways50g fresh ginger, finely chopped4 litres good, dry cider500g dark brown sugar, or less, to taste
In a heavy-based frying pan over a very low heat, toast the lemon peel, clementine peel (keep the fruit for later), cinnamon, cloves, star anise, cardamom, vanilla and ginger for around 10 minutes, constantly moving everything around in the pan so nothing can catch and burn. Once the aromas of the spices start to fill the air, tip into a bowl and set aside.
Pour the cider into a large saucepan for which you have a lid. Cut up the clementine flesh and add to the cider with the lemon juice and the reserved spice mix. Warm over a low heat and gradually stir in the sugar, tasting as you go. You may decide you don’t need all of it, depending on how much of a sweet tooth you have.
Leave the mulled cider on the lowest possible heat for your guests to ladle directly into mugs, but make sure you and they keep the pan covered, or the alcohol will boil off and you’ll be left with nothing but hot spiced apple juice.
Normally only spotted at the end of Christmas dinner when the cheese is rolled out, port is actually at its best served slightly chilled. Combining it with Christmas-coloured fruit makes for a beautiful, ruby-red party punch.
2 x 750ml bottles juicy red wine, such as a cabernet franc, merlot or syrah ½ bottle (375ml) ruby red port50ml brandy150ml cranberry juice, or more to taste2 red apples2 firm, crunchy pears 1 handful fresh cranberries1 bag ice cubes10 fresh figs, halved, to garnish (optional but beautiful)
Pour the wine, port and brandy into a large jug (or two), making sure at least a third of the jug is left empty to accommodate the ice, then add the cranberry juice – add more if you want to make what is otherwise a very robust drink that bit more quaffable, but don’t let it get too sweet.
Core the apples and pears, but don’t peel them. Dice into 1cm cubes, then stir through the sangria with the fresh cranberries.
Keep refrigerated until your guests arrive, then top up the jug with ice and stir well. Serve in large wine glasses, with half a fig slotted over the rim of the glass for extra festive flair.
• Recipes by Albert Blaize and Claire Strickett. Their book, Which Wine When: What to Drink With the Food You Love, is published in 2020 by Ebury.
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