10 best Christmas drinks

JOHN SAKER
Last updated 05:00 15/12/2013

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Drinks

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Drinking better, but less, is always a sound strategy at Christmas. You not only want to survive the tumult, you want to do it with as much celebratory style as you can. The madness only happens once a year, after all. And Boxing Day
hangovers are no fun, especially if you're travelling.

A large meal is a series of openings and closings, I was once told by a wise Jewish friend of my parents. I'll confine myself here to the first and last - the festive overture and the grand finale. 

BUBBLES RISING

There's no curtain raiser like champagne.

It is the most stimulating aperitif of them all, is welded to the whole idea of celebration and, of course, boosts morale like no other drink. On your behalf I gathered together a small panel and tasted 33 champagnes blind. Here are our
top five:

1. Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial NV 5 Stars ($74.99)
Well, well, well... the old campaigner came through. It impressed the panel from the outset, receiving unanimous five-star ratings. It's a bold style, spicy and deep, generously stocked with apple, citrus and yellow flower flavours. Above all, in tandem with its richness, it is refreshing.

2. Tattinger Prelude Grands Crus Brut NV 5 Stars ($129.99)
A 50/50 blend of chardonnay and pinot noir drawn only from top Grands Crus vineyards, this wine's bready, brioche scents usher in a fascinating array of flavours: warm lemon, quince, apple compote. The enveloping, creamy texture and terrific length are the marks of an aristocrat.

3. Comte Audoin de Dampierre Cuvee des Ambassadeurs NV 5 Stars ($70)
This toasty, luscious rendition is a good buy and worth tracking down. Quite dense and rich, but not heavy, its stonefruit, honey and nougat flavours are carried by fine, balanced acidity.

4. Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Reserve NV 4½ Stars ($64.99)
A bold, toasty, bronzed style, attractively perfumed and alive with zesty acids and juicy red-fruit notes. As one of the drier wines in the line-up it has an austerity that would suit salty canapes or seafood entrees.

5. Drappier Carte Blanche NV  4½ Stars ($44)
This wine is like that family member who is just a little wild and widely admired for it. A rawness and minerality underpin the more refined sweet-apple, stonefruit and caramel core. A powerful, concentrated expression.

PORT EXIT

Port does closure fantastically well. Much lighter (usually around 20 percent alcohol) and less cloying than lurid liqueurs (and so well suited to blue cheese), it is a peerless drink to linger over around the table.

Port comes in a number of styles. At the pinnacle is vintage port, which is only made in vintages of the highest quality. It is the most vinous port of all; you can taste the purple richness of those sun-baked indigenous Portuguese grape varieties (touriga nacional et al) in every mouthful.

The trouble with vintage port is it needs to be forgotten about for a few decades. That is why Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) port was created - to offer a vintage port-type experience that is ready to drink earlier and more accessibly priced.

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From a small blind tasting of vintage and LBV ports available in New Zealand, here is my top five:

1. Graham's Vintage Port 2011 5 Stars ($180)
It does seem like cradle snatching, but what a beautiful baby. Dark, dense, fabulous fruit, plush tannins and juicy
acidity come together in what many critics regard as a modern masterpiece. All the elements are here for a 100-year
life span. It doesn't get much better.

2. Churchill's IBV Port 2007 5 Stars ($69.95)
How good is this LBV? A poised, delicious expression, quite settled and relatively advanced. Fabulous flavours -  
blueberry/blackberry crumble and licorice -  and delicate in structure. A great buy, I reckon.

3. Sandeman lBV Porto 2008 5 Stars ($48)
Opaque and glass staining, the fruit in this wine explodes onto the palate. Intense, bright, dark berryfruit flavours make all the play... a powerful, joyful wine that still is very young.

4. Dow's Vintage Port 1997 4½ Stars ($149)
I tasted this wine six years ago and much enjoyed it. A cooler year, it is developing quite rapidly with layers of orange peel, spice and boot polish enveloping a core of fresh primary fruit. A fine example of the joys of older vintage port.

5. Barros Quinta de Galeira Vintage Port 2009 4½ Stars ($98)
Violets and other floral scents presage some beautiful, seductive flavours. The texture is incredibly soft; the tannins
are so velvety you have to go looking for them.

- Sunday Magazine

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