As the leaves turn from loblolly to crimson to chrome, as the central air shuts down and the fireplace warms up, as cottages shutter and skates are sharpened, winter is coming. Summer is over and the promise of cold lingers the calendar. And as the seasons change, so too do our celebration habits, from grand backyard and cottage deck fêtes to intimate festive gatherings. The holiday season is upon us, and with it comes the great responsibility of hosting. But what to serve this year? Are we simply to go down to the cellar and grab the same bottles we’ve been pouring year after year?
Choosing a wine has never been easier. Where once we relied on sommeliers to pick our pairings, the consumer has become more erudite and sophisticated with their wine choices. Nowadays, labels provide pairings so that even the biggest vineyard Luddite can guarantee guests perfect combinations, but taking some of the fun and spontaneity out of our holiday planning. It seems that a more educated and confident wine drinker is commonplace, and in the holiday season, as we move from fête to fête, celebration to celebration, we’re getting the same bottles, the same glasses. The wine has gotten better, but our ability to impress guests has dissipated.
Why not return the excitement of the unknown and exotic to your holiday parties with some new recipes? With a world of fresh and vibrant ingredients at our disposal, the festive season can be rejuvenated, adding a splash of new sophistication to any event. Our table wines will always be matched perfectly, a full-bodied red, perhaps a big Red Bordeaux or Red Rhône, a Niagara Ice Wine with dessert. But when guests arrive and cocktails are served, why not venture something new and alluring to fill your guests with a glow of awe?
Just as we’ve become more learned in wines, so too have we become more literate in our cocktails. Gone are the simple days of highballs and pre-mixed drinks. Instead, we regale ourselves, and guests, with mojitos, bourbon lemonades, and basil gimlets. But these jubilant beverages are born of summer, refreshing conveniences of sun-filled days and warm Muskoka nights. It’s time we bring the cocktail to winter, and refresh our menus, and ourselves, with wine-based warm drinks to enliven our holidays.
Jason Griffin, a native Ontarian, is a bartender extraordinaire formerly with the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Montreal, and now plying his trade at the über chic and world-renowned Milos in the always-trendy borough of Outrement. Griffin has created a special duo of wine-based cocktails exclusively for The Invidiata Collection’s readers.
Long Nights & Short Days is a duo of warm, wine-based winter punches. Both are made in a similar fashion, by first preparing a syrup and allowing many of the aromatics to develop before adding the wine. This will prevent much of the alcohol from evaporating.
750ml bottle of Sangiovese, (Chianti)
½ cup fresh cranberries
¾ cup white sugar
½ cup Earl Grey tea (prepared in advance)
½ cup Kirsch, cherry eau-de-vie
1 lemon peel
1 orange peel
Juice from 1 orange
Combine sugar and Earl Grey tea and bring to a simmer. Mix in Kirsch, orange juice, orange and lemon peel and cranberries, once again bring to a simmer. Add red wine; gently heat, but do not bring to a boil. Add more sugar if desired. Serve in a mug with a few stewed cranberries.
750ml bottle Chenin blanc, (Montlouis sur Loire)
½ cup Calvados
¼ cup Domaine de Canton, ginger liqueur
½ cup honey
½ cup hot water
1 apple, peeled and cored, cut into wedges
1 pear, peeled and cored, cut into wedges
6 hazelnuts cut into halves
1 cinnamon stick
6 whole cloves
1 lemon peel
Juice from 1 lemon
Incorporate the honey into the hot water. Add all other ingredients except white wine and bring to a simmer. Add white wine; gently heat, but do not bring to a boil. Add more sugar if desired. Serve in a mug with stewed apples and pears.
Griffin’s drinks are sure to impress and inform any holiday gathering. The warming celebratory treats are perfect as an apéritif or digestif, and pair equally well with the best selections from your local fromagerie or your favourite seasonal desserts.
No discussion of holiday wine cocktails is complete without the inclusion of mulled wine. A grand tradition in Nordic countries, our favourite is a contemporary and elevated version of gløgg, the Danish edition of winter’s sangria.
2 (750ml) bottles Malbec or Syrah
1 (750ml) bottle Taylor Fladgate 20-Year-Old Tawny Port
3 (3 inch) cinnamon sticks
14 whole cloves
1 blood orange peeled and julienned
1 blood orange sliced into 1 cm rounds
2/3 cup agave nectar
3/4 cup 66 Gilead Duck Island Rum
1/4 cup Forty Creek Brandy
1 tablespoon cardamom
1 cup dried cherries
1 cup toasted almonds
The Malbec and Syrah (not to be confused with the popular Australian Shiraz) are chosen because of their fruitiness, with a nice hint of spice. Both grapes may also be found in use among Niagara wineries, producing world class vintages once thought impossible in Ontario.
First, gently simmer the wine, port, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, cardamom, and orange peel in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add in the agave syrup (a healthier sugar substitute), rum (66 Gilead is one of our favourite Ontario distilleries), and the brandy (Forty Creek Distillery is another Heartland Province treasure, in Grimsby), whose lingering vanilla flavours will enrich the gløgg’s essence.
Continue simmering for five minutes until the mixture is steaming, but avoid bringing it to a boil. Mix the dried cherries and toasted almonds together in a bowl; toasting the almonds will remove the bitterness, and add a hint of smokiness to the flavour. To serve, ladle into glass mugs. Garnish each cup with a spoonful of the dried cherry and almond mixture, and a blood orange slice. Serve and enjoy. Scandinavians like to pair their gløgg with ginger cookies, rice pudding, or sweet buns, but this mulled wine compliments any course.
Whether you’re hosting a party of dozens or gathering around the fire with a few close friends, these drinks are sure to warm you as the temperatures drop and spirits rise. But these are not heavy beverages that will weigh you down. These wine cocktails are rich in fresh ingredients and the best vintages, winter’s cinnamon and blood oranges replacing summer’s fresh mint and lime. Don’t be fooled by amateur mixologists who suggest that punch-like concoctions don’t require the best of ingredients. These mixtures are not the spiked bowls of your youth, but rather elegant and exceptional combinations, delicately balanced to impress elevated palates and captious taste buds.
Winter is coming. We knew it the moment Labour Day weekend ended. And with winter, the festive season, a time to spend with friends and family, to toast the successes of the annum and look forward to next year’s promise. Ontario is a rich and diverse province, populated by the entrepreneurial and adventurous. And with those spirits come the products that will take a staid celebration’s drink menu and raise it to the level worthy of its celebrators.