Holiday cheers

Danny co-owns Innovative Beverages, is an importer of fine wines and is a CAPSAC-certified sommelier. Photo: Tammy Fancy

If the headline above makes you think like there is a lot of work ahead preparing fancy cocktails, you can relax. We’re focusing on delicious drink-ready products. What excites me most about December is that we all seem to embrace the generosity of the season—we splurge. We try great new wines, spirits and beers, often ones we wouldn’t otherwise buy. The shelves are full at Halifax’s NSLC and private stores. Never before has there been more high quality and great products available in Halifax.

Consider the growing number of local craft breweries. Many offer seasonal products well suited for entertaining and colder weather. Garrison is offering a six-pack that includes the tasty stout and the Hopyard. Propeller has its Russian Imperial Stout, and all the larger NSLC and private stores have a great selection of many other local craft brews.

For some beer with a Christmas flavour, try the Bah Humbug Christmas Ale from England, available at larger NSLC locations. It has a nice sprinkling of cinnamon (and a hilarious label). The more daring might want to try Wells Sticky Toffee Pudding Beer, also from the U.K. St. Ambroise Brewery from Quebec has released a winter six-pack, and for that dessert craving try the Muskoka Winterbeard Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout.

Cider has seen amazing growth this year, and our Nova Scotia ciders are as good as any in the world. Bulwark Winter Cider, a traditional spiced cider, is back on shelves this month. Try Tideview’s Old Port of Halifax Strong Cider made from frozen apples, and aged for four years to give it port-like characters at 18 per cent ABV.

In the spirits section, Captain Morgan has released a 1671 commemorative blend spiced rum, which is finished in Spanish Oak. To make your coffee taste better Baileys has released a flavoured gift pack available that includes vanilla cinnamon. And don’t forget single-malt whisky or premium rum for something special to sip by the fire.

For your holiday wine, try something different. If you only ever drink Pinot Grigio, why not try a nice Chardonnay or a Nova Scotia Tidal Bay? If you only drink California blends, why not try an Italian Rippaso? It’s a great time of year to experiment.

Grand Pré in Wolfville has released its tasty Cabernet Foch; it’s been growing the grapes this unique cross of Cabernet Sauvignon and Marchel Foch since 2004. The bottle shape itself is worth the purchase and is bound to be a conversation piece. There are also a number of nice wine gift packs available at NSLC. Bishop’s Cellar has attractive wooden boxes available to box up your wine purchase.

‘Tis the season for sparkling wine, and there is range available at all price points. The Emeri Moscato Frost, available at larger NSLCs, come in a pretty blue bottle adorned with snowflakes for under $20. If your budget can afford it, try a Benjamin Bridge Brut that showcases great Nova Scotian sparkling wine. Of course, my own Christmas wish list includes visions of Champagne. It pairs with just about any holiday food. How can you go wrong?

Lastly, this is the traditional time of year to try port. There is Ruby, Tawny, and Vintage in good supply. Nothing goes better with dessert and great conversation with friends and family. Cheers and happy holidays.

The under-$25 wine review

Faustino VII Tempranillo 2011
Spain, 17.99, NSLC

Spain is one of the most under-rated wine producing countries; I keep finding great-value wines. Spain’s most famous red grape is Tempranillo; this one is from a well known Rioja producer. This is a modern style wine with a current of bright cherries and acidity. Unexpected freshness—atypical (but surprisingly pleasant) for the region. Great with a cheese platter but also able to stand up to your holiday turkey with gravy. 88/100

Donnafugata Anthilia 2012
Sicily, $19.98, NSLC

Sicilian wines don’t get much attention in our part of the world, overshadowed by Italy’s more popular wine regions. It’s a pity because Sicily’s delicious indigenous grapes make everything from table wine to age-worthy reds. Aromas of fresh wild flowers and melon in this lovely white. Interesting herbal notes; well balanced with melon and apricot flavours. Reach past the Pinot Grigio and be pleasantly surprised. 90/100

80–84: A great sipper, good value. 85–89: Won’t last long, great value.
90–94: Brag to your friends and buy a case—fantastic. 95–100: A classic, run to the store, extremely rare.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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