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7:00am Saturday 15th December 2012 in NewsXtra
Fancy a drink? Our drinks columnist Sam Wylie-Harris pops the cork on some festive fizz and casual wines to embrace the party spirit.
Get ready to party
With the halls decked with boughs of holly and glittering holiday decorations, it's time to unveil some clever wine pairings and share some festive cheer.
Gathering friends and family invites an eclectic mix of tastes. Whether you prefer refreshing bubbles or an accessible style, wine can blossom into something special when matched with finger food, party canapes and good company.
To lift the mood and fire up the evening, here are some good all-rounders to grace the wine rack or ice bucket.
Spanish cava comes in many shapes and forms, and while some may not be as bright as a button, Tanners Cava Brut, Traditional Method (£8.90, www.tanners-wines.co.uk) is in a league of its own. With an attractive, lemony richness and creamy, biscuity notes similar to champagne, its complex style makes it the perfect serve with a cheese plate or breaded prawns.
Pretty in pink, Pinot Noir Rosado Vintage Cava 2009 (£13.99, Marks & Spencer) tastes as good as it looks and the fact that the winery is part of the Freixenet sparkling wine group is testament to its quality. Made from the red fruit pinot noir which gives champagne its strength and body, it's delightfully dry and savoury with lots of crushed raspberry fruit to complement chorizo and other cold meats.
Prosecco is the perfect combination of delicate small bubbles and a burst of freshness - and tipplers are sure to find this enduring appeal in Waitrose Prosecco NV, Italy (£8.99, Waitrose). A delicious new fizz to its shelves, delight in the refreshing fruity taste with attractive aromas, a touch of sweet almond and dry finish that works like a dream with parma ham and mozzarella bites.
For bigger thirsts and a Santa-size welcome of cheer, Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Conegliano Prosecco, magnum (£14.99 from £19.99 until December 11, Sainsbury's) offers unbeatable value. The equivalent of two bottles, it will fill approximately 12 to 14 flutes and can always be chilled in a big bucket of ice if there's no space in the fridge. Light and refreshing, you can always add some peach puree to create an Italian bellini and string the bubbles along that much further.
Albarino is the trendy Spanish white grape from Galacia that goes brilliantly with seafood and salty snacks. It's also versatile enough to go with white meat, but the only drawback is it usually comes at a premium.
However, Asda has a good example that's a perfect party pour. The attractive turquoise label of Alba Signature Albarino (£5.50, Asda) acts as an instant lift before you've even tasted the vibrant, fresh white flavours. Fruity with floral aromas and refreshing acidity, it's also a lifesaver if the conversation runs dry.
Another crowd-pleaser dressed in sky blue, Cowrie Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2012 Marlborough, New Zealand (£6.99, Waitrose) will certainly perk up the palate of anyone coming in from the cold. Typical of the Marlborough style, it's crisp and racy with a burst of ripe guava fruit and kiwi on the mouth. Match its grassy finish with shellfish, mackerel pate or oriental snacks.
Corbieres in France's Languedoc region is famous for its quaffable, rich, spicy reds, which usually come in around the £7 to £8 mark, so not exactly party plonk, unless you try a supermarket label such as Wine Selection Corbieres, France (£3.98, Asda). Not quite smooth enough to be 'beautiful', but this rustic red has a velvety texture and a herby, ripe fragrance, which is sure to meet your guests' approval.
Chile is rich hunting ground for fruit-forward wines that will keep you coming back for more, and Concha y Toro Sunrise Merlot Central Valley 2012, Chile (£4.99 from £7.49, now until January 2, Waitrose) is a little cracker with long-lasting appeal.
A medium-bodied, dark, juicy merlot with ripe plum and herbaceous notes, soft tannins and a lip-smacking finish, it'll have partygoers jostling for another sip before reaching for cocktail sausages or bite-size pizza.
:: Best buy
Skinny Vinni... A sparkling wine-based drink, Original Vinni Sparkling (£3.49, 5.5% abv, 56cl, Sainsbury's) is a refreshing alternative to cider or beer and it's not too sweet. Ideal for tipplers who like the look of a crisp, pale fizz, this moscato-based lower alcohol wine tastes great with dips and snacks and the stylish bottle will complement a spread of festive drinks.
:: Liquid news
Home-grown fizz on the rise... According to Waitrose, sales of English sparkling wine have increased 30% in the past year. The supermarket chain stocks the largest variety of British wines, with more than 40 different varieties available.
Ken Mackay MW, Waitrose wine buyer, says: "Customers are able to find a British sparkling wine to suit any occasion or palate, and often the quality of the wines is better than champagne.
"We've even started making our own at our Waitrose vineyard in Hampshire and will be producing our first bottles in 2014."
Mackay's favourites include Ridgeview Merret Bloomsbury 2009, Sussex, £22.99; Nyetimber Classic Cuvee 2007, West Sussex, £29.99; and Chapel Down Vintage Reserve Brut NV, Kent, £19.99, all available from Waitrose.