Christmas, famously, is not about religion any more. But as a Decanter reader, you’ll also know that it’s not about giving, family or food either. No, it’s about drink.
The one time of year when we get to open the good stuff without anyone questioning what we’re doing. And of course, there’s no shortage of advice as to what form those bottles should take.
Every year, hacks in newspapers, magazines and websites tell us how to make the big day go with a bang. But these don’t correspond with the reality of Christmas any more than the annual John Lewis advert does.
Of course, we’d all like to be serving up fascinating drinks to our cultured and attentive guests. But do yourself a favour and accept that it’s not going to happen.
No, the most important thing is to get through the day without disasters and ensure that the 1998 Pomerol doesn’t end up being necked by Uncle George, who lost his palate sometime in the 1980s. So here’s a real-world interpretation of how to get the most out of the big day.
It’s the one day of the year when it’s acceptable to start drinking at about the time that Good Morning Britain finishes – that’s 9am for non-UK readers.
Since a Buck’s Fizz probably does you less harm than the programme itself, grab the opportunity. Not least because it’s not a bad way to use up that bottle of supermarket plonk that your neighbours brought round six months ago.
Prosecco isn’t a bad alternative either, since it’s generally improved by being mixed half and half with orange juice. Intention: gentle buzz that seems more louche and expensive than it is.
Smoked salmon brunch
This must, of course, be accompanied by Champagne. This is an immutable rule. Some columns might suggest English fizz, or a German Riesling. But they’re not fooling anyone.
Champagne has been helping people overcome the disappointment of receiving polyester socks for generations, and this is no time to change a winning formula. Intention: self-pitying consolation.
After a 10-minute walk round the block – to ‘work up an appetite’ and burn off 5% of the calories you’re about to ingest – it’s time for a pre-dinner snifter.
Drinks columns diverge on what to offer here: anything from Scotch to Sherry to cocktails to a third bottle of fizz. This is the most pressure you will be under all day. Your guests will be hungry, full of anticipation and not yet drunk or sleepy enough not to notice what you’re doing.
The key thing is not so much what you serve as how much. No drinks column will tell you this, but the aim is to render your guests joyfully optimistic without running the risk of them falling asleep face-first in the turkey or starting a fist fight about Brexit. Intention: slow diminishing of guests’ critical faculties.
Drinks articles are full of advice about what to drink with Christmas dinner. But it’s actually the easiest bit of the day. It’s largely impossible to match the many elements on the table, so anything accessible that says ‘special occasion’ is fine.
Unless you’re a Russian oligarch, or you stocked up 20 years ago, Burgundy is probably out. But a couple of imposing looking bottles of Bordeaux should do the job nicely. If your fellow diners aren’t over-fussy, it’s also a handy way of using up a dud vintage.
Decanting a separate, star bottle and keeping it down your end of the table should ensure that you are rewarded for your intelligent buying. Intention: careful separation of great wine (for you) and ‘apparently great wine but not really’ (everyone else).
As the day subsides into parlour games, snoozes and Spartacus, your guests should be happy to move on to terrible cocktails, cream liqueurs or tea, leaving you free to work your way through that bottle of Cheval Blanc 1982 that you lifted from the cellar just in case. . . Don’t feel guilty. You’ve been good all year and, hell, they gave you socks again. You deserve it.
In my glass this month
If there’s one drink that always makes an appearance at Christmas, it’s Sherry. Nobody knows why. It’s like advocaat…
The trouble is, you can line up all the high-quality fino (salmon), amontillado (nibbles) and oloroso (cheese) you like, and your efforts will be largely ignored. Yet bring out a pale cream like Harveys, and someone will always have at least one glass. So swallow your pride, buy a half-bottle and hide the empty at the bottom of your recycling bin to keep it from the neighbours.
This column was first published in Decanter magazine’s January 2022 issue, out now.