Remember, many years ago, when the annual Christmas bash, with its bland, predictable menus and boring booze filled the reluctant partygoers with foreboding; when the discerning palate was forced into exile for the duration of the silly season? Such rituals, mercifully, are now a thing of the past, a distant memory.
The fact of the matter is that today's revellers demand more for their money, expectations are high. Now, a random sample of seasonal set-menus, in some of the most popular restaurants, is sufficient confirmation that Christmas menus have come a long way since those days of inexcusable kindergarten style fodder. And, things, it would appear, are also cranking up in the drinks' department.
As far as wine is concerned, diners are no longer prepared to be fobbed-off with a restrictive festive drinks' list that tends to pander to the tastes of those who only imbibe on high days and holidays. And this, no doubt, has a lot to do with supply and demand, as well as keeping pace with the mouth-watering diversity of modern Christmas fare available this season.
As party menus have become more expansive, so too has the diversity of drinks on offer. Lingering over one's choice of festive aperitifs, cocktails, wines and post-prandials, is now recognised as an important part of the Christmas jamboree.
So, what's the low-down on choosing drinks to complement this year's intriguing and wide-ranging Christmas menus?
Aperitifs: Vodka cocktails are synonymous with seasonal sophistication; especially with a dash of clementine juice and topped with crushed ice. And, believe it or not, Advocaat, this year, is enjoying something of a revival, but with a hint of freshly squeezed lime juice and frosted sugar round the rim of the glass, to ring the changes. And, of course, there's nothing to beat a glass or two of pre-prandial bubbly for creating Christmas ambience...
Main course options
This season's take on turkey: From traditional roasts to light, subtle recipes, from around the world that combine unusual flavors and textures, turkey goes with pretty much any red or white wine; so, be guided by your personal preferences. You can't go wrong, for example, with a quality Chardonnay, for its flavors of honey, figs and nuts; (forget the recent bad publicity surrounding this feisty grape variety - most of it is unfounded). Or, how about a smooth, silky, white Burgundy? New Zealand Rieslings and Sauvignon Blancs lend themselves admirably to turkey dishes, as indeed do quality Alsace Gewurztraminers and dry Muscats, as well as Australian blends of Riesling and Gewurztraminer. Cotes du Rhone reds also make perfect accompaniments for turkey.
Pork: Again a gutsy Chardonnay with its spicy, buttery flavours, or a more delicate, aromatic Sauvignon Blanc would make an ideal partner for all types of pork dishes, traditional and otherwise. If you prefer red wine, go for a decent Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon.
Goose duck and game: Plump for a rich full-bodied Shiraz, or a blend of Shiraz and Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon to accompany traditional roast goose, duck or game. A classy Bordeaux or Barolo would go particularly well with goose. Or, how about a seductive Pinot Noir? For Pacific Rim influenced dishes such as crispy roast duck or recipes prepared with delicate oriental herbs and aromatic seasonings, hints of coconut, lime leaves and five spices flavours, choose any crisp, un-oaked reds or whites.
Beef and lamb: Cabernet Sauvignon, French Syrah, New World Shiraz or Merlot are your best bets to accompany beef and lamb. But, avoid, cheaper options, they are likely to disappoint. A quality Chateauneuf du Pape could do justice to a juicy joint of beef.
Vegetarian dishes: This is where organic wines come into their own. A crisp, elegant Sancerre would go well with most festive vegetarian dishes, particularly the more spicy oriental style cuisines. Or maybe, opt for grape varieties with a hint of spiciness, such as Grenache, Pinot Noir and Gamay.
Christmas pudding and desserts: If you're not keen on classic, rich dessert wines, such as Beaumes-de-Venise, why not diversify with a sparkling medium dry white wine, or even a dry sparkling red Shiraz?
Finally, round off the meal, with a glass of best port. This is one area of choosing drinks to accompany a modern Christmas menu that requires no break with tradition! A glass of quality vintage port is hard to beat.