Cheer on the cheap

A guide to seasonal imbibing
By TODD RICHARD  |  November 14, 2007
LIFT A GLASS: And make it something good.

Cocktail parties and dinners are de rigueur for a hefty span between Turkey Day and New Year's, but having such a bursting social calendar requires being armed, in the words of Hunter S. Thompson, to the teeth.

One drink that’s simple to mix and affordable is a Cider-Ginger Martini. It consists simply of equal parts vodka, pressed apple cider, and ginger beer. Some erroneously presume that vodka means a headache the next day, so I challenge the non-vodka drinkers to purchase something that doesn’t come in a plastic bottle, and get back to me on that one. Goya puts out a Ginger Beer that packs an unexpected punch. The Trojan horse? Capiscum, also known as chili oil. Many might associate this with an upset stomach, but both ginger and cayenne have been used for centuries as digestive agents, perfect for holiday dinner distress. Pour one part vodka and one part cider over ice in a shaker and do that thing. If you want it up, strain it into a martini glass and add the ginger beer as a floater. For a garnish, do something daring and take a slice of orange rind (minus the white pith), curl it around your pinky, and flame it with a match before dropping it into the glass. This is great on the rocks too: just add the ginger beer last, and an orange wheel as garnish.

There are also ways to present clever cosmopolitans at these holiday gatherings. Agreed that cosmos are “so five years ago,” but your aunt from Tulsa is now Netflixing Sex and the City, so indulge her with a good one. Substitute white cranberry or even white grape for the standard, and if you like the red color, mix in some straight pomegranate juice. I’ve tried this with fresh pomegranates, and while delicious, they leave a massive mess. Which makes the little containers of POM worth it. Bypass the cheap triple sec in favor of something more festive like Framboise sweet raspberry dessert wine; it’s affordable, and much more creative.

Okay, it’s not always cool to show up with a bottle of booze under an arm and a sack full of mixers when you’re going to the grandparents' place for Thanksgiving dinner. You’re already going to catch enough hell for smoking in the garage after dessert, so play it safe here and opt for a polite bottle of wine. You can actually find a few options for so little dough that it’s easy to buy two without blinking.

For those who are anxiously awaiting the arrival of les Beaujolais nouveaux this year, the news is not good. Stalwart Georges DuBoeuf has the corner on the market this time around, as several local distributors have given up on trying to make a go of this tricky seasonal. Instead, the Quinta de Cabriz, a delicious and fruity red from the Dao region of Portugal, wants to get cozy with that turkey and is an easy pick at less than $7. In some ways, little has changed from last year; Cava still rules the roost for value on the dollar. Avoid the French and Cali cousins and stay Spaniard. The latest Cava to rock the spot is Sumarroca, whose definition of Brut carries a little more body to it than last year’s pick, but carries the same sense of value at right around $10. A surprising candidate for the holiday table is the Cline Viognier. Usually paired more with spicy cuisine, it has a full presence on the palate, without the cloying oak that’s often expected in Californian wines.

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