If I’m honest, after a blizzard of festivities over the course of the holiday season, ringing in the New Year at home has long been a welcome choice. But in a year where necessary restrictions offer precious few alternates, it’s less a choice than a foregone conclusion.
As a result, the hope is to make yet another night at home into something more memorable. In a bid to inject some sparkle to this coming New Year’s Eve or, at least, do something slightly out of the ordinary, I consulted some experts for suggestions to make the night more special.
Matthew Boyle, co-founder of the Clever Barkeep, a cocktail catering and consulting company based in Halifax, says the first step is to make a plan. The most important part of hosting – even if it’s just you and yours – is to be prepared.
“Stock your freezer with lots of ice,” he says, proposing, if need be, to work ahead harvesting ice cubes and placing them into freezer bags to avoid them taking on foreign smells from the ice chest.
Boyle’s also a fan of making prebatched cocktails or punch. “Punches are awesome because people can serve it up themselves and you can focus on having some fun,” he says.
Beyond eating and drinking, Boyle suggests drawing inspiration from the things you’ve missed dearly over the past year – say, concert-going, dance parties, or a favourite bar or hangout spot – and recreate elements of those experiences at home. There must, surely, be music. Take the time to make the perfect playlist, he adds.
Instead of reflecting on the year that was or the usual auld lang syne associated with New Year’s Eve, the Toronto-based sommelier and educator Anjana Viswanatha likes the idea of looking ahead and focusing on what you want to do in 2021.
Viswanatha operates Wednesday Night Wine, a company offering wine education and events, and suggests making the first place you hope to visit when travel restrictions are lifted your theme. You could set a menu inspired by food and the wine or spirits from that place to serve and enjoy.
Even if you don’t settle on a specific theme, she prefers the flexibility of a cocktail party setup with wine or drink pairings as opposed to cooking a whole meal. If you’re planning a Zoom or virtual event, you could arrange for everyone to buy the same wines to compare notes about the different food pairings. Should everyone on the chat have different dishes or wines, you can still stir up conversation by sharing details about what you’re enjoying and why.
Anything else to consider? “Dress up,” Viswanatha says. It helps elevate your mood.
As much as I wish to discourage associating sparkling wine solely with festive celebrations, toasting the New Year with sparkling wine or Champagne is a long-standing ritual for many. Charge your glass and give cheers to the incredible moments to come in 2021 or simply celebrate that 2020 has come to an end at last. (There’s no reason you cannot do both.) Two tasty Canadian sparkling wines count amongst this week’s recommendations. There are also three special bottles that are designed to be sipped and savoured, whether that’s on New Year’s Eve or any evening you wish to make a little bit more special.
13th Street Cuvée Rosé Brut, $29.95
The most widely available bubbly from Niagara’s 13th Street Winery is also its most charming. While I appreciate the focus and finesse of the more expensive blanc de blancs and the richness and finesse of its popular Premier Cuvée label, this rosé is juicy and flavourful, with a clean sweep of acidity to freshen the palate. It’s a style that’s enjoyable on its own or with a meal. Drink now to 2022. Available at the above price in Ontario ($24.95 until Jan. 3) or direct through 13thstreetwinery.com.
Blue Mountain Blanc de Blancs 2012, $49.90
Blue Mountain consistently delivers a polished and enjoyable range of traditional method sparkling wines. I was really taken by the blanc de blancs from this year’s release. Made from estate-grown chardonnay and aged extensively on its lees and in bottle prior to release, it’s fresh and focused, with crisp fruit and appealing nutty and toasty notes. A fine match for oysters or seafood, this is also suitable to stow away in the cellar for later. Drink now to 2025. Available direct through bluemountainwinery.com.
Fonseca Bin No. 27 Reserve Porto, $16.95
This is a nice expression of reserve ruby port with complex but enjoyable flavours suggesting fruity, floral and spice notes. I like that it shows more of a reserved, tannic character than more accessible styles on the market. An open bottle will stay fresh for weeks. Drink now. Available in Ontario at the above price, $24.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $17.04 in Manitoba.
Booker’s Little Book Chapter 4, $184.99
Little Book is an exciting annual release that offers a different expression due to creative blends of different whiskey batches and barrels. Chapter 4 includes a portion of brown rice bourbon, which I’m not sure I’ve encountered before. Its intense mix of warm cinnamon and spice flavours are rounded out by typical toffee and vanilla notes, particularly after adding a splash of water. This expensive release is made for collectors and fans of bold styles of bourbon. Available in British Columbia at the above price, $147.99 in Manitoba, $199.99 in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.
Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva Rum, $59.40
A warming and flavourful sipping rum from Venezuela, this features the flavours of the holiday season, such as Christmas cake and gingerbread, along with brown sugar, vanilla and sultana raisins. Those descriptors make it sound sweeter than it tastes. There’s enough peppery spice and tobacco notes to balance, which makes it really enjoyable served by itself. Available in Ontario at the above price, $64.99 in British Columbia ($59.99 until Jan. 2), various prices in Alberta, $70.99 in Saskatchewan, $59.99 in Manitoba, $60.75 in Quebec, $61.99 in Newfoundland.
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