Thursday, 28 December 2017 12:35

Host for the Holidays: Entertaining guests with wine, cheese and spirits

Written by  Josh Veal and Missy Black
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With the holiday season, you’re bound to have some guests — and we don’t just mean the jolly, bearded home intruder. It’s the time of year when friends and family come from all over to visit, and they might just want you to be their benevolent host. If you’re feeling a little stressed about how best to impress, step one is to deep clean for the next three weeks, but step two is to prepare the most amazing snacks and drinks.

We’ve talked to the experts and rounded up some of the best cheeses, wines and cocktails around so you can show off your palate for all to see. In fact, even if you’re just a guest, it wouldn’t hurt to bring these along — you might become the talk of the party.

 

NO MORE POUR DECISIONS 

by Missy Black

The allure of wine is strong, but the vast selection and information can overload. You need a breakdown in color, sparkling options, dessert wines and what to gift the hostess. Oh, and tannins — an important descriptor for wine tastings referring to the dryness, bitterness and astringency of a wine. Here’s some suggestions from Dave Russo of Russo’s International Market, all priced within the $15-$22 range. 

 

ENTERING RED SEASON 

For red wine, look for a bottle with soft tannins, medium-bodied and gently fruity.  “The Maison L’Envoyé Morgon from the Beaujolais region of France would be excellent.  Pinot Noir from Oregon is also a great choice,” Russo said. He also recommends the RouteStock Pinot Noir Willamette Valley. “It’s just as good as many $40-plus Pinots from the same region,” he said. For those who prefer a fuller-bodied red, you’ll want well-rounded tannins that don’t dominate a meal, so try a good Bordeaux. The Le Haut-Médoc de Pédesclaux is a food-friendly, modestly priced Bordeaux that works well for the holidays.

 

WHITE CHRISTMAS

White wines from Alsace and Germany are great for traditional Christmas meals.  “The Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Blanc from Alsace and the Grans-Fassian (dry) Riesling from Mosel, Germany would be great choices,” Russo said. Both selections have the crisp acid structure and assorted tree fruit flavors that complement turkey and ham.   

 

HOLIDAY SPARKLE 

Sparkling wines are a nice way to start the feast and welcome guests. If your friends prefer drier sparkling wines, try the Francois Montand Blanc de Blancs Brut. A not-so-dry option might be the Krone Night Nectar for its “hint of sweetness, but enough acidity to balance out the residual sugar nicely so it never becomes cloying,” Russo said.

 

ROOM FOR DESSERT 

You should always have a dessert wine on hand just in case your party wants to lounge about the table in discussion and appreciation of the meal. A good, versatile choice is the Losen-Bockstanz Riesling Auslese from Mosel, Germany. “This works well with pumpkin or apple pies,” Russo said. 

 

GIFTING IT

Secure the next invite by presenting the hostess with a bottle to keep or share. If you think the host will open your bottle for the party, purchase a sparkling wine that’s “festive and lightens the mood,” Russo said. If they seem the type to keep the bottle for later, Russo suggests a good red, soft in tannins, especially if you don’t know what their tastes are. Having wine with dinner “enhances the meal and makes a feast complete,” Russo said, “I think of that quote, ‘A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine.’”

 

Whine Not?

Hundreds of stores sell wine, but here are a few spots who’ve made it their specialty:

 

Martha’s Vineyard: 200 Union Ave. NE, Grand Rapids

Bellavinos Fine Wine & Spirits: 3920 Plainfield Ave. NE, Grand Rapids

Siciliano’s Market: 2840 Lake Michigan Dr. NW, Grand Rapids

Art of the Table: 606 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids

The Crushed Grape: 2869 Knapp St. NE, Grand Rapids

The Vineyard On Plainfield: 3418 Plainfield Ave. NE, Grand Rapids

Rishi’s International Beverage: 3839 28th St. SE, Grand Rapids

Wine Sellers of Saugatuck: 247 Butler St., Saugatuck

Tiffany’s Wine & Spirits: 1714 W. Main St., Kalamazoo

Salut Market: 3112 S. Westnedge Ave., Kalamazoo

 

THE GOUDA LIFE 

by Missy Black

 

If you’re heading to a party or throwing one at home, the hierarchy goes: booze first, then cheese. According to Heather Baehre, owner of the new Rockford Cheese Shop, cheddars and goudas are the two most popular cheeses and the shop carries some great aged varieties. 

“I’m a spicy fan, so we carry a spicy habanero ghost pepper cheese that a lot of guys seem to go for,” said Baehre, also mentioning the pricier, specialty truffle cheeses in three varieties (goat, sheep and cow) that will impress guests. 

Just as impressive is a mean cheese pairing. 

“Blue cheeses can be strong, but they go well with pears, grapes and apples, as well as honey and walnuts,” she said. “For a soft cheese like brie, pair that with cranberries or raspberries. We do have different cranberry cheeses like a cranberry brie that will be great for the holidays.” 

The shop specializes in more than 80 cheeses and “anything you’d want on a cheese board,” so foodies can load up on fresh olives from Greece, crackers, nuts, charcuterie, honey and jam, along with cheese accessories such as cutting boards, knives and spreaders. 

“Cheese is an easy appetizer for groups,” Baehre said, “There are wine connoisseurs and there are a ton of cheeseheads or cheesemongers that love cheese and love to learn about it.” 

If you’re not up to the task of creating your own cheese appetizer, the shop can work up a platter for you. Ask about their party platters for your specific head count and try the Tour Through Europe selection featuring Beemster, XO Gouda, Manchego, Havarti and Grand Noir Blue. 

Just close your eyes and imagine a cheese platter for 50, complete with fruits, nuts, crackers and cured meats — you might be looking into the face of God.

 

Say “Cheese!”

Here are a few more places to get your culture fix:

 

The Cheese Lady (multiple locations): 315 Fuller Ave. NE, Grand Rapids, 808 Terrace St., Muskegon, 7035 W. Q Ave., Kalamazoo

Martha’s Vineyard: 200 Union Ave. NE, Grand Rapids

Aperitivo: 435 Ionia Ave. SW, Grand Rapids

Art of the Table: 606 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids

 

 

Batches for Your Bashes

by Josh Veal

 

When you’re throwing a party, uncorking a great wine is a prime way to fill your guest’s glass, but a killer cocktail gives them something to remember. 

For large groups, you can easily fill a jug with a pre-made drink, offering ice on the side — you don’t want it melting and watering down your concoction. Or, if you trust your guests to be adults about it, just set out the ingredients so they can choose their own proportions.

Of course, we prefer our cocktails to be made with as many local ingredients as possible. Here’s just a few ideas to keep your soiree sated.

 

French 75
1 1/2 oz. Long Road MICHIGIN
¾ oz. lemon juice
½ oz. simple syrup
3 oz. sparkling wine

Long Road Distillers’ MICHIGIN has quickly become a fan-favorite after launching this year — its red winter wheat comes from Heffron Farms and the juniper is hand-picked by Long Road staff on Beaver Island. Throw in some Michigan hops and botanicals and you’ve got yourself an all-Michigan gin. 

Meanwhile, the French 75 is a refreshing, classy, classic cocktail that’s easy to make, which is why we’ve borrowed Long Road’s very own recipe. You’ll have to leave the individual ingredients sitting out for this one, though — a premixed French 75 will go flat fast.

Just pour the gin, lemon juice and simple syrup in a tin and give it a vigorous shake. Strain that into a glass (preferably double-strained, but whatever) and top that with the sparkling wine. Feel free to throw a lemon twist in there too, and serve over ice. Voila!

 

Cider Rum Punch
8 oz. Gray Skies Spiced Rum
12 oz. apple cider
2 oz. lemon juice
4 oz. club soda
4 oz. thyme simple syrup (optional)
8 dashes Angostura bitters (optional)

My go-to autumn drink is one-part fresh apple cider, one-part Sailor Jerry’s. For whatever reason, the combination tastes just like a caramel apple. This drink, however, uses some of the best rum I’ve ever had: Gray Skies Spiced Rum. Its vanilla-forward flavor is to die for, especially when balanced with its cinnamon, citrus and peppercorn notes.

This punch plays up those flavors — fresh lemon juice complements the citrus, while the vanilla and cinnamon pair perfectly with apple cider. Just mix all the ingredients together and pour over ice. The bitters will add an extra layer of flavor, but they’re not for everyone, and the same goes for the thyme simple syrup, which you can make at home by boiling 2 cups of sugar, 1 ½ cups of water and 6 sprigs of thyme.

 

Rad Madler
1 oz. New Holland Clockwork Orange Liqueur
2 oz. grapefruit juice
New Holland Mad Hatter IPA

As breweries venture into the land of distilling, beer-tails are becoming more and more common. This one is stolen straight from New Holland mixologist Kelly Parker. It features the Clockwork Orange Liqueur, a neutral grain spirit steeped with oranges, dried orange peel, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon and vanilla beans. 

Usually liqueurs are on the weaker side, but Clockwork Orange clocks in at 80 proof, so you’re not doing too much damage with the grapefruit juice, which will add brightness and acidity. Mix the two together, then top it all off with the brewery’s signature Mad Hatter IPA to taste — that’s what makes it a radler. Serve in an iced pint glass. (Obviously, you’ll want to scale up the recipe quite a bit for larger groups.)

 

Old Fashioned
1 bottle Journeyman Last Feather Rye Whiskey
2 oz. simple syrup
14 dashes Angostura bitters
4 oz. water
Cherries or orange peel (optional)

This is the drink of choice if you want to appear classy, while also getting everyone drunk. 

An Old Fashioned, by design, puts the whiskey in the spotlight. Here, we’re using Journeyman Distillery’s Last Feather Rye, aged in white oak barrels. It’s an excellent fruit-forward whiskey, with notes of spice and pepper from the rye. The simple syrup lends some sweetness, the bitters some acidity, and the water some relief.

Simply mix all ingredients together and pop it in the fridge to chill until guests arrive. For some extra flavor, set out cherries and orange twists as well. Should be served over ice.

 

Bloody Mary
1 part Bier Distillery Heart Cut Vodka
2 part McClure’s Bloody Mary Mix
Accoutrements (optional)

This one’s simple, and is easy to scale as small or large as your party can handle. A Bloody Mary is also a great way to keep your guests full, as they can (and should) take just about anything off the cheese platter you’ve so graciously provided, put it on a skewer and stick it in the glass. 

Bier Distillery’s Heart Cut Vodka is unique, using a special blend of beet and cane sugars as its base. Meanwhile, the McClure’s Bloody Mary Mix is bold, tangy and incredibly robust. The Detroit-made mix is absolutely full of flavor, and together, these two ingredients are a match made in heaven/Michigan.

 

Blueberry Citrus Fun Potion
16 oz. Coppercraft Citrus Vodka
4 oz. orange liqueur
16 oz. Blueberry Haven Elixir
8 oz. mango juice (optional)
Fresh blueberries (optional)

Disclaimer: This one is a Revue original (in case the name didn’t tip you off), so we suggest adjusting the ratio to taste.

Citrus and blueberry play well together, creating a combination of sweet, sour and acidic. The Citrus Vodka from Coppercraft is infused with orange, lemon and grapefruit — it’s refreshing and zesty. Meanwhile, the Blueberry Elixir from Grand Haven-based Blueberry Haven is a locally made concoction of blueberries, sugar, lime juice and salt. If you’re looking for a little more balance or just an extra layer of flavor, toss in that mango juice. 

Shake all the ingredients together over ice, then strain into your pitcher. Serve straight up in a chilled cocktail glass, with fresh blueberries skewered on a pick.

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