Prosecco's ubiquity was the big success story of 2015. Outselling champagne by 1.7 bottles to one these days, no doubt it will continue to offer affordable fizzy fuel for our hen parties, birthdays and dinner parties in the year to come. We now drink even more of it than Italians themselves, hence the shortage over the summer. More exciting, however, is the onward march of the aperitif. Although the idea of the aperitif has been declining in overall popularity since the 1960s, various brands have been taking it in turns to be rediscovered recently, leading to all sorts of wonderful cocktail experimentations. After the excesses of New Year's Eve, you might not want to see another glass of prosecco for quite some time, so make the most of your fizz fatigue to branch out to some quirkier alcoholic treats instead. Let's look forward, beyond that New Year's Day hangover, to better drinks ahead.
Old-fashioned drinks are dusting themselves off to take their places on bar menus. In particular, venerable aperitifs from Italy, such as Aperol, Campari, Cinzano and Cocchi Americano Rosa, are experiencing a great renaissance. By now, their return has gone past being a fad, and they will continue to provide the punchy base for our cocktails for years to come. Of these classic Italian ingredients, unusual vermouths will enjoy an especially good 2016. Thanks to the triumphant return of the negroni, martinez and americano, many aromatic quality vermouths are on the horizon.
The traditionalists' choice would be the latest Cinzano, the 1757 edition of Cinzano Rosso. The 1757 is more herbaceous and not so sweet as standard Cinzano, making it ideal for rustling up a complex-tasting cocktail. However, also worth checking out are the vermouths from unexpected places. Joining the Italians in their revival is the new boutique brand Belsazar from the Black Forest in Germany, and from Britain Sacred Extra Dry Vermouth, made in London, The Collector Vermouth from Somerset, and Blackdown Silver Birch Vermouth from Sussex. Showcase these refined new vermouths in your martini, or simply on the rocks for sipping.
On the Gallic side of aperitifs, coolness is a bit slower in coming. Anyone for a soupçon of Noilly Prat or Dubonnet? No, didn't think so. But pastis is getting a leg up from an unexpected quarter: Cornwall. It's time to try Britain's first pastis, made in tiny batches with a copper pot still by a chap called Tarquin Leadbetter. Try adding his Cornish concoction to your martini or G&T, but be warned that all of that anise is an acquired taste. His pastis is already popular with the chef Rick Stein, and Mark Hix, who uses it to flavour his shellfish soup – a promising start for any new drink. You can also now find it at Selfridges, Berry Bros, and the cult London cocktail bars Worship Street Whistling Shop and Dandelyan.
Sherry, like gin, has suffered in the past from a “granny drink” reputation. Unlike gin, however, it is taking longer to become popular beyond alcohol aficionados. Waitrose's spirits buyers are confident that this is sherry's year, though, as they are stocking up on premium sherry and fortified wines to warm us through the winter. They are particularly excited about Pedrino, the bright idea of Sam Showering, formerly of Fever-Tree. Pedrino is a sweet but nuanced alcoholic mixer, made with citrus, quinine and spring water, and laced with Pedro Ximenez. It can be enjoyed either on its own, or with gin or rum. Whichever way you try it, it offers a new way into sherry. It's building a following at Fortnum & Mason, Jeroboams, Mark's Bar at Hix and the Reverend JW Simpson, and is just starting out nationally at Waitrose.
Speaking of mixers, and building on Fever-Tree's trailblazing, it is their turn to undergo a vibrant craft revival. For a little inspiration, look to mixologist Gerry Calabrese, who has created an innovative mixer selection at his new bar, Wringer & Mangle, in Hackney. There he offers more than 20 homemade soda infusions. They range from the sweet to the strange, with beetroot and vanilla, lime and honey, and peppermint to choose from. As with so many trends, fancy mixers started in bars and are now spreading out into our high-street pubs and supermarkets. For tonic, Fever-Tree is the grande dame, but do also look out for BTW and Square Root from London, and Ebeltoft Farm from Denmark. All of these smaller-scale tonics have a delicious herbal quality that is completely lacking in their mainstream competitors. In this past year, retail sales of premium mixers have soared by more than 60 per cent. Demand is so great that Tesco has just added seven more brands, to make a total of 18 premium choices – so there's no excuse to stick with your same old spirit-and-mixer combination.
Mexico might seem an unlikely wine producer, but its boutique wines, generally from the Baja California region, could be arriving at your local next year. Although not internationally well-known yet, in the US, Mexican wine has been quietly growing in popularity over the past year. Now, Marks & Spencer is going to offer Quetzal Chenin Chardonnay and Quetzal Malbec from the Guadalupe Valley to see what British wine drinkers make of it. Emma Dawson, a wine buyer at M&S, explains: “It's all about South America next year, with the Olympics in Brazil and the rise in general of cuisine in the UK restaurant scene. Exploration is important for consumers in terms of both food and wine.” M&S's foray into Mexican wine is based on the success of its fledgling Brazilian wine selection. Waitrose also offers a bigger choice of five Brazilian wines.
South American spirits
Come the summer, South American spirits will really come into their own. Mezcal, premium tequila and Pisco are already making great headway in our restaurants and bars, but we will head into Latin spirits overdrive with margaritas, cuba libres, mojitos and pisco sours fuelling our summer parties. Caipirinhas mean that it will finally be the turn of the lesser-known cachaca, Brazil's national spirit, to enjoy the spotlight, too. Simple to make, with just three ingredients – lime, sugar, and cachaca – the caipirinha is bound to crop up as a refreshing cooler for entertaining at home. For premium tequila, new kids on the block include Villa Lobos Blanco and Cazcabel Honey Tequila.
You might want to call these sweet treats “choctails” – or you might not. Take inspiration from the Rivington Grill in Shoreditch, which has started offering cocktails with chocolatiers. On the menu is a delicious Chocolate G&T with chocolate-infused Beefeater, and Bitter-Sweet Negroni with chocolate-infused Campari. These unusual combinations might sound like a hot mess, but they work really well. Sweet drinks over at Jason Atherton's new Pollen Street Social Dessert Bar include the PBJ (Mount Gay XO, salted peanuts, sour cherry, vanilla, egg white and cacao rim), and the Turkish Fortune (bourbon, Italian Amari, tonka, espresso and Turkish flair). The Indian chain Dishoom is lacing its chai with Baileys, and chocolate and bourbon, to delicious effect, too. At home, you can stock up on Mozart Chocolate Cream liqueur, Bicerin Chocolate liqueur or Rubis chocolate wine. Use them to lace your hot drinks or drink them on their own for a satisfying – alcoholic – sugar rush.Reuse content