Well, it’s a common problem, isn’t it? You’re doing the supermarket shop and you’ve started at the fruit and veg end. Having wiggled your trolley up and down the aisles (the one with the stubborn wheel, of course!), finally you reach ‘drinks’ at the far side of the store.

The trolley is now heavy; your patience expired (especially if you have kids in tow). So there you are, faced with an ocean of different drinks. What to choose?

Well, our guest editors, Oz Clarke and Salvatore Calabrese, are here to help. Not only will they steer you towards the best bottles on the shelves right now, but they will also provide expert guidance on when, how and with what to serve them…

You’ll also find some delicious recipes, plus a wealth of handy hints, fascinating facts and snippets of the latest booze news. And with Christmas coming up, we take a look at how the Italians typically celebrate the festive season. We’re also giving you some refreshing ideas for Christmas gifts (many of them gloriously edible!) – you may even decide to treat your nearest and dearest to one of our recommended cookery holidays. Can I go, too?!

Merry Christmas!

Julie Arkell, Editor

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OZ CLARKE reveals what he’s been up to, and what’s to come.

Christmas already? No, it can’t be. Where did the year go? Chocolates still litter my desk from last year. I still have that second bottle of Port ready, just in case. I could probably find some mince pies if I look under the right cushions! Doesn’t time fly!

But at least this means that I’ve been busy in 2013. I’ve been to South Africa, New Zealand, Virginia, New York State, Croatia, Spain, Italy and France (numerous times) seeking out new wines. I’ve even visited the Isle of Man risking life and limb on a motorbike – of sorts – with my old sparring partner, James May. You’ll see the results on your screens soon.

In between, I’ve been writing books and touring the country with the Three Wine Men. And I’ve been banging the drum about wine being good for you, English fizz being world class and Sherry being the new rock ‘n roll. I should know; I sang most of the old stuff. And, most recently, I’ve been mouthing off about the deeply dubious ‘half price’ offers in our supermarkets that aren’t half price at all.

A word in your ear; if you see piles of bottles at the end of supermarket aisles screaming luridly about their amazing cheapness – don’t believe them.

There are lots of good wine bargains around at Christmas. A spurious half-price deal isn’t one of them.

But Christmas is a time to indulge, to celebrate and, OK, to splurge a bit. After a long year with the days short and drear, good wine, enjoyed with friends, is the most wonderful pick-me-up. I can’t wait for that warm, friendly fug of Christmas celebrations to envelop me once again. When it’s all over, winter’s half gone, spring beckons.

So I’ve put together some great suggestions to help you have a memorable Christmas. I’ve got cheap and expensive – but all good to drink and worth the price. I’ve chosen wines from the supermarkets and from independent merchants, from Old World and New World, old favourites, new discoveries – all chosen to put a smile on your face and good cheer in your heart.

Oz Clarke

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SALVATORE CALABRASE is stirring things up this Christmas.

They call me The Maestro – though my wife pooh -poohs this when she has to mix her own gin and tonic! I’ve been creating cocktails all over the globe for 40 years, for a variety of clients, from celebrities to royalty to presidents.

But I love to share my passion with everyone, which is why I’ve just updated my book, Classic Cocktails. In fact, 70% of the classic cocktails consumed today were created during Prohibition, when bartenders put together all kinds of concoctions from whatever was to hand to make the taste of bathtub spirit palatable.

Indeed, I’m so fascinated by liquid history that I won a place in the Guinness Book Of Records for mixing the oldest cocktail ever – the ingredients had a combined age of 733 years! But you don’t need old spirits to make tasty cocktails at home. My advice is to start off with what you have in your drinks cupboard and you can improvise if you don’t have all the right equipment – a jar with a screwtop lid can be used as a cocktail shaker, for example. The only thing you need to watch is the quality of the water which you opt for to make your ice – I strongly recommend that you use bottled water only.

I am sure you’ll love the cocktail recipes in this issue and I hope also that you will enjoy learning a little more about the spirits and liqueurs behind them. Christmas is certainly a good time to have fun experimenting, so get shaking!

As for Christmas, my family will be eating fish on Christmas Eve, as is the Italian custom. And on Christmas Day… well, I find it hard to beat a classic Champagne cocktail before our Christmas dinner. This could be a traditional home -made lasagne, the way my mum used to make it: no runny minced meat, but instead meatballs cooked gently overnight in tomato sauce and then sandwiched between layers of pasta with salami, mozzarella, boiled eggs and Parmesan, all topped with béchamel sauce. It’s making me hungry to even think about it!

Mamma mia!

Salvatore Calabrese

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