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Festive cocktails can brighten your holiday gatherings

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Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012, 8:45 p.m.

Don't let the hectic holiday pace obscure enjoying the festivities. Slow down.

Make time to share holiday cocktails with family and friends for a fun way to celebrate and relax. Prepare ahead and have the ingredients for various cocktails on hand and ready for enjoyment.

The bar at Baur Au Lac, a venerable, top-rated 120-room hotel near Zurich's bustling financial district, serves traditional Glühwein . Meaning roughly “glow wine,” the recipe calls for simmering 6 cups of red wine, 2 cups of water, half a lemon, a pinch of cloves, and sugar to taste, over medium heat for 20 minutes or so. Strain the mixture and serve with a cinnamon-stick garnish in a glass mug with a handle.

Glühwein's aromatic vapors enliven the senses while the warm, sweet and savory flavors delight the palate. After drinking a couple of cups, you'll be glowing, too.

Apple Brandy Hot Toddies provide another delicious warm cocktail. Simply put boiling water in a glass mug, and stir in a shot of Laird's Apple Jack Brandy (4422; $16.99) plus a teaspoon of honey. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg, a lemon slice and a cinnamon stick. The drink makes a terrific pick-me-up after coming in from the cold.

The classic Sazerac, a Cognac-based cocktail of New Orleans pedigree, offers another outstanding choice. The drink dates from 1830 when pharmacist Antoine Amédée Peychaud delighted customers with a “medicinal” blend of French Cognac brandy, sugar and a proprietary spice that came to be known as “Peychaud's Bitters.”

Following New Orleans barman Chris McMillian's method, start by chilling a rocks glass with crushed ice and water. In a second rocks glass, muddle a sugar cube with generous dashes of Peychaud's Bitters (3296; $5.29) and 1 ounce of water. After filling the glass with ice, add 2 ounces of authentic Cognac such as Frapin VS (3603; $27.99)

Empty the ice from the first glass and coat it with 14 ounce of Herbsaint (3429; $34.99), a powerful wormwood-based product similar to Absinthe. Then, strain the Sazerac mixture into the first glass before garnishing with a lemon peel.

The blend of sweetness, herbal aromas and potent Cognac sets the mellow mood nicely. Laissez la fête commence — let the party begin!

Shifting gears to a tasty sparkling-wine cocktail, try the classic Kir Royale. In a chilled sparkling flute glass, pour a dash or so of crème de cassis — black currant syrup such, as Jacquin's Crème de Cassis (4528; $9.29) — topped with well-chilled, dry sparkling white wine. The blush color delights the eye, while the slightly sweet, sparkling drink lifts the spirits.

For beer lovers, try the Monaco. This easy and refreshing cocktail popular in pubs and bistros throughout France calls for blending two parts lager beer with one lemonade and a dash of Grenadine syrup in a tulip-shaped beer glass.

Spiced rums provide a terrific foundation for holiday-party punches. Mix a cup of Shellback Spiced Rum (6007; $15.99) with a cup of orange juice, a cup of pineapple juice, ¼ cup of lemon juice and a ¼ cup of Grenadine syrup. Stir the punch with ice cubes and serve with pineapple wedges.

For a fun treat at brunch, offer guests a “Make Your Own” Bloody Mary Bar. Start with the basics — quality vodka, tomato juice, green olives, celery, ice cubes and tall glasses. Then, make available fixings such as Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce, black pepper, and, of course, grated horseradish to really perk up the senses.

Best Buy Holiday Red Wine

If your holiday dinner includes roast leg of lamb, duck breast with cherry sauce or traditional roast beef with potatoes, carrots and gravy, then try the delicious 2010 Parducci, “True Grit” Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino County, California (Luxury 31084; Chairman's Selection, on sale: $12.99).

Unlike many over-oaked, excessively alcoholic and pretentious California Cabs on the contemporary scene, this tasty red harkens to the winemaking styles of the gritty immigrant families who pioneered the Golden State.

It opens with lovely blackberry and cassis aromas with pleasant earthy notes. Pure, ripe black fruit flavors unfold in the glass. Fresh acidity and elegant, understated tannins provide backbone through the fruity finish and well-balanced 13.5-percent alcohol. Highly Recommended.

Dave DeSimone writes about wine for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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