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Having a party? The best cocktails, wines and bubbles

John Wilson selects the best party pleasers, and gets creative with non-alcoholic options

Having a party? Forward planning is essential to avoid any stress. Non-alcoholic drinks first: have plenty of water to hand. Large jugs of chilled tap water, garnished with red berries or cucumber and mint look great and don’t cost a fortune. And as a significant proportion of your guests will not be drinking alcohol, it is worth taking a little time and effort to make a decent mocktail.

Why not try an alcohol-free mojito, a Virgin Mary, a Virgin Ginger Mimosa or a mulled “wine” made with fruit juices? Alternatively, make a spritzer. Buy a few bottles of high-quality cordial from your local health-food shop; look out for the sophisticated, Irish-made mixes of fruit and/or herbs. Mix these with sparkling water for an instant refreshing drink. Garnish with ice and fresh fruit or herbs.

 If you want to serve cocktails, make sure they are not too complicated or fiddly. There is nothing more frustrating than having to join a queue of thirsty partygoers, all watching a budding mixologist take ages to produce one cocktail. Avoid any drinks that are high in alcohol; you don’t want your guests falling about the place after one drink.

Here are three suggestions for lighter cocktails:

Negroni Sbagliato

This blends two of my favourite drinks, Negroni and prosecco, to make a very tasty lower alcohol cocktail. Fill a glass with ice, add one part Campari, the same of sweet vermouth to three parts prosecco. Garnish with a slice of orange.

Dark and Stormy

A cocktail originating in Bermuda. Mix together 6cl of good quality dark rum (not spiced, true aficionados chose Gosling’s Black Seal Rum) with 12cl of good quality, spicy ginger beer, and a squeeze of lime juice (optional). Serve with lots of ice and garnish with a slice of lime.

Champagne Cocktail

I wouldn’t use high-quality Champagne here; a decent sparkling wine is fine.  Put two dashes of Angostura bitters on to a sugar cube, and place in a Champagne glass. Add one part cognac to nine parts Champagne or sparkling wine. Garnish with a slice of orange and a maraschino cherry.

Wine choices

When it comes to wine, always try it out beforehand; if you don’t want to drink a second glass, chances are your guests won’t either. Remember that really cheap booze usually tastes pretty awful. At best it is boring, so spend as much as you can afford. These people are your friends after all. The booze cruise to France is an option used by many, and will remain so for as long our excise duties remain so incredibly high, particularly if the Government introduces minimum pricing. However, it depends on how many friends are coming to your party; it is worth checking if you will really save any money once you take the extra time and expense of travelling into account. I suspect most people would be better staying local.

 Do not rule out your local independent retailer. Most have a very good selection of interesting party wines that won’t poison your guests, and don’t cost a fortune. They should also allow you taste before you buy and provide ice and glasses.

 As with cocktails, avoid anything too high in alcohol – 13.5 per cent or less is best – and for white wines, anything with screechingly high acidity. Fizz always goes down well and prosecco seems to be the party wine at the moment. A spumante has more fizz and a mushroom cap; frizzante is less sparkling and classified as a still wine. O’Briens have exactly the same (very good) wine from Rizzardi in both styles; two bottles for €25 for the frizzante and €14.95 for the spumante. Aldi have the ever-reliable Crémant du Jura for €11.99 which is especially good for cocktails.

 Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are still the most popular white wines; most of the multiples seem to have a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc for around €10, and Chilean version for slightly less. Both are pretty reliable. However, why not experiment a little and serve an Albariño (SuperValu currently has Abeillo Albariño for €10) or Godello from Galicia in Spain, a nice Soave (very much coming back into fashion) or an unoaked Chardonnay? From southwest France, the Côtes de Gascogne offers some great value wines, often tasting uncannily like Sauvignon Blanc. That 1970s drinks party favourite Muscadet is back in fashion, tasting better than ever, and usually very reasonably priced.

 The ideal party red is lowish in alcohol, and light in tannins. That 14.5 per cent Shiraz or Malbec may taste great with a steak, but it will be far too powerful to drink solo. Do provide some nibbles though; wine is made to go with food, and a few glasses on an empty stomach is not a great idea. Beaujolais is perfect, as is unoaked or lightly oaked Rioja. Pinot Noir from Chile or France is becoming increasingly good, or you could go for a lighter Valpolicella (not a Ripasso) from Italy.

Albizu Tempranillo 2015
13%, €10.95-€12.95

Delicious, supple, juicy, pure ripe cherry fruits. Perfect with or without food.
Stockists: Mitchell & Son; Le Caveau; Baggot St Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Corkscrew; Fallon & Byrne; Listons; MacGuinness; Green Man; 64 Wines; World Wide Wines.

Fleurie 2016, Collin-Bourisset
13%, €11.99

Sappy fresh light damson and strawberry fruits.
Stockists: Lidl

La Petite Perrière Pinot Noir 2015, Vin de France
12.5%, €11.99 (€10 on promotion)

Soft light dark cherry fruits with a rounded finish.
Stockists: SuperValu

Côtes de Gascogne 2016, Duffour Père et Fils
11.5% €12.95 (€9.95 on promotion)

Light, fresh zippy apple and citrus fruit. Perfect party wine.
Stockists: O’Briens

La Petite Perrière Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Vin de France
€11.99 (€10 on promotion)

Lightly aromatic with soft ripe green fruits.
Stockists: SuperValu

Rula Feiticeira Albariño 2016, Rías Baixas
12.5%, €14.95

A very attractive fruit-filled wine brimming with pears and peaches. Perfect posh party wine.
Stockists: Whelehan’s, Loughlinstown