Off the Vine – Holiday Drinks & Celebratory Gifts

by Tilar J. Mazzeo – 

Well, it’s upon us: the winter holiday season is here. This month, here is my suggestion for two local businesses you may want to check out for some fun gift-giving ideas and a favourite seasonal beverage recipe – for young or old – to make holiday entertaining a bit easier.

Did you know that the Saanich Peninsula has a dedicated sparkling wine house? Sarah and Kaine Sparks have been building a loyal following at Invinity ( for a number of years, and there is a waitlist for their wine club and private tastings. For the holiday season, though, they have released to the public their 2019 Grande Cuvée line, with both a blanc de blanc and a rosé, perfect for a little holiday celebrating.

The release that caught my particular interest this month, though, was their micro-release of a 2018 Ocean Aged Grande Cuvée. What is an “ocean-aged” wine? The wine was inspired by historic champagne salvaged from shipwrecks that turned out, after decades on the ocean bottom, to be perfectly aged. Working with a local boat builder to construct some sea-worthy storage, they submerge a couple of cases of their blanc de blanc in the Salish Sea. Well, the scuba diver went down recently to retrieve the cage, and even the person who “has everything” isn’t going to have a Salish Sea ocean-aged wine in their cellar. Quantities are extremely limited; free local delivery.

If cider is your seasonal preference, be sure to check out the Peninsula’s newest cider house, too. Victoria Cider Company in North Saanich ( offers some rare traditional ciders, including a bottle-fermented keeved cider, and their tasting room is open on Saturdays. Their lavender cider, infused with local lavender, is a gorgeous colour, and I’m thinking a bottle of this sparkling cider, some lavender bath salts and a good book is my mother’s holiday gift sorted.

If you’re looking ahead to Dry January or wanting to offer some non-alcoholic seasonal options at your next gathering, Seacider Farm and Ciderhouse in Saanichton offers a “Temperance” series.

Finally, we’ve all heard by now about the Scandinavian concept of warm and cozy, and, now that the rains seem to have come in earnest, who couldn’t use a bit of cozy? My family is Finnish, and I’m just going to say it: the Scandinavians know a thing or two about how to make the best of winter and take your cheer where you can, from “yule” celebrations on the winter solstice to saunas. So here’s my holiday gift to you all: if you need a quick, festive, and surprisingly cost-effective (because, my goodness, the prices) holiday entertaining idea, guaranteed to make your house smell amazing, here’s the family recipe for glögi: the Finnish take on mulled wine (or alcohol-free with juice substitute).

Spiced wine starts, no surprise, with spices. You need about two tablespoons per litre, but we always make up a larger batch. Packaged in pretty little bags, along with a loaf of cardamom bread, it’s an easy holiday gift for friends and neighbours. Half your blend should be cinnamon sticks, whole cardamom pods and dried orange peel. From there, raid the cupboard. The other half can be allspice, nutmeg, star anise, mace, cloves or juniper. Choose two or three. Use whole – not ground – spices. If in doubt, stick to mace, allspice and cloves.

For the boozy version of glögi, soak ¼ cup of raisins in a cup of brandy overnight. The next day, take a bottle of inexpensive red wine (or substitute red grape juice and/or black currant juice) and simmer (do not boil) for 30 minutes along with two tablespoons of your spice mix, a two-inch knob of fresh, peeled ginger (chopped), the brandy (if using; reserve the raisins), and sugar or elderflower syrup to taste (start with a few tablespoons). Set aside to cool for an hour (or more), strain, and you’re ready to serve now or later.

Reheat to serve, adding the raisins. Garnish with slivered almonds and a twist of orange peel. Light that fireplace, set out some candles, put on your coziest socks with your favourite people. Hyvää Joulua!

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