Ah - the Christmas party. Absolutely rife at this time of year, and probably anticipated with roughly equal measures of excitement and dread: if you are lucky enough to get on really well with your colleagues, like I do, and go to a really lovely venue, like we did (Whim Wham Cafe on Whitworth Street if you're interested), then the Christmas party is a thing of much joy. Others are less fortunate, however - I don't have to look too far afield to spot a man who recently spent several torturous hours in Revolution bar on a Friday night, largely thanks to the fact that his work do had been organised by someone approximately half his age. Indeed, you can't move in Manchester at the moment without falling over (often literally) an overexcited party of people wearing ill-fitting sparkly clothing and believing they are Mariah Carey: as Band Aid so chillingly prophesised, it is indeed a world of dread and fear out there.
Much better, then, to attend a Christmas party in the company of people with whom you share a natural affinity, as witnessed at the Didsbury Wine Club Christmas Dinner at the Grosvenor Casino on Wednesday night. I have spoken fondly of this merry band of imbibers in previous posts - they meet monthly to sample various wines and nibble daintily on canapes under the tutelage of Omar, David and Kate in different Didsbury locations - but this was my first experience of the DWC Christmas shebang; and to my surprise, considering the night consisted of wine, food and free bets, I found it was right up my street.
We begin the night with a welcome warmer in the shape of David's own-recipe mulled wine, made using a light, fresh red with the addition of muscavado syrup, cinnamon bark and - apparently this is what makes all the difference - a few bay leaves. The wines for Didsbury Wine Club are usually supplied by West Didsbury's Reserve Wines, but everything tonight has been purchased from the nation's favourite supermarkets, in order to prove that high-street bargains are plentiful. Indeed, the Tesco Beaujolais that accompanies our starter of venison pate is most acceptable - the lighter, flintier brother of the better known Pinot Noir grape, this is fresh, gluggable and (best of all) currently on offer at £7.99. It is a brave but effective foil to the coarse meatiness of the pate; in fact, the whole thing briefly transports me back to Paris in August, where I lived on pate and Beaujolais for three days and then made the mistake of weighing myself when I got home.
*hides scales, to be brought out again mid-January, or perhaps never*
Next up is the fish course, a magnificently retro affair consisting of yellow fin sole stuffed with crab meat and served with parsley sauce. This is served with my favourite wine of the night - the Las Moras Pacha-Mama Torrontes, all the way from Argentina, or, more locally, the Co-Op for a frankly astonishing £6.99. I am not really a lover of white wine, but this is a revelation - it has sweet lychee notes jostling alongside the crisper, drier tones of elderflower, and it cuts through the richness of the fish dish perfectly. Pleasingly, this new wine discovery makes me feel I have learned something, and can mark the whole evening down as "educational"
*underlines this in notepad*
The main course is a rib-eye steak with peppercorn sauce, accompanied by a French Malbec from Tesco. I am normally very partial to Malbec, but this wine is the only disappointment of the night for me - I find it rather vinegary, and a touch harsh on the throat. Omar encourages us to try it with the food and it DOES taste much better after a mouthful of lovely rare steak; still, I won't be buying this one. The wine train immediately gets back on course with the next offering though - the perky French Gewurztraminer that arrives alongside our dessert of lemon tart is honeyed enough to cope with the food pairing but has none of that cloying sweetness that puts me off of more traditional dessert wines. An inspired choice this one, and another wine I shall be buying (£8.99 from M & S if you wish to do likewise).
A shot of Baileys comes and goes (I don't like Baileys, Mr Liz does - I shan't spoil the plot line for you), and then it's time to grab our final wine of the night (a £9.99 Prosecco from M & S - I am already familiar with its work, and have a bottle of it in the fridge as we speak) and hit the gaming tables. The casino have laid on a "how to play session" which we have attended before, and a free £5 bet is also included in the Christmas Dinner ticket price - I treble mine at the Blackjack table before I remember it is a school night and I am not ACTUALLY Sharon Stone (too sturdily clad, for one thing) and go to cash in my winnings. Grosvenor Didsbury is a good place to go if you fancy a quick flutter but are a little intimidated by the thought of visiting a casino - the staff are lovely, and happy to explain things to you slowly and patiently; the food served in the restaurant is also far better than you might expect - we very much enjoy our four courses, although are a little surprised when great dishes of sprouts and roast potatoes appear to accompany the dainty little fish course pictured earlier. Still, never one to turn down a sprout opportunity.
Excess sproutage aside, if you live locally it's well worth getting involved with the Didsbury Wine Club, or one of their other outposts in Chorlton, Hale or Manchester. They are really friendly, enthusiastic people who are in it for the love of it rather than the money - the six wines, four courses, shot of Baileys and £5 bet come in at a total cost per head of just £35, and I honestly think that Omar might cry a little when I tell him I am going to buy some of the Torrontes. And remember, it's all *checks notepad* EDUCATIONAL, so even if you're planning a dry January, you can attend the Wine Club with a clear conscience (sort of). And me? I'm off to blow my £15 winnings on a couple of bottles of wine - see you all in January.