Assuming you’ve got your Christmas booze sorted by now, I thought it might be worth reminding you how it will taste best – and that’s largely a question of the temperature at which you serve it. As I’ve said before, most people serve whites too cold and reds – especially high-alcohol ones – too warm. If you look at the back labels of bottles of red, say, they tend to recommend an optimum drinking temperature of around 17-18C, instead of the 22-23C at which I suspect a lot of us drink them.
Normal guidance for whites is about 8-10C, which equates to about an hour and a half in the fridge (though with a groaning fridge, they may take longer to cool down). If fridge space is at a premium and you’ve got a lot of wine to chill, a bucket of iced water is more effective than ice alone. Richer whites such as white burgundy benefit from being served a degree or so warmer than crisp whites such as sauvignon blanc. Lighter reds – pinot noir and beaujolais, for example – are also improved by a light chill, or at least from being kept in an unheated room.
Should you decant your reds? It depends on the wine. If you’re fishing out a treasured old bottle, it may actually do it a disservice to expose it to too much air. A young wine that’s tasting quite oaky, however, might well benefit from “double decanting” – that is, pouring it into a jug and then back into the bottle to aerate it, which will make it taste smoother. A good trick is to pour a cheap and cheerful red into a decanter to give the impression that it’s pricier than it is.
Sales often start before Christmas these days, so now is a good time to pick up extra wine glasses if you need them. Even places such as Wilko have a pretty good selection, as does Ikea, if you can face going there on the last weekend before Christmas. Tempted though you may be by colourful glasses, clear ones with a bowl that tapers towards the rim work best if you want to appreciate the full aroma and colour of your wine.
Finally, if you’re doing a last-minute trolley dash around the local supermarket and need to pick up a couple of extra presents, I always think liqueurs such as Grand Marnier go down well and, of course, gin, which apparently people prefer to mulled wine these days according to a survey by – surprise, surprise – drinks industry giant Diageo.
Me? I’m sticking to mulled wine, or the excellent alcohol-free substitute below.
Four last-minute booze buys for gifts
£9.99 Aldi, 26%.
Decent sloe flavour. Comforting, and lovely with stilton.
Rochester Organic Mulled Berry Punch
£4.99 Holland & Barrett and other healthfood stores, 0%.
Really good: hard to tell apart from the real thing. Lay into some for dry January.
£8 for 35cl, 17%.
Tastes like alcoholic Dairy Milk. You shouldn’t like it, but it’s hard not to. Mix with espresso and vodka for a chocolate martini.
Heston Hidden Orange Christmas Gin
Remember Heston’s ‘hidden orange’ Christmas pud? Well, here it is in gin form. An appealing hint of festive spice. Cool label, too.
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