Port, sherry, whiskey – Christmas drinks are all about wood | Wine
Around the same time last year, with a few sips in one of the drinks that are the subject of this column, it occurred to me that the best Christmas nighttime drink is all about the drink.
Most of the drinks I turn to as a calmer mood takes over from the tingling and glitzy Christmas day brightness have been harnessed to harness the softening effects of aging alcohol, for varying lengths of time, in barrels. of oak in different sizes.
In Portugal’s Douro Valley, port producers perform an annual experiment, creating two very different styles from the same sweet, fortified red wine. The vintage port will be bottled after a few years in oak barrels, retaining its inky crimson color and dark fruit when sold. Tawny Ports, on the other hand, stay in vats for years longer, even decades in the case of the flurry of very rare collector’s tawnies that have sprung up in recent years (such as the extraordinary, â¬ 895 per bottle 1934 Dalva I was lucky enough to try a small sample of recently).
The effects of oxygenation are more advanced in porous drums than in bottles, in which only a small amount of oxygen, passing through the stopper, is in contact with the liquid. It is this process that brings the special dominance of flavors to the tawny ports: nuts, dried fruits, molasses and caramel, and black baking spices, as well as the color that gives the style its name.
The ports of Colheita are relatively rare; most tawny ports are mixtures of tanks of different ages with an average age rounded off to around ten years (10 years, 20 years, etc.). These rely even more on the skills of a chef and the memory of a librarian than a master blender – the same abilities that bring magic to mixed drinks aged in oak barrels such as whiskey, rum. , cognac and very old sherry.
In all these drinks the taste is not alone drink. Character and quality also depend on the raw materials, the time they spend in the wood and how they interact with it: its flavors (American oak tends to offer smoother, more coconut flavors than the more toasted aromas of French) and the oxygenating effects it allows.
The suave and golden harmony of the great cognacs made from grapes; the richness in molasses of dark rum; the wild and peppery iodine of Islay whiskey made from peated malted barley; the salty nutty flavor of a very old sherryâ¦ the streak of dark, relaxed nights between Christmas and New Years feels like the perfect time to sit back, sip and explore this world within a world.
Taste the Oloroso Sherry difference
(Â£ 8, 50cl, Sainsbury’s)
The sherry range designed for Sainsbury’s by Lustau has long been a highlight of the Taste the Difference range. The oloroso has a touch of sweetness but is intensely flavored with tangy dried citrus and a nutty length and excellent with a slice of manchego.
Warre’s Colheita Port 2009
(Â£ 17, thewinesociety.com)
This great-value colheita (a tawny port from a single harvest) from venerable port shipper Warre’s has been bottled at a magnificent point on the continuum between ruby ââyouth and tawny age. The result is dried Christmas dates and nuts, and a hint of bramble jam.
Villa of Varda Amaretto
(Â£ 26.95, independent wine)
Not a product of wood aging, but a very of Woods, a sweet but gloriously complex amaretto that falls far short of the mass market standard thanks to its high definition capture of the scents and flavors of almonds picked from the forests of Alpine Trentino.
Hine Rare VSOP Cognac
(from Â£ 43.90, thewhiskyexchange.com; waitrosecellar.com)
The flagship VSOP cognac of one of the great names in the region, Hine’s Rare derives its seductive silky smoothness and aromatic finesse from a combination of first-rate grapes sourced from over 20 of the region’s best vintages, plus an average of eight years of rest in French Barrels in oak.
Old rum Gosling’s Family Reserve
(Â£ 60, Waitrose)
A 150-year-old secret family recipe made from molasses is the basis of this luxuriously rich aged Bermuda rum. The components have spent 16-19 years in charred oak barrels, and the result is a dark depth of liquorice and caramel, a crackle of spice and a seductive sweetness.
Laphroaig 10 Years Cask Strength Lot 012 Bottled 2020
(Â£ 89.95, thewhiskyexchange.com)
The standard 10-year-old Laphroaig (from Â£ 30) is one of my fail-safe single malt picks, but this special cask bottling is another level of wild magic reminiscent of Islay: an extra-concentrated version. classic Laphroaig blend of heather honey sweetness and the tang of smoke and spray.