Round about this time final yr, just a few sips into one in every of the drinks that are the topic of this column it occurred to me that the finest Christmas nighttime consuming is all about wood.
Most of the drinks I flip to as a calmer temper takes over from the jangly, tinselly brightness of Christmas Day have benefited from mastery of the mellowing results of ageing alcohol, for varied lengths of time, in oak barrels of assorted sizes.
In Portugal’s Douro valley, port producers carry out an annual experiment, making two very completely different types from the similar candy, pink fortified wine. Classic port will go right into a bottle after a few years in oak vats, retaining its inky purple color and darkish fruit when offered. Tawny ports, in contrast, keep in vat for years longer, even for a number of a long time in the case of the flurry of very uncommon collectors’ tawnies which have emerged lately (similar to the extraordinary, €895 a bottle 1934 Dalva I used to be fortunate sufficient to attempt a small pattern of just lately).
The results of oxygenation are extra superior in porous barrels than they are in bottles, by which solely a small quantity of oxygen, passing by the cork, is involved with the liquid. It’s that course of which brings the particular forged of flavours to tawny ports: the nuts, the dried fruits, the treacle and caramel, and darkish baking spices, in addition to the color that provides the type its identify.
Colheita ports are comparatively uncommon; most tawny ports are blends of vats of differing ages with a median age assertion rounded as much as a decade (10-yr-outdated, 20-yr-outdated and many others). These rely much more on the chef-like talent and librarian’s reminiscence of a grasp blender – the similar talents that convey magic to blended, oak-aged drinks similar to whisky, rum, cognac and really outdated sherry.
In all of these drinks the style isn’t solely wood. Character and high quality relies upon equally on the uncooked supplies, the size of time they spend in wood and the means they work together with it: its flavours (American oak tends to ship sweeter, extra coconut flavours than the toastier aromas of French) and the oxygenating results it permits.
The suave, golden concord of nice grape-borne cognac; the molasses-richness of darkish rum; the peppery iodine-wildness of Islay whisky produced from peaty malted barley; the salted nut savouriness of very outdated sherry … the string of relaxed darkish nights between Christmas and new yr appears to me the excellent time to take a seat, sip and discover this world inside a world.
Style the Distinction Oloroso Sherry
(£8, 50cl, Sainsbury’s)
The vary of sherry made for Sainsbury’s by Lustau has lengthy been one in every of the highlights of the Style the Distinction vary. The oloroso has a contact of sweetness however is very flavoured with tangy dried citrus and nutty size and nice with a slab of manchego.
Warre’s Colheita Port 2009
This very good-worth colheita (a tawny port from a single harvest) from venerable port shipper Warre’s has been bottled at a fantastic level on the continuum between ruby youth and tawny age. The result’s all Christmassy dried dates and nuts, and a touch of brambly jam.
Villa de Varda Amaretto
Not a product of wood-ageing, however a drink that could be very a lot of the woods, a candy however gloriously complicated amaretto that could be very removed from the mass market norm due to its excessive-definition seize of the scents and flavours of almonds foraged in the forests of Alpine Trentino.
Hine Uncommon VSOP Cognac
(from £43.90, thewhiskyexchange.com; waitrosecellar.com)
The flagship VSOP cognac from one in every of the area’s grand outdated names, Hine’s Uncommon will get its seductive silkiness and fragrant fineness from a mixture of high-notch grapes from greater than 20 of the area’s finest crus, plus a median of eight years’ relaxation in French oak barrels.
Gosling’s Household Reserve Outdated Rum
A molasses-based mostly, 150-yr-outdated household secret recipe is the base of this luxuriously wealthy outdated rum from Bermuda. The elements have spent 16-19 years in charred oak barrels, and the outcome has a liquorice-toffee darkish depth, a crackle of spice and a beguiling softness.
Laphroaig 10 12 months Outdated Cask Energy Batch 012 Bottled 2020
The usual 10 12 months Outdated Laphroaig (from £30) is one in every of my failsafe single malt decisions, however this particular cask energy bottling is one other stage of evocative wild Islay magic: an additional-concentrated model of the basic Laphroaig mixture of heather-honeyed smoothness and smoke-and-sea-spray pungency.