Hal Wilson of Cambridge Wine Merchants tells us how a little spice can give your drinks a Christmas flavour
One of the most evocative sensations at this time of year, and one that really heralds Christmas, is the enticing aroma of Asian spices like cinnamon, clove, ginger, nutmeg and cardamom. Not hard to run into while wandering around Cambridge shops and markets, those aromas immediately conjure up Christmas parties from my childhood and put a nostalgic smile on my face. They also get me diving to the back of the spice cupboard to cook up some spicy food and drinks of my own.
One of our favourite spicy drinks is, of course, mulled wine, though mulled cider and mulled apple juice are really delicious, too. I like to keep the liquid appetisingly clear rather than muddy, so I use real oranges, avoiding juice, and whole cinnamon sticks and cloves (not powdered). My colleagues are perfecting the mulled wine we serve in branches of Cambridge Wine Merchants. This season’s innovations include adding a sweet sparkling wine to cut down on sugar (and calories!), as well as star anise which adds a lovely liquorice edge to the flavour. If you haven’t tried a cup, which you can even take away, then drop into our city centre branches on King’s Parade and Bridge Street anytime over the season. When I’m tasting wines I often detect a spicy component, which can come from the fruit or the oak barrels used to age wine. Liquorice, black pepper, cinnamon, clove, mint and ginger can quite easily be smelled, particularly in good-quality shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and grenache. Some particular favourites at the moment are Raúl Acha’s award-winning La Garnacha Olvidada de Aragón 2011 Calatayud, Vintae (£10.99), Tim Smith’s charming Barossa Shiraz 2013 (£14.99), and the classy claret Ch. Bernadotte 2008 Haut Medoc (£14.99) – all exclusive to Cambridge Wine Merchants.
Spirits and fortified wines also have lovely spicy manifestations. I’m into rare, exotic island wines from Madeira right now, which come in dry to sweet versions, all fortified. Naturally spicy examples are Blandy’s ten-year-old Bual (medium dry, £19.99 per 50cl) and Henriques & Henriques ten-year-old Malvasia (aka Malmsey, sweet, £18.99 per 50cl).
We are blessed to have some great spirits experts at Cambridge Wine Merchants and have an amazing range of more than 800 whiskies, gins, rums, brandies, liqueurs etc. Peter Rawlings, a former mixologist from La Raza, has created a spicy winter flip for the season (right). See him at the King’s Parade branch to discuss all things spirity.
SPICED CAMBRIDGE WINTER FLIP
Flips date way back to Jerry Thomas’s first cocktail book, circa 1862, making them one of the oldest-recorded (credible and tasty) recipes around. Flips are essentially an alcoholic eggnog which can be served hot* or cold, and often contain warming winter spices.
• 30ml Laubade VSOP Armagnac
• 20ml Edradour Cream liqueur
• 5ml Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao
• 5ml Edmond Briottet Pain d’Epices liqueur
• 20ml whole milk
• 1 egg yolk
• 15ml sugar syrup – make at home by boiling water and white sugar with a ratio of 2:1 until syrupy
• grated fresh nutmeg
• Terry’s Chocolate Orange and orange peel to garnish
Shake these ingredients apart from the nutmeg and garnish ingredients very hard with lots of cubed ice. Strain immediately into a large wine glass or a goblet-style glass. Dust nutmeg over the surface of the drink. Add shaved Terry’s Chocolate Orange and a twist of orange peel to garnish.
*If serving this drink hot go through all the above steps and gently heat in a pan or with a steam wand if you have a barista machine. Be careful not to overheat or you will end up with a scrambled-egg cocktail!
I wish you all a lovely spicy Christmas. Cheers!