Paula’s Wines of the Week 17th November 2014

Sherry, whisky and freshly squeezed orange juice are sampled this week as I get started stirring the Christmas mincemeat. Recipes for this booze-soaked Christmas preserve always say you should let it ‘mature’ for at least a week before you use it. But home-made pies (individual or one large ‘un) will still taste wonderful if the minced fruit and nut mixture is spooned straight into pastry cases as soon as the alcoholic moistness testing has ceased.

But you’ll find as you eat the rest of the pies over the coming week(s) that they’ll become ever mellower and smoother. The sharp tangs resulting from the high alcohol levels in the soaking liquor of choice become less obvious and finally disappear making for a more balanced snack.

You don’t need an ‘O’ level in Home Economics to make really good Christmas mincemeat – in fact the more feeble your efforts the better the results. First cover and soak the dried fruit overnight in more than the recommended sixth of a pint of brandy, rum, sherry or whisky. I have experimented with sweet sherry (good but the sherry flavour can get lost amongst the fruit), rum (over dominates) and have now settled on whisky as the alcohol of choice. It won’t overpower the currants and raisins and it also makes for a very satisfying dram before, during or after the mince making process.

To finish just stir in equal quantities of grated apple, mixed peel, suet, brown sugar and nuts and finally sprinkle on the mixed spice and the juice of a couple of lemons and oranges. Sample for moistness and then either add a bit more whisky to the mix or pour some into your glass

PG Wine Tips

Harveys Bristol Cream Sherry 1-litre
£9.99 Morrisons (down from £11.49 until January 4th), £10 Asda, £10 Sainsbury’s (down from £12 until November 18th)
Christmas wouldn’t be complete without a blue bottle of dependable Harveys Bristol Cream. Lots of raisin and brown sugar flavours to meet all Christmas pie and trifle-soaking needs. Or just use it to complement that restorative bag of nuts you’ll be nibbling after all that baking.

Harveys Amontillado Sherry
£7 Sainsbury’s (down from £9 until November 18th)
Lighter and less sweet than cream sherry, amontillado sherry tastes more of Brazil and hazelnuts than raisins. So best enjoyed either on its own or used to soak lighter puddings and cakes – it works well enhancing the syrup of pineapple-upside down pudding.

Black Bottle Whisky
£16.50 The Green Welly Stop
I have now settled on Black Bottle whisky as the cake-soaking alcohol of choice but unfortunately it’s getting harder to find. The blend’s seven smoky Islay malt whiskies have been toned down with the addition of the more rounded flavours of everyday whisky and so it won’t overpower fruit cake as would a highly flavoured single-malt whisky.

Whyte and Mackay Special Blended Scotch Whisky
£17.50 Tesco 70cl, £17 Asda 1litre, £15 Sainsbury’s 1litre (down from £22 until November 18th) , £14 Waitrose 70cl (down from £17 until December 2nd) and £11 Ocado 70cl (down from £14 until December 2nd)
It smells like nuts mixed with wood shavings and tastes rather like nutty butter. A simple and drinkable whisky that should please all palates this Christmas.

The Macallan Single Malt Fine Oak Ten Years Old
£38 Waitrose 70cl
Maturing the whisky in used American Bourbon whiskey and Spanish sherry barrels adds both acidic and toffee notes. I enjoy this single malt straight and without the addition of a splash of water. Scotsmen may shudder at this liberty but dilution weakens the flavour to an unenjoyable harshness.