“What does it taste like? A cross between a mince pie and ‘The Scream’ by Edvard Munch. Oloroso is shocking in its intensity and beguiling in the impression it gives of dried fruit whose very sweetness has been shocked into a landslide of weird absence”
Winter drinks are rather like smoking while skiing – strange moments whose very antipathy fuses the moment into a singularly mystic thrill. Usually the drinks of winter are drizzled between festive proceedings for which no-one ever plans, and the resulting carnage is a wasteland of smouldering dreams and regrettable sandwiches. Vivid, potent and extreme, these winter drinks are the sorts of things you’d probably find in Michael Caine’s hip flask while filming of The Man Who Would Be King, making his whiskers stand to attention with every sip.
But what exactly do we mean by a ‘winter drink’, and why should any self-respecting Chap bellow at his butler to make sure the drinks cabinet is fully stocked with their entire lexicon? First of all, these drinks are ruddy cheap. Why? Simple. They remain totally and inexplicably underrated. Take sherry – possibly the greatest value beverage of any description currently on the planet, rivalled only in impact by Ming The Merciless’s secret recipe for his lusty Power Potion. For years, this liquid jewellery has graced southern Spain’s treasury of tipples. On warmer days, a cool glass of light bright Fino or Manzanilla is turbo-charged refreshment that will make your very mind feel as pristine as your palate. Always carry a notebook while sipping these drinks; your waking dreams are not to be mistaken for idle drifting – you are in fact being blessed with poetry and it is your sacred duty to write it down and ideally declaim it to the nearest waiter, who will, for sure, offer you a drink on the house.
But when the thermometer plunges deeper than Pluto’s socks and the icicles hang from your snuffbox like tiny inverted organ pipes, my friend, this is the time for you to murmur the word ‘Oloroso’, as if in prayer to the ancient gods of Olympus who – and this is a fact – get royally wasted on sherry whenever they have one of their legendary ‘Monday night parties’ up the mountain. What does it taste like? A cross between a mince pie and The Scream by Edvard Munch. Oloroso is shocking in its intensity and beguiling in the impression it invariably gives of dried fruit whose very sweetness has been shocked into a landslide of weird absence. The fires of inspiration will burn from your belly to your brain and, if you need to take it one step further, arm yourself with a sweet glass of vortex-black Pedro Xímenez, the triumvirate of slick black treacle, satanic figs and dates draped in sequins of sugar.
Sherry, though, is the tip of the iceberg. Tawny Port served chilled is a supreme all-rounder to deploy with a slice of fruit cake during the months of dreich, but I want to open this cabinet over here and shove your head right into it. See it? Next to the voodoo doll. Yes, exactly. MADEIRA. I’m going to cut to the chase here and get specific. Madeira comes in various degrees of sweetness from Sercial (zesty) to Malmsey (marmalade). Pick yourself a Bual (which has the medium sweetness of a jester weeping in Sugarland) and pair it with a slice of creamy blue Dolcelatte. This makes every winter’s day transform into Honolulu, with you at its centre as a grinning human volcano. But if you’re considering even darker options, the devil beckons you into his lair by holding two distinct items in his horned claws: lightly chilled Sercial in the left and Comté cheese in the right. Smash those two into your face and the cosmos is yours.
There is one final winter tipple that’s guaranteed to get you travelling thirst class aboard the slow plane to Spring in the company of Burt Reynold’s ghost. Banyuls. No-one drinks it, it’s stupidly good and it’s a ticket to shouting BRAVO at every passing second because it just makes you feel like it. Some say Banyuls is a southern French fortified wine that tastes a bit like Port. I say it’s almost certainly the drink that inspired the lusty Power Potion sloshing in Ming’s goblet. And that, my friends, is all you’ll ever need to soar over winter and never come down.