Don't ever get punch drunk

RICHARD EHRLICH'S beverage REPORT
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The Independent Culture
My Wife, a devout gardener, says that mulled wine may be good for house plants. I hope she's right. Whenever I'm handed a glass at a party, I shuffle inconspicuously to the nearest African primrose or ivy- leafed perlagonium. There, I pause, check for whistle-blowers, and tip the glass into the soil. When Host offers to recharge it, I say: "Thanks, but I'm driving/already intoxicated/singing at Covent Garden this evening." Anything to avoid a refill.

This is a long-winded way of saying that I hate mulled wine. The mere offer of a glass fills me with gloom. It's tantamount to being asked, "Would you like some filthy red wine with stale cinnamon and cloves that will get stuck between your teeth?"

This is not to say that I'm immune to the charms of good cold-weather drinks. First of all, there is whisky. A small glass of Scotch or good Bourbon, cupped in the hands to bring it close to blood temperature, is a thing of beauty on an arctoid day. So are the French spirits.

Drinkers who stick with wine can also obtain the illusion of internal warming in these frigid months. Just think of big, booming reds and you're on the right track. You can't get much bigger or boomier than a remarkable Australian red called Hardy's Bankside Shiraz 1994 - 14.5 degrees of alcohol and some amazing spicy fruit with just enough oak (Safeway, pounds 5.99). For more elegance, and expense, I warmly commend Safeway's Jacana Pinotage Reserve 1995 (pounds 8.99).

If you think that fortified wine equals a fortified constitution, port and lemon may appeal. A bottle of cheap ruby can fit the bill. Warm the glass gently (15 to 20 seconds in the microwave), then squeeze in a little lemon and you're away. Or try the weirdest wine I've tasted in years: Peter Lehmann's Bin AD 2015, Barossa Valley 1994 (Asda pounds 7.99). Ingredients: 100 per cent Shiraz matured in old oak. Health warning: 20 per cent alcohol. Taste warning: not everyone's cup of tea.

Some fight the cold with beer. Pete's Wicked Winter Brew will appeal to those who like a bit of fruit with their suds. Raspberry, in this case, and found at Oddbins for pounds 1.19/33cl. I'd rather beat the freeze with a treasure from Adnams, its Broadside Strong Ale (pounds 1.25/ 25cl). Weighing in at 6.3 per cent alcohol, this has a deep colour and burnt-caramel flavours which manage to be both fresh and complicated. In London, however, I'd entrust myself to a Fuller's pub serving Golden Pride strong ale. A bracing 8.5 per cent alcohol, colour of mahogany, the flavour sweet and mild with just a hint of bitterness.

Finally, with my back to the wall, I am forced to acknowledge that some people like a warming drink to be warm - even hot - before it makes its way across the icy threshold of the lips. Such people need to make the acquaintance of Elizabeth Luard's European Festival Food. Ms Luard is one of our best cookery writers and, if anyone can make mulled wine palatable, she's the woman.

From Silesia, she brings tidings of Schneeschipperpunsch, a potion promising greater complexity than the usual mulled filth. If she offered me a glass of this mulled wine, I'd accept with pleasure. And I wouldn't share it with the houseplants.

SCHNEESCHIPPERPUNSCH

Serves 8-10

150g/6oz sugar

300ml/1/2 pint water

twist of orange rind

twist of lemon rind

1 or 2 sticks cinnamon

4 whole cloves

75cl bottle white wine (eg a flowery German Mosel)

75cl bottle red wine (not expensive but better than nail varnish)

3 wine glasses brandy (cheap stuff will do)

Put the sugar, water, citrus rinds and spices in a saucepan. Heat till the sugar dissolves, then simmer for an extra five minutes. Tip in the alcohol and heat gently just until bubbles start to rise. Remove from the heat and serve with a ladle, taking care to leave the bits in the pot.

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