I don’t know about you, but I reckon as the days shorten and nights lengthen, more than a pair of long johns is required to keep out the cold and damp. You need warming liquid refreshment with oodles of oomph – and I’m not talking caffeine.
The stalking might be over – it’s getting too cold on the high tops and it’s best to leave the hard work to the stalkers who’ll be culling the hinds – and the grouse might be a bit too challenging. But with the leaves off the trees and a proper nip in the air we’re reaching peak time for pheasants.
These are often the smartest shooting days and although instinct might suggest
cracking open some of your best claret at lunch, I reckon you need something
with a bit more vim and vigour. A fine rhône would be perfect – from
Chapoutier, Chave or Beaucastel. The 2006 vintage is showing well: firm
enough for winter but without the hard tannins. Or a punchy California
zinfandel, with plenty of body to ward off the cold, from Sonoma County for
preference, Ridge, perhaps, Seghesio or DeLoach; a big, boisterous Aussie
shiraz or even an Italian valpolicella amarone – the 2006 Cantina di Negrar
in Waitrose is particularly delicious.
Now is also the time to get stuck into some of the new-wave reds from Portugal’s Douro Valley – better known for its ports. Here, the likes of Quinta do Vale Meão, Quinta do Crasto, Quinta Vale Dona Maria, Quinta do Vallado and Niepoort – known collectively as the “Douro boys” – make lovely stuff.
Big-boned with luscious, succulent fruit they are darn nearly as bracing and
as flavoursome as their fortified cousins.
And if you want to ratchet it up a notch I can think of no finer warders-off of cold and damp than Berry Bros & Rudd’s fabled King’s Ginger Liqueur (KGL) or Mentzendorff’s mighty kümmel, both of which have the added advantage of being supreme stomach settlers.
KGL was created for King Edward VII on the instructions of his doctor, who prescribed it for His Majesty to imbibe during morning rides in his new horseless carriage. Berrys has just relaunched and repackaged it and it remains as scrumptious as ever – sweet, spicy and gingery in the mouth, with a clean, dry finish. Some aficionados like it served neat at room temperature while others prefer it straight from the freezer or even on the rocks. At 41%volume, it packs something of a punch and is also perfectly suited to supping from a flask at point-to-points – giving Dutch courage to both nervy pilot and luckless punter – but it’s never better than when sloshed over a bowl of homemade vanilla ice-cream.
And as for kümmel, is anything else as revitalising? Sometimes known as “putting mixture” – thanks to its popularity in British golf clubs – it has been a staple of the Dutch, Danish and Latvians since the 16th century. And let’s face it, they know about the cold and damp.
There’s nothing more comforting after a shirt-popping feast of well-hung pheasant with all the trimmings, thanks to caraway, kümmel’s integral ingredient, which is an aniseed-flavoured carminative noted for easing gastrointestinal discomfort. At 40%volume it is gripe water for grown-ups and a tip-top postprandial treat. Mentzendorff, now produced at the tiny Combier distillery right next door to the Cadre Noir cavalry school in Saumur, is my brand of choice but Wolfschmidt, Bols and De Kuypers also make fine examples.
And where would you be at this time of year without a restorative and invigorating Bloody Mary (BM) or Bullshot? The key to the perfect BM is to add fresh orange juice and a decent slug of amontillado sherry to the regular
mix of vodka (which should be decent but not overpowering), tomato juice,
lemon juice, Lea & Perrins, tabasco, ground pepper and celery salt. To
give it a bit of a twist, turn it into a Bloody Maria by swapping the vodka
for tequila. Here, I recommend Don Julio or José Cuervo Blanco.
When it comes to a Bullshot, I defer to my mate Mark Slim, who makes the best I know. He serves it at elevenses after a couple of drives and it goes down a storm. Heat a saucepan of tinned bouillon (add game stock if you have some) and bung in some Lea & Perrins, tabasco and lemon juice. Pour into a thermos, adding a healthy shot of vodka, and serve with thick, juicy sausages and English mustard. You will positively glow.
Jonathan Ray’s Six of the best winter wines