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Christmas Tips and Tricks
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Christmas Tips and Tricks

Take the stress out of Christmas

It’s that time of year when those skills of planning and time management that I’ve proudly put on my LinkedIn profile come into their own. Christmas is a celebratory time of year, but for me, and I’m sure the same applies for some of you reading this, it becomes an operation governed by endless lists, scribbles in food catalogues, and trying to remember who turned vegan so that you don’t have to go back and tweak that M&S food order you put in so promptly.

Working in wine, naturally, my family have left all the drinks arrangements to me: gifts for family and friends, stocking fillers for Christmas morning and ‘please Amy, don’t forget the Sherry for Grandad’s postman – he likes Manzanilla’. First of all, lucky postman! And secondly, has he been dropping present hints? Oh, and gift boxes, don’t forget gift boxes.

When it comes to buying wine gifts and pairing a plethora of sumptuous festive foods, it’s simply another list for me to write and thinking about wines at Christmas, I started to ponder about several ‘what if’ scenarios that may crop up this season; the more I started to think about it, the longer the list became. So, I’ve pulled together my top tips and tricks to help get through Christmas.

What to do when...

You need to keep the wine fresh as long as possible:

Quite often, when we’re looking for something specific, we can’t find it, car keys, passport, spare change are he usual suspects. This happened to me recently whilst trying to find a certain branded wine preserver, so, in my absent-mindedness, I relied upon a well-known, simple trick - stick the bottle in the fridge. The cold environment will help to stabilise the wine and keep it fresher for longer and that includes reds and sweets too.

You want to chill your wine in the quickest time but the fridge is bursting:

It’s Winter. It’s cold. Stick a bottle of Prosecco outside in the flowerpots for a little while to reach peak serving temperature. I highly recommend it for any bottle needing a quick chill. Or, if you don’t fancy a quick dash outside and you (miraculously) have room in your freezer, then put the bottle in the freezer for a little while and be sure to wrap it in a tea towel to help concentrate the cooling process. But remember it’s in the freezer!

The cork splits in the bottle neck:

It happens to us all. A broken cork doesn’t necessarily mean the wine is faulty, or even corked, but without a doubt a broken cork is annoying! If you do have a Butler’s Thief (no, not some odd addition to Cluedo) then great, grab it! This two-pronged tool will wiggle into either side of the cork between the bottle and the glass edge, and you can gently try and rotate the cork out.

However, if like me, you don’t have a Butler’s Thief (let alone a Butler!), what do you do? Either try again and pierce the cork with the corkscrew diagonally and pull, or push the split cork down into the wine and then filter it as you pour to catch any broken pieces. If you don’t have a proper wine filter, then a coffee filter or tea strainer will do.

The cork crumbles:

A similar reaction to the above, don’t panic. It’s best to filter the wine to remove any pieces of cork. Again, a crumbled cork doesn’t mean the wine is in poor condition, but if it’s an older wine then filtering and serving needs to be a gentle process.

Dessert has gone out of the window (hopefully not literally) and people are arriving imminently:

In the season of indulgence, it can be easy to underestimate how much people can polish off and then suddenly you’re left with an empty trifle bowl and a hungry pack of wolves wanting more, so, it’s always good to have a backup. To avoid any dessert disasters, I strongly recommend having a bottle of something sweet in reserve. A sumptuously sweet bottle such as the Triana Pedro Ximenez Sherry is a fantastic post-dinner/buffet tipple; a sip of this will satisfy anyone who still has room for more, and if anyone is still hungry pour a measure over vanilla ice cream!

You’ve got that matchstick or sulphur smell once you’ve opened a wine – how to deal with it:

Most people associate decanting with reds and Ports, but white wine, and even sparkling, can benefit from a single decant. Young wines can be very restrained and need a bit of a push to help open up and blow off any unpleasant aromas.

  • You’ll need to open the bottle and remove the cork.
  • If the bottle contains sediment, then pour carefully via a filter (aka the fabulous tea strainer) into your decanting vessel.
  • If the bottle doesn’t contain any sediment and it’s a still wine, then give it a good, vigorous, swirl as you’re pouring to aerate the wine. If it’s a bottle of bubbly, then it’s best not to be so animated, a gentle pour will suffice.
  • Hooray, complete!

Some people prefer to serve the wine in the original bottle, so, if that’s the case, read on. Double decanting, is as the name suggests the art of decanting twice, first into a clean vessel and then back into the original bottle. Not all wine benefits from double decanting, but if you’re looking to soften and get the most out of your younger reds and whites then it’s useful practice. You’ll need to follow the steps above first. Once all the wine has been decanted, you’ll need to rinse the empty wine bottle. After all of that (I promise you, the faff is worth it), you’ll need to get the wine back into the bottle so slowly pour it back into the bottle. I can imagine trying to pour a vase full of wine back into a bottle is not ideal, so you always transfer it to a jug or use a funnel.

You’re serving a Vintage Port for the first time – how to deal with it:

When I was working in Tanners’ Cellar Shop, I used to manage the Port Cage. In that role, I was very lucky to handle lots of Ports, including many wonderful older vintages, and I often wondered what I would do if I had to open a bottle of such stature. Without trying to instil fear in you, these bottles have typically matured for many years, decades in some instances, so it’s a big responsibility to open one - just stay cool, calm and collected. You may well be fully stocked with the correct Port utensils but I want to preach to those who need to improvise with what they have already in the kitchen. With any Vintage Port (Crusted too), the natural sediment that has formed over maturation will need settling. So, here’s what to do:

  • Keep the bottle upright for a minimum of 24 hours to allow the fine sediment to rest.
  • You’ll need a decanter (if you have one) or a clean vessel such as a glass jug. Someone I know once used a clean flower vase and a filter of some kind - a clean tea strainer and funnel will do.
  • Remove the cork very carefully (if it breaks, or crumbles, see above).
  • Pour the wine slowly through the filter into the decanting jug whilst trying not to disrupt the settled sediment. Some people may feel brave enough to hover the bottle over a light to help see the sediment movement. But, we’re not all that brave. I completely empathise that hovering a bottle of fine Port that is potentially several decades old over a candle may not be within the boundaries of everyone’s comfort zone. So, if you don’t fancy that when you can see more sediment emptying into the strainer, stop pouring. If in doubt, grab another clean vessel - even a cup will do – to just test and see the sediment movement.
These are just a selection of tips to help you this festive season. And if nothing else, I hope it’s inspired you to use those kitchen tools to help with your wine preparation – thank goodness for tea strainers!




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