“Did you know the Navy developed fortified wine?” asks Pointless host Alexander Armstrong. “Marsala, sherry and port came about because we kept going to war with France, so we had to find new ways of preserving wine.” From such small beginnings Christmas specials are made.
“Xander trotted off to the BBC,” says food writer Giles Coren, “and they said, ‘You ought to present it with an expert. What about your brother-in-law Giles?’” Which is how they come to be sharing a screen – as well as Christmas.
“The best Christmases are the ones with Xander,” says Giles. “His house is big but cold – you need a glass in your hand at all times.”
Choose British sparkling wine
You pay vast amounts for famous champagnes, and as far as I’m concerned many are battery acid. Kent and Sussex are on the same parallel as the Champagne region, so it’s the same climate, the same soil, and you can get a vintage champagne – sorry, vintage English sparkling wine – for the price of a non-vintage champagne.
Buy new brandy
People tend to use the same old stuff from last year to light the Christmas pudding. You’ve turned out the lights in the dining room… and it doesn’t flame. It’s very important to have new brandy. Anything that says cognac or armagnac on it is going to be a good thing.
Avoid the booze run
For the programme, I went on a booze run to Calais to get cheap red grog. It wasn’t successful. They just put out the desperate old stuff that the French won’t drink, and the English come over like muppets and buy it all up. Not a thing to do.
Because you are eating all day as well, you won’t get too drunk. It’s continental drinking, they spread it out over time and they eat as they go – a bit of food here, a bit of drink there – so you’re never actually that drunk. As long as you’re at home and you don’t have to drive anywhere, enjoy yourself.
The healthy hangover treatment
The best piece of advice for coping with a hangover is, don’t make the mistake of thinking that a fry-up can help. Fried food dehydrates you and you are already dehydrated. Your brain has shrivelled, and it’s like an old walnut, rattling around in the shell, banging against the inside of your head. If you then have bacon – which is basically saltpeter and fat – it gets into your belly and sucks any remaining moisture out of it. It’s not what you feel like, but a green salad or a steamed piece of fish are what will really help. Although the truth is, sometimes only alcohol really works!
Xander’s mulled wine
Don’t use cheap red wine for your mulled wine, counsels Armstrong. A bottle, not a box, is a good start. It’s also key not to boil it. Not even simmer — it should just be hot.
(Recipe from his friend Dominic Worrall at The Bull in Ditchling, East Sussex)
• A bottle of red wine, preferably quite robust, perhaps a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot or oaked Rioja
•6 cardamom pods
•2 cinnamon sticks
•Zest of 1 orange
•100g raisins and sultanas
•150g toasted almonds
• Steep the raisins and sultanas overnight in the wine.
• Throw all the ingredients in a pot together and warm through, without boiling, for 30 minutes.
• Add sugar if needed after tasting.
•Strain it through a cloth or sieve, then serve in a heat-resistant glass with a twist of lemon zest.
Giles’s Bloody Mary
When it comes to a Bloody Mary, says Coren, sherry is essential, and nice, thick tomato juice, not the horrible thin stuff. The key to success? Lots and lots of ice, he advises. There’s nothing more sickening than room-temperature Bloody Mary.
Makes a jug – approx six glasses
•12 ice cubes
•1 litre tomato juice
•3 shots beef consommé
•3 shots sherry – Giles likes a sticky Pedro Ximenez, Xander prefers a dry fino
•1 lemon, juiced
•9 dashes Tabasco sauce
•5 dashes Worcestershire sauce
•6 sticks celery
•Add the ice to a jug.
•Pour in the tomato juice and vodka
•Add the beef consommé and sherry.
•Squeeze in the juice of one lemon.
•Grate in fresh horseradish to taste.
•Add the Tabasco and Worcestershire sauces and stir it all together.
•Pour into glasses.
•Add a pinch of celery salt and stick of celery to each glass to serve.
If you want the spice, but not the alcoholic kick, omit the vodka and sherry and increase the amount of tomato juice. The result? A Virgin Mary.
See Armstrong and Coren in The 12 Drinks of Christmas, Thursday 9:00pm on BBC2