The Taste Test has truffled out some excellent products over the past year. I’ve collected those we were most excited about in a Christmas hamper (see below). As a bonus, we carried out an additional tasting that I must report on first: mulled wine spice sachets. The idea here is to give you all the fun of a skiing holiday without any of the expense or injury. We immersed seven ready-prepared spice mixes in a bog-standard Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. By the end my home smelt pretty pungent – like that of an apothecary with a drink problem. The mulls were tested by the Gluttonous Pig (GP), the Gourmet Celeb (GC) and the Discerning Litigator (DL).
First, a few criticisms. Fortnum & Mason’s Christmas Mulled Wine suggests half a litre of orange juice to each litre of red wine. This created an unattractively cloudy drink with the citrus far too dominant (“boiled orange and damp newspaper”, GC). Where other products asked for OJ it was, quite rightly, only a splash. On the whole a little water and sugar was quite sufficient to take the edge off the tannins. Harvey Nichols’ Blend of Spices contains, correctly enough, just cloves, cinnamon, ginger and allspice. But its curious almond nose alienated two of the panel: “doesn’t smell or taste authentic” (DL).
Our top three combined an agreeable spice mix with a sensible recipe. Third came The Bay Tree Traditional Mulled Wine Bundles from Somerset: “pleasantly medicinal – firm thwack of cloves” (GP). Second was Schwartz’s Mulled Wine Sachets (allspice, dried orange peel, cassia, cloves, nutmeg): “fragrantly herby – hint of an autumn bonfire” (GP). Our favourite, by some margin, was Hambleden Herbs Organic Mulling Spices from Wiltshire (£4.99, www.hambledenherbs.com). Its imaginative ingredient list (including cassia, hibiscus, juniper berry) helpfully reminds us that cassia bark is the source of cinnamon. Hambleden Herbs recommended including fresh lemon peel in the confection – an excellent idea: “entrancing nose, fragrant – like rose water”(GP); “aromatic, pleasantly herbal”(DL); “this is the stuff! a great wallop of cloves with other complex aromas”(GC).
TASTE TEST HAMPER
Fortnum & Mason Mini Pork Pies, £14, www.fortnumandmason.com
Morrison’s Spey Valley Scottish Smoked Salmon, £2.95 for 125g pack, www.morrisons.co.uk
Stilton Paxton & Whitfield £5.25/250g, www.paxtonandwhitfield.co.uk
Fresh Taramasalata, H Forman & Sons, £6.95 for 225g, www.formanandfield.com
Konditor & Cook’s mince pies, £16.50 for 12, www.konditorandcook.com
Iliada Special Early Harvest Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 500ml, £5.49, www.sainsburys.co.uk
Wandle Light Ale, £2.25, www.sambrooksbrewery.co.uk