Insofar as I am capable of learning anything, these nuggets I have gleaned in the last couple of weeks of vigorous consumption.
1) I cannot drink wine at 15%, nor, I feel should anyone else, certainly not if they don't want to. My Pa-in-Law, generous to a fault in many ways, has a thing about really powerful reds. Ever since he went to California last year (he's nearly ninety, you know) he's been celebrating the virtues of these cudgelling Napa Valley creations made from super-ripe grapes, terribly tarry, as fruity as a tin of wine gums in syrup, headache-making, black as night when viewed in anything dimmer than a Klieg Light. He not only likes these wines, he likes the big-hitting mentality that goes with them, the idea that even the most half-arsed attempts at finesse are for degenerates and crypto-communists, and that elephantine flavourings are an inalienable part of a man's right to be free. To which end, he acquired, for our Boxing Day visit, a great quantity of 15% Primitivo from somewhere, almost none of which I could get outside. It was so bad that, in between meals, I had to creep down to the nearest Lidl (it was open, thank God) and get a couple of bottles of 12.5% Côtes du Rhône for my own private consumption, something I could manage to drink without going blind. He gave me a look when I asked to put my valetudinarian's French red on the table, but it was Christmas, so he let it go.
2) On the upside, in the space of ten days I attended a pre-Christmas drinks party, a pre-Christmas (but not Christmas Eve) dinner, a Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas Dinner, a Boxing Day dinner, a post-Christmas birthday dinner and a New Year's Eve dinner, drank loads, and didn't get a hangover once. How did I manage this remarkable feat? To be frank I don't quite know, except for two things that stay in my mind. First, there was always food, even if only a bit of food, at the same time as there was drink. Secondly, I only drank wine, although it may be that a tiny bit of port crept in, somewhere. The stroke of genius was to refuse those whisky/brandy digestifs so temptingly offered at the end of the meal, and just let the mishmash of Champagne, red & white relax like the contents of a settlement tank. Why, at the drinks party I kept two glasses in my hands, one containing red, the other sparkling white, and I felt positively champion the next morning, full of flinty alertness. Yes, I'm not advertising anything that everyone doesn't already know. I'm merely advertising the fact that for the first time in decades, I exercised enough self-control to make it work.
3) Expensive wines are invitations to failure. All of them. A few weeks ago, PK and (the supremely elegant) Mrs. PK were round at ours, and I had some fancy red which I decanted too early, with the result that by the time we drank it, it had faded to a mere nubbin of what it ought to have been. Determined not to repeat the mistake, I found a bottle of St. Émilion (gifted to us, I would add) for one of the pre-Christrmas dinners, decanted it a mere half-hour before drinking, and sat back to await results. Same problem: didn't taste of anything. The next go round, a day later, I had a flash Rioja (gift, too) which I refused to decant, serving it instead straight from the bottle. We drank a bit, sat around a bit, drank a bit more. Did it ever get round to measuring up to its fabulous label and Robert Mitchum demeanour? No. It, too, was a flop. People had evidently paid a fair amount for some smart-looking wines (I looked them up to get a rough price - ￡30 to ￡40 a bottle seemed appropriate) to give as presents, and they all disappointed. Sinister implication? My Pa-in-law is right, and Californian 15 per centers that turn your bowels to concrete are the way forward. Optimistic inference? Cheap is good. My mantra (there's a surprise) for 2013.