Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Wine-ing in the great outdoors

Summer’s long and, currently, balmy evenings are here and it feels like you haven’t really made the most of them until you’ve enjoyed something cold and (in my book) alcoholic in the garden. We have even had the weather to eat comfortably outside of an evening, so I feel duty bound to offer some helpful hints for which wines to choose to fit the occasion.

Everyone loves a top 10 (or Top 100 if you’re Channel 4), so here they are:

Top 10 Tips for Outdoor Summer Drinking

1.       Complexity and subtlety are the first casualties of outdoor drinking (along with any sense of moderation some might say), so now is not the time to uncork the treasured bottle of white Burgundy or fine claret that you’ve been squirreling away for a special occasion.
2.       Go for simple, bold aromas and flavours that can stand up to being drunk outside.
3.       At lunchtime, keep it light – both in terms of the wine style and alcohol level.  Prosecco fits the bill on both counts, as does Vinho Verde and dry Semillon from Australia. 
4.        Will you be dressing for dinner? If a vinaigrette dressing features on the menu, you’ll find rosé will stand up well to the combination of sharpness and oiliness. White wines can often end up sharp tasting and short of fruit when paired with a dressed salad; the tannins in red wine can react badly with it and make for a horrible combination. Rosé drinkers are spoilt for choice nowadays, but a classic match for a classic salade niçoise would be an elegantly pale, dry and savoury Provence rosé. If the dressing is lemon and/or lime dominant, I would go for a dry Riesling (try Austrian or Australian), or again a dry Semillon from Australia.  
5.       Barbecues, our default setting when eating outdoors, are the enemy of anything understated – you need to think big and bold.  Aussie Shiraz springs to mind, but think also of the savoury spice of a good Côtes du Rhône, or the pronounced smokiness of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo or a Chilean Carmenère.
6.       White wine drinkers have plenty to choose from too. I might sometimes deplore Kiwi Sauvignon, and its ilk, for its lack of finesse and downright “slap you round the chops” pungency – but it’s a blessing here. For a change you could also look for wines made from Viognier (weighty, peachy fruit) or Grenache Blanc (weighty, herbal/spicy flavours).
7.       If fridge space is tight, or you’re just in a hurry to cool things down, an ice bucket (or just a bucket) with ice AND water is the quickest way to chill drinks. Please don’t plonk an ice cube straight into a glass of wine – or not into mine anyway.
8.       Think about chilling red wine – on a hot day, red wine at room temperature can seem a bit soupy and unrefreshing. Chilling won’t suit all red wines – but what’s the worst that can happen? You can always just let it warm back up again. Reds that work well chilled need to have plenty of fruit and not much tannin – think Beaujolais or New World Pinot Noir.
9.       If guests arrive hot and thirsty, it would be both kind and sensible to offer something low in alcohol – or even non-alcoholic as an initial thirst quencher, rather than have them plunge straight into a glass of 14% alchohol red wine on arrival. I’m planning on unleashing my Aperol Spritz on guests this weekend, (3 parts Prosecco, 2 parts Aperol, 1 part soda water) which I reckon should be under 10% alcohol. I have it on good authority that non-drinkers (and designated drivers) now find elderflower cordial a bit meh, so try and find something new to tempt them. Try a lemonade punch – strong tea, lemon juice and sugar, topped up at the last minute with ginger ale and mint sprigs. You can of course also add rum.

10.   Finally, a word of warning: beware Pimm’s. It’s so inoccuous-tasting that you forget you’re drinking something alcoholic and it can slip down all too easily in the sun. All that fruit floating around in it does not, I’m afraid, cancel out the alcohol.

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