This country amuses me. Every year we seem to have a “hot summer”. We had a few days last year when it was really hot. We have had since records began. But this week apparently the Met Office had ‘Upgraded their alert to level three’ because we had 2 days in a row over 30 degrees centigrade. It’s a wonder that anyone is left in Spain and Southern France, why haven’t all the winemakers run screaming from their vineyards? Why? Because they have far more sense. They have a siesta. They start work early, have a long lunch involving a glass of wine or two, then sleep it off for a while.
That is a nice idyll, but we can not do that in this country because we all have to spend 3 hours a day packed in to tin boxes or cattle trucks getting to and from the office and the 10 hours in between times sitting in air-conditioned alcoves staring at our screens. Long lunch for the average office worker? Fifteen minutes. Glass of wine with that? Not likely, you’d be asleep by three o’clock. So in our terribly British way, we save it all up for ‘THE WEEKEND’. Friday afternoon is filled with thoughts of half cooked sausages that have taken the butcher far longer to prepare than you have to butcher, wearing ludicrous shorts and drinking a variety of ‘summer drinks’. Yes ladies and gentleman, today dawns the age of Barbequarius.
Gas, Charcoal or briquettes, it matters not, the food that most of us will be consuming over the next month will at some point be char-grilled. In some cases this will mean charred and in some cases barely grilled, but the effect on your wine and drinks choices will be the same. Hot weather usually means long drinks like Pimms as a pre-cursor to wine with the food and those wines in general need to be quite full flavoured due to the stronger taste imparted by grilling and the tendency to have things that have been marinaded. One thing about BBQs is they tend to be held in the afternoon, meaning some people drink more than they usually would, so here’s my ‘Drink responsibly’ message, before I give you some recommendations about how to make your charred-flesh party go with a bang….
Drinking and driving.
‘Units’ mean nothing in UK law, it’s simply the milligrams in your blood, so if you have your car, leave it where it is and get a cab home. We all like to party so think carefully about the next morning as well as the night before. Pints of Stella and Kronenbourg are strong and carry almost twice the alcohol of Carlsberg and carling so if you have a lot of beers, you might be over the limit in the morning. Pimms, especially the recipe below, is an unknown quantity, just because it doesn’t taste strong, it can be.
Drinking and walking.
Leave your car and walk home, but please don’t get run over on the way because you’ve had three too many….
Is best. But not too much now, or Tony will put you on alert level orange five….
I know not everyone is a fan of brazier cuisine so for those of you who like the lighter picnic style of repast I’m going to advise a few different options. A great inexpensive white option is Cotes de Gascogne from Southern France. These usually contain a high proportion of Colombard, a delicate floral white grape that just works really well with cold smoked trout, chicken, cold meats and salads. If you want to up the ante then go for a loire valley or New Zealand Sauvignon. Sancerre, Pouilly Fume or a Marlborough SB like the excellent Jackson Estate are all good. For reds, look light. Beaujolais like Brouilly, Moulin A Vent, Chiroubles and Julienas are all winners. Also Pinot Noir from around the world and things like Brown Bros. Tarrango.
Now for you BBQ experts. Fish is something that works really well over charcoal and if you choose the right wine, it can be sublime. The trick here is not to go for something dull but to branch out. Pinot Grigio? No. Too bland. What you need with char-grilled fish is something with a bit of flavour but also that’s not too rich and heavy so don’t go with very oaky wines. Stick with New Zealand Sauvignon, Viognier from around the world, Chablis for the more delicate fish like trout, or if you’re going down the sardine route, Albarino from Spain. A few prawns on the Barbie? Drink vintage Champagne with them.
For most people, barbeque means meat. The temptation is to go for really big reds with loads of fruit and alcohol. Bear in mind that a lot of these things will be in the afternoon and your guests will be snoring in the corner if you feed them wine that’s too heavy. Sausages, chops and steaks require a spicy red so go for a Chianti like the excellent villa Cafaggio, a Rioja like the superb value Concordia Reserva 2001 or a cotes du Rhone like the light and spicy Cotes du Ventoux Delas Freres 2003. If you go Aussie then don’t go cabernet, go Shiraz. If you’re feeling really adventurous and hit the venison or Ostrich then go South African and buy a Pinotage.
Finally, Pimms. Pimm’s can be dreadful, like weak tea into which some loon has thrown a variety of unwanted leftover fruit and vegetables. However if you make it properly it can be a great, refreshing party punch. So get yourself a really big bowl, a bottle of Pimms, 3 litres of cloudy lemonade, some gin and some vodka. You also need plenty of ice, oranges (roughly cut) fresh mint, a lot of halved strawberries, 2 limes and 2 lemons chopped and squeezed into the pot and some sliced cucumber. Chuck in all the fruit and the ice. Then pour in some lemonade, then the bottle of Pimms. Then add a dash of gin and a dash of vodka and add some more lemonade. Taste it. If it hasn’t got enough bite add a bit more gin, and make sure you use a good quality one like Tanquerray. Now you’re ready to party, but be sure to tell your guests that your Pimm’s has an extra kick.