Saturday, 26 June 2010
White wines for sunny days. Easy as ABC.
The forecasters say it's going to be a scorching hot weekend in the UK, which may mean you'll be drinking more white wine, from earlier in the day, to later in the evening, in searing heat and blinding sunshine.
If the forecasters are right. And if my forecast is right, you'll be keeling over before the sun sets unless you take one precautionary measure. Drink lighter whites.
When you're scouring the shelves for something to savour over savouries the secret to success is as simple as ABC. Or, to be more accurate, ABV.
ABV means Alcohol By Volume and is the worldwide standard measure of the alcoholic strength of a beverage, in this instance, wine.
The legal maximum of unfortified (fortified wines include Port and Sherry) wine in the UK is 15%. This effectively means that 15% of the contents of the bottle is alcohol, the rest isn't. So in a standard 70cl bottle of wine, 10.5cl is alcohol. Some wine is as low as 9% ABV so the alcohol content is only 6.3cl - over one third less alcohol.
This percentage figure can be found on the label on of every bottle of wine in the UK, and is a legal requirement, presumably not punishable by death (unless it in some way constitutes treason, which if you've ever encountered wine labelled British Wine - not English - it probably is).
You can find refreshing all day drinking white wines with an ABV of as little as 9%.
Choosing isn't difficult. The New World doesn't really make 'session' wines - you'll struggle to find much under 13% - so you can limit yourself to a quick scan through the European lists, shelves and bins for Old World varieties that have historically made for easy drinking.
Familiar names will greet you like old forgotten friends, some long-neglected, some actually previously ignored. Sunny days are days to renew those acquaintances.
What better way to start than with a Summer sparkler? About the cheapest fizz on offer is Cava, Spain's answer to Champagne. It's usually around 11% ABV or so, which is easily light enough, of reliable quality, nearly everybody sells it and at prices to suit all. Serve it ice cold to take the edge off the earthiness.
Prosecco is also best from the ice bucket. This Italian fizz isn't made like Champagne, but instead uses the Charmat method in which the secondary fermentation occurs in a stainless steel tanks, and the result is light, apple-fresh and fun.
So is Frascati. As you'll probably be eating somewhere during the weekend, Italy may be the place to start drinking.
Frascati is Rome's quaffing wine, probably the lightest of all Italian whites. It's clear and refreshing with a slight prickle on the palate. Serve it so cold it's almost frozen and you'd be hard-pushed to realise you're not drinking Badoit, such is its subtlety.
Portugal has a role to play here too, as its best Vinho Verde offers the Summer drinker a delicious introduction to Portuguese wine - the better wines come in tall bottles, not small round and dumpy ones - and is very dry with apricot and citrus fruit acidity, light as you like and eminently drinkable.
I have a bottle of Arca Nova 2009 from Portuguese specialist merchant Casa Leal in front of me now. It's silver clear and swirls cleanly round the glass, lightly fruity on the nose with soft mandarin citrus and a slight prickle on the palate. And at only 11% ABV you can always pour yourself another glass.
Germany and France's Alsace are the places to head for more flavoursome everyday whites.
Forget the Yugoslav Rieslings of the bad old days. Riesling is one of the great wine grapes and one of the great wine styles. Nowadays lots of authentic German Rieslings offer heady floral scents and flavours and start as low as 9% alcohol so can be quaffed all day long, while France's Alsace matches them for richness and ripeness.
NB. Many German Rieslings aren't necessarily dry. Rather, many are off-dry or even sweet so just check for the word 'trocken' on the label, as it means dry, while 'halbtrocken' literally means half dry i.e. off-dry.
If you're eating anything spicy - ribs, pepper steak, marinated chicken - look out too for Gewürztraminer from Alsace. It cuts right through that hot pepper heat and all highly flavoured foods with its own mouthfilling spiciness and exotic tropical fruit.
But remember that wine matching isn't only about matching fruit flavours to food, but also about wedding wines to the weather. Easy as ABV.