Saturday, 23 May 2020

Bank Holiday Boozing: Less is More

The key to successful Bank Holiday Boozing is to remember it's a school night.

The day you usually gain for oenological over-indulgence isn't the official Bank Holiday Monday.

Rather, it's the Sunday, as there's no work on the Monday morning.

So you can treat the Sunday just like a Saturday - only with bigger newspapers.

The secret to Bank Holiday Boozing is therefore to recognise that Bank Holiday Monday is not like any other weekend day at all, knowing you can overdo it over dinner on Saturday night then sleep it off until Sunday lunch. Or have a second bottle with your Sunday repast thinking you can sleep it off all through a lazy Sunday afternoon. Or do both and in any event suffer little ill effect. 

No, Bank Holiday Monday is a unique day that offers an opportunity for all-day entertainment that requires a wholly original approach to alcohol that will be unfamiliar to many readers, especially those with a practical knowledge of attitudes to alcohol in Britain.

Because the key to a happy Bank Holiday Monday is Less is More. 

That's right. There's only one rule for Bank Holiday Boozing: Less is More. 

Less alcohol that is. But I don't mean fewer glasses of wine. 

Instead, when you're looking for drinks to partner with your inevitable Bank Holiday barbecue - and in the UK there is really no alternative food choice on a Bank Holiday - look for wines that not only go well with burnt burgers, charred chicken and scorched sausages, but also wines that won't make you fall over before the meat has been thoroughly under-cooked, in accordance with tradition. 

Less alcohol means a low ABV (alcohol by volume measurement) - the percentage figure printed on the label as required by UK law on virtually every sealed vessel containing alcohol. 

Among whites you can find refreshing all day drinking wines offering an ABV of as little as 9%. Among reds, easy drinking starts around 12% while sparkling wine and rosé fall between the two at around 11%.

To make choosing your Bank Holiday wine even easier the New World has largely decided not to make the vinous equivalent of lunchtime session beers, so you can safely confine your search for something appropriate to the wine racks within European shores. 

Old, well-known, even familiar names abound here, yet many may be unfamiliar drinking for many of us nowadays, so it's a great opportunity to re-acquaint ourselves with some neglected even long-forgotten, old friends.

Like Frascati. As you'll probably be eating, Italy is as good a place as any to start drinking, with Frascati, Rome's quaffing wine, probably the lightest of all Italian whites.

It's typically clear, very pale and supremely refreshing, sometimes with a slight prickle on the palate. Serve it so cold it's almost frozen and you'd be hard-pushed to realise you weren't drinking Badoit such is the subtlety of its discernible flavour.

That's an observation oft made of Italy's Soave too but relatively recent regulatory increases in quality, especially of the Soave Classico and Soave Superiore denominations, stipulate higher minimum alcohol levels and allow the inclusion of some Chardonnay grapes. Better, riper Soave is scented and nutty, but for everyday gluggability stick to Soave DOC for that lightweight, even anonymous, Summer drinking style.

Because if it's flavour you're after you can look to the shelves of Germany and Alsace and yet another familiar name, Riesling. Long championed by Master of Wine, Jancis Robinson OBE, as one of the great white grapes, unfortunately everyday Riesling - once upon a time often not Riesling at all - previously acquired a very poor reputation.

Thankfully, nowadays plenty of young, dry, authentic Rieslings, particularly from Germany, abound with floral scents and flavours ranging from sharp apple, through allspice to honeyed nectarine. German Rieslings start at just 9% alcohol and don't get that much heavier so can be consumed all day long, while France's Alsace matches them for richness and ripeness on both the nose and palate.

Just one word of caution. Much German Riesling is off-dry or even sweet so if you're unfamiliar with German wine just look for the word trocken on the label, as it means dry, otherwise do check the shelf labels or ask for clarification if it's still unclear.

While we're in Alsace, if you're barbecuing jerk chicken, curry goat or marinated pork ribs, don't overlook Gewürztraminer, whose exotic, even pungent, perfume, plus its strongly flavoured, rich and distinctive spiciness, cut right through hot peppers and chillies like no other white wine.

Staying with the European shelves, for familiar all day Summer sparklers I look no further than Spain's Cava. It's frequently light in weight, usually 11% ABV or so, of a predictable quality level and pretty easy to find a brand to suit your taste. Along with Prosecco, which is surely due a rest, it's also just about the cheapest fizz on the rack so it's easily at its best when drunk young. Unfortunately, better quality Cava doesn't stray very far from Spanish shores, being comparable in price to Champagne while struggling to compete with the home of sparkling wine's name and reputation.

When I'm in Spain, including the Balearic and Canary Islands, I drink very little apart from Cava during daylight hours, only switching to red wine once the sun has set.

Before we consider reds though, a brief foray into rosé wines, and we're not talking Château d'Esclans here, but simple wines to last us through to twilight.

Let's face it, rosé is pink - it's fun, so let's treat it as such and concentrate on the good dry styles suitable for our purposes that include Rosé de Loire and some Spanish rosado made from Garnacha - Grenache as the French have it.

Medium varieties are best left alone, having once been described by Robert Joseph as 'mostly dire', so we'll pass on Rosé D'Anjou and Portuguese rosé as exemplified by slightly frizzante Mateus Rosé, with a particularly dishonourable mention for California's pink Zinfandel, often referred to as Blush, presumably in embarrassment.

Myself, I enjoy the fun of much rosé from Provence, if only for the womanly curves of some of the bottles as with this Maison Castel  from Waitrose - its 13% ABV at the limit of my easy drinking.

All well and good if rosé also tickles your fancy, white wine meets your needs or fizz is the thing to set your taste buds a-tingle. 

But if not, then red wine must be the solution.

All day reds are plentiful across the world but once again it is the traditional wine-making nations of Europe that offer the quickest and easiest selection on supermarket shelves and in off-licence bins - grab some on the way to the beach or the park or nip round the corner for a bottle or two before meeting your socially distanced friend.

No need to scour the shelves, just head straight for the France section and lo and behold, a couple of familiar easy-drinking red names leap out at you: Beaujolais is fresh and aromatic with a lightness of body that means you can drink it at noon until the sun goes down.

Alternatively, and for a bit of class, not that I'm suggesting you indulge in any social climbing, but if you did want to impress your barbecue guests, how about a lovely light red Sancerre, made from delicate Pinot Noir?

Along the shelf in Italy, everyday young Chianti DOCG can be lively, fruity and tangy; all sharp ripe cherries and red berry fruit, sometimes with a hint of bitterness to help you cut through charred meat flavours, barbecue sauces and over-dressed salads.

So long as you're still eating, Italian wine makes for excellent food matching - try cheap and cheerful Valpolicella with plates of traditional Parma ham, salami and Bresaola, and if you are cooking over charcoal remember Valpolicella is also great with sausages, steaks and hamburgers.

Whatever your wine drinking preferences or Bank Holiday boozing plans, you can ensure you enjoy yourself just the right amount and not a drop more simply by recognising that broadly speaking, the lower the ABV the more glasses of wine you can safely drink. 

Choose your wine well and you can enjoy your extra day off from midday to midnight.

Choose badly and it won't just be the barbie that burns out before bedtime.

The Wine Rules: Bank Holiday boozing requires a lighter touch.

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© 2011 John Alexander