12 JUNE 1993, Page 36


Cooling off

James Seely

The secret of summer drinking is to drink more without getting more drunk. The Borgias administered nothing more lethal than doctored Pimm's — the addi- tion of extra gin or a measure of amontilla- do sherry to that innocuous tasting cooler can be more deadly than the serpent's tooth. Provided everybody is in on the game, and as long as nobody is going any- where, all well and good, and a merry soz- zle can be enjoyed by one and all; otherwise the spiked Pimm's is to be avoided as dis- tinctly unfunny and potentially fatal. Another trick with this old favourite English summer drink is the substitution of champagne for lemonade. This custom was prevalent among the new rich in the Eight- ies; it was and still is a mistake. First, it does not taste very good; second, it makes you unpleasantly tight very quickly; and third, it is a waste of two perfectly good drinks. If Pimm's you must have, stick to the instructions on the label — Pimm's, lemonade, slices of lemon, cucumber rind, borage and lots of ice, and you will have a quencher that Joan Hunter-Dunn could have quaffed without fear for her virtue in that Surrey carpark.

Chilled champagne or, for the impover- ished, one of the many excellent alternative sparklers from France or the New World makes a wonderful alfresco aperitif. Here again, if you would drink more with no extra effect, the addition of peach juice will transport you straight to Harry's Bar in Venice, where Bellini is the order of the day; easier to obtain as an additive is fresh orange juice, making the glamorous sound- ing Buck's Fizz. The glamour, however, was recently somewhat dispelled for me by an ageing roué of an uncle, who dismissed it as a `tart's drink' — oh, the great days in the distance enchanted! Black Velvet — equal parts of Guinness and champagne — is to my mind another waste of two fine drinks, though it definitely has merits as a `morn- ing-after' pick-me-up.

Wine in all its forms and colours is pleas: ing to drink on hot days, but caution shcaild be exercised. A raging thirst coupled Witt", the seductive coolth of the grape can lea' to indiscretion. The ancient Greeks always

mixed their wine with water, though this may have had more to do with the quality of the wine — or the water — than with prudence. If you would drink deep, then consider the addition of chilled mineral water to your wine. There is a tendency to think that via rosé does not really count as an alcoholic drink, but a bottle of conden- sation-bedewed, dark pink Tavel from the Rhone consumed under the midday sun will soon disprove this theory. My own favourite picnic pink is Cendre, Vin Gris. from Henri Maire in the Jura; it has a beautiful deep colour, with loads of fruit, but is bone-dry — it also has a delightful drawing of Victorian figures enjoying lunch in the open air, just in case you are in any doubt as to its purpose.

We all chill our champagnes, sparklers, whites and rosés, but in France many reds, notably the happy hookers of the Beaujo- lais and the refreshing Cabernet-Francs from the Loire valley — Chinon, Bourgueil and Saumur-Champigny — are invariably served at cellar temperature or below. Whilst I do not advocate the drinking of good claret from the fridge, one of the most alluring and thirst-quenching descriptions of wine I have read came from the pen of Charles Cocks over 150 years ago, when he wrote of Château Margaux:

These wines are possessed of much finesse, a beautiful colour and a very sweet bouquet. They are strong without being intoxicating, invigorate the stomach without affecting the head, and leave the breath pure and the mouth cool.

What more can one ask of a drink?

Recipes for wine cups are legion, and experimentation is fun. All you need is a bottle or two of wine of virtually any type or colour — not too good, nor too revolting and any combination you like of fruit, fruit juice, mineral water and ice. Try this `Bowie' from Germany: put half a pound of ripe strawberries into a large jug, add two dessertspoons of caster sugar and a bottle of inexpensive hock or Moselle, then leave in the fridge overnight to marinate; just before serving, top up with a bottle of sparkling wine, Sekt for authenticity, and you have a nectar for the overheated inhab- itants of Olympus. A little zip and flavour can be added to wine cups by the judicious addition of a measure of one of those oth- erwise undrunk liqueurs that sit on most sideboards from one Christmas to the next.

Sherry, with all its connotations of class and classlessness, may seem a curious choice for drinking in the heat of the noon- day. It is a wine that is currently suffering from an image problem, tending, as it does, to be associated with maiden aunts, the vicar and Christmas. If you have been lucky enough to have visited the seaside town of San Lucar de Barrameda, cradle of man- zanilla, and sampled the divine marriage of this 'lick of salt', bone-dry sherry, taken in copious draughts with tapas, especially Ian- gostinas and other fishy delights, you will need no persuasion from me. If not, try it, and your conversion will be as sure as Paul's on the road to Damascus. Jose Marenco Diez, the suave export director of Antonio Barbadillo, assures me that man- zanilla, provided it is taken to the exclusion of all other wines, is virtually non-intoxicat- ing; but beware — he definitely has an axe to grind.

Our own national drinks, beer and cider, are delightful and cooling, and low enough in alcohol to drink in relatively large quan- tities without feeling pole-axed; for those who would play safe and drink more, shandy is the perfect answer. Ideally, this should be made with half bitter and half ginger beer. However, many landlords are reluctant to serve it in pubs, since the cloudy nature of the ginger beer can cause other drinkers to suspect the quality of the draught beer; lemonade is an acceptable, though sweeter, alternative.

Finally, with a brief bow to the nanny society in which we live and to the abstemious and the safe driver, there are, of course, many delicious, cooling alcohol- free beverages to slake the thirst. Iced cof- fee or tea, fruit juices, real lemonade, or even, once surprisingly offered to me by one of our leading wine writers, elderflower cordial, are all very well in their way, but somehow a degree of enchantment is added to those all too rare 'click of leather on wil- low' English summer days by the ingestion of a little alcohol. My own attitude to sum- mer and, indeed, to winter drinking is neat- ly summed up by this piece of Victorian doggerel:

They say that Adam's Ale is best.

Let Peers to the pump make free!

But whisky, gin and even beer Are good enough for me.