Good libations: Summer drinks for optimistic picnics

Rob Crossan

6 August 2021

Rain may cancel play but at least you’ll have good wine…

6 August 2021 | Rob Crossan

It’s starting to feel like the weather should be sponsored. I can almost hear a cheesy trans-Atlantic accent bellowing, ‘This torrential deluge was brought to you by Climate Change Incorporated, in association with fossil fuels, plastic bags and Amazonian beef farmers.’

The hope that this nefarious sponsored psychosis in the London weather system will, at some point, be replaced by something more gentle, friendly and eco-conscious is what’s keeping me going in the struggle against bi-polar conditions that genuinely mean sun-drenched, wine-fuelled picnics can turn into a scene from Waterworld within minutes.

If you should find your own al fresco libations being liberally doused this month, these are the drinks to save from being sucked into the nearest storm drain. All are worth getting at least mildly soggy for…

Graham Beck Brut NV

I love the notion of a sparkling wine called Graham. This is a class-levelling notion that should be rolled out across the drinks spectrum until we have single malt whiskies called Jock and weissbiers called Gunter. This is a South African brut from Robertson, on the Garden Route in the Western Cape, and is the wine that was served at Nelson Mandela’s Presidential inauguration back in 1994. Very slightly creamy but with an impressively light lime-infused zest, this is one of those devious sparkling wines that kids you into thinking it will never, ever give you a hangover. This is not strictly true, as I can sadly attest.


Taittinger Brut Reserve

Ah, let us nuzzle into the bosom of this old favourite; the cashmere shawl of wines that should really only be drunk in the business class cabin of an A380 flight to Mauritius. But has one of the less gaudy classic champagne houses been resting on its well-sculpted laurels? It’s easy to get blasé when your brand is this immutable to criticism so I tried my very best to find fault with this bottle of Reims’ finest. But it was in total and complete vain.

The main reason for this consistency is that the Taittinger family (this is one of the last independent champagne houses and the eponymous family still runs the show) own more vineyard space than almost anyone else in the Champagne region. This, plus the slightly higher percentage of chardonnay grape, results in a taste as clean as a Japanese ryokan hotel, concomitant with depth, balance and a coquettish shimmer of honey on the nose. This is still the champagne equivalent of Marvin Gaye crooning a ballad in a Jacuzzi with a mirror ball above it. And that really is no bad thing at all.


The Palm by Whispering Angel

I’ve long been put off (perhaps unfairly) by Whispering Angle due to its name, which always reminds me of the type of perfume you see in the reduced to clear section of a provincial branch of Superdrug. But now, from the maker most widely known for its Provence rosé, Chateau d’Esclans, comes The Palm. Slightly cheaper in price than the d’Esclans, it doesn’t quite have the smoothness of its more famous sibling. However, made from Grenache, Cinsault and Carignan grapes, there’s an aromatic zing to it that has a tad more minerality than its ‘big sister’ wine.


Bolney Chardonnay

It’s an ethical quandary for sure: the vineyards of Sussex and Kent are likely to be one of the few beneficiaries of climate change, as the warming of the UK makes the south coast ever more suitable for vines. Should we be happy about this in any way? Let’s save this knotty issue for later and concentrate for now on the first still chardonnay release that this family-run vineyard has released in its 49-year history. It’s yet another wonderful step in the de-oaking trend of chardonnay in the UK market. That greasy, gasoline-esque oak has been vanquished in favour of a wine that is as fresh and zesty as a newly shucked oyster and with an unusually textured crispiness to it. One to bring to a picnic with a small group of friends who you really, genuinely like.


Maison Number 9 Rosé

What would you do after a full day of rehearsing with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers? My personal choice would be to tell Anthony Kiedis that his autobiography was a pompous waste of rainforest. Grammy award-winning Texan Post Malone, however, decided to create his own rosé wine. Regular readers of this column will know that collaborations between musicians and wine brands tend to be a murky and overpriced but Malone’s pairing with award-winning Provence winemaker Alexis Cornu makes a welcome change.

The bottle is notably un-bling in design and the contents – a blend of Cinsault, Syrah and Merlot – is an unusually pale pink with genuinely unique pineapple and pear notes that give it a hugely charismatic tart piquancy. It’s all going so well until you read the promotional blurb and find that the wine is named after Post Malone’s favourite tarot card. Bah! But let’s concentrate on the taste. Finally, the exceedingly low bar of musician-wine couplings has been dramatically raised.


Nuet Aquavit

And so to Norway, land of fjords, synth-led pop music and a noble tradition of getting properly Valhallad on aquavit at weekends. This punchy (more like a repeated head butt) spirit is distilled from grain or potato starch and (usually) flavoured with caraway and dill. It’s a knockout combination when paired with rye bread, smoked cheese and, of course, a lot of pickled fish. Although aquavit is the national spirit for the entirety of Scandinavia, in Norway the drink is usually aged.

Not so with Nuet, a start-up that has gone down the Swedish/Danish route by bottling it after just a few weeks in steel tanks. Citrus is added to blackcurrant leaves and crushed cubeb pepper, then flooded and cold-soaked to create what is a definite step up in sophistication from your standard head throbbing aquavit shot. If you still don’t fancy knocking it back neat then edge towards sanity with a spritz you can easily make at home with ice, old-fashioned lemonade and prosecco, garnished with a wedge of grapefruit.


Kiss Of Wine Chill Rosé

Canned wines are like old girlfriends in small towns. You swear you’ll never be mates but you can’t help running into each other at roughly fortnightly intervals. So it is with canned wines. They’re fast becoming as ubiquitous as Covid temperature checks and Jack Grealish but this number, hailing from the vineyards of Calodoc in Provence, is a better-than-average example of the form, with a playful pink grapefruit and citrus tan that is exactly as accessible as canned wine should be. The only problem is the gaudy pink packaging. Why must canned winemakers persist in thinking that the only people who will drink wine from a tin are the same people who still pop into Claire’s Accessories and have a Keep Calm And Drink Rosé tea towel in their kitchen?

£75 for 16,

Mike’s Hard Seltzer

The hard sell for hard seltzer shows no sign of letting up. Myriad start-ups and US investment concerns appear to be convinced that boozy, sparkling flavoured water (for that is what hard seltzer is) will imminently explode in the UK, after having long been a fairly popular low calorie boozy option Stateside. Mike’s Hard Seltzer is one of the best options to have landed in Blighty so far. It’s a genuinely massive brand in the US and it’s pretty easy to see why.

The flavours are pleasingly subtle (particularly the raspberry) but the main draw is in the alchemy of each can having barely 100 calories, almost no sugar, no gluten, is vegan friendly and boasts a whacking 5%ABV. Perilously easy to drink, this is, let’s be honest, likely to be a gateway drink for teenagers that’s a lot more palatable than Woodpecker. But, even for us veteran imbibers, it’s a welcome sunny afternoon standby for when you don’t fancy opening another bottle of Sauvignon and you’re getting a bit concerned about your wine belly.

£23 for 12,

Domaine Wachau Ried Achleiten Smaragd Grüner Veltliner 2019

Let’s travel (Covid permitting) to the land of Mozart, Wiener Schnitzel and Schiele and discover the first Austrian winery featured in this humble column. The Wachau (meaning ‘meadow along the Wach’) is Austria’s most famed wine region, mostly known for its refined, dry Reislings and Gruner Veltliner varietals. And, although the full name of this wine isn’t going to win any awards for brevity, the Gruner Veltliner is a thing of lederhosen-clad beauty.

With almost risky levels of acidity counterbalanced by gentle aromas of grapefruit and red apple, the Smaragd wines (named for an emerald-coloured lizard that lives in the Wachau) are the most prestigious, rare, expensive and highest in alcohol content at 13%. They’re well worth the step up, however, as, if you’re used to the somewhat flaccid taste of many German wines, these are distinct from their larger neighbour in their notably muscular body, as well as that heightened ABV. This is a bustling, noisy, gregarious wine – just proceed with caution if you’re aiming for relative sobriety over the course of an evening.


Rimapere Sauvignon Blanc

When will we next be legally able to travel to New Zealand? Such has been its agile transition to becoming an entirely Covid-free nation, you have to suspect it will be some time. Though, perhaps not as long as it’ll be before its most famed export, Peter Jackson, finishes the Beatles movie he’s been working on for approximately 14 centuries.

In the meantime, this release from the Edmond de Rothschild Heritage (that’s the group name for Baron Benjamin de Rothschild’s wine-making projects around the world) is one of the finest single estate Marlborough sauvignon blancs I’ve tried this year. Like all the finest Kiwi Sav Blancs, this is a breath of breezy, clean mountain air with the usual teasing back notes of lemon, grapefruit and dry hay. The name ‘Rimapere’ means five arrows in Maori. The most pleasant thing about a wine of this quality is that none of those arrows punctures a hole in the wallet. An outstanding quality wine for the ‘change from the twenty pound note’ range.


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