People in my line of work don't need a calendar to know when summer has arrived. We know it when samples of new summery drinks start showing up. This year, the most unedifying by far has been Swaying Willow Chardonnay, containing 1 per cent alcohol and a third the calories of "a standard glass of Chardonnay", whatever that may mean. It's sold at Tesco (£3.49), and I'd give it a wide berth if I were you. It tastes a little bit like wine, but it does not taste good enough to buy.
But summer is here, and the time is right for summery drinking. One on my list is Sloane's, a Pimm's-like concoction from Sainsbury's. I haven't tasted them side by side so I can't be certain, but the flavour of the pink pretender is near enough to the real thing. And the price is a million miles away: £7.99 as opposed to £11.99 or more for Pimm's. That makes the choice a no-brainer.
This summer has been an elderflower summer where I live and drink, not least because of Al Fresco, a new fizzy drink made from elderflower and other wholesome ingredients. I'd tasted it on its own and been less than impressed, but then I met up with Dick Bradsell, bartending boffinissimus, at the Time Out Eating and Drinking Awards ceremony. And my eyes were opened wide.
Dick had been entrusted with the task of making sure that the guests were seeing double by the time the awards were presented. And there he was, making an awesome cocktail with none other than Al Fresco. He mixes equal parts of fresh apple juice, vodka, and cranberry juice. He puts them in a tall glass with lots of ice, then tops the glass with Al Fresco. He calls it Fresh Juice. I call it delicious.
I've learnt to love elderflower not just there but in a new addition to the roster of Shloer sparkling fruit juices. This one is called White Grape and Elderflower, and uses a formula that falls well within the bounds of acceptable sweetness. It's got that tart touch, nice grapiness and a mild burst of bubbles - utterly refreshing and available at just about every supermarket in town for £1.99 a litre. If you're the sort of person who does this sort of thing, it will not protest too vigorously at being mixed with a splash of vodka. Though I would rather have Shloer first and vodka later.
Or Shloer first and then a glass of refreshing grape juice. The vinified kind, that is. Summer afternoons on the grass were made for a well-chilled fino or Manzanilla sherry, as I was reminded not long ago by the grass and glasses of Mr and Mrs Dennis Brandt. The sherry was Valdespino, and even if you think you don't like sherry, the combined effort of a sunny day and a frosty glass of this stuff will change your mind. Oddbins is a good source for Valdespino's wares, with prices between £7 and £8 a bottle.
Unless, of course, you just want to drink wine - which brings us back to where we chose not to start: low-calorie Chardonnay. Not only is that not proper wine, it's not even the right grape for summer sipping. My nominee in that category is Pinot Grigio, in its various northern Italian forms. As in Banfi Pinot Grigio 2000 from Majestic (£6.99). Or the lighter Bidoli Pinot Grigio 2000 (Friuli) from Oddbins at £4.99. Or Lamberti Pinot Grigio 2000, another easy-drinking lightweight, from Tesco (£4.99). And most of all I'd grab San-Michele Appiano Pinot Grigio (Alto Adige) from Waitrose, where it costs £5.99. The lovely aromatics and fresh acidity of these wines were simply made for hot weather. And made a hell of a lot better than any diet Chardonnay.
On a completely un-summery note, here's one you couldn't make up. Augusto Pinochet Hiriart, son of the illustrious Chilean torturer (ret), has announced plans for a wine brand named after his dad. Sadly, we won't be seeing it here: the wines are destined for export only to the USA. Maybe we can expect Milosevic Merlot?Reuse content