It's never too late to chill out

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Yes, it's been a fine summer for gardens, umbrella-salesmen and reservoirs.

Yes, it's been a fine summer for gardens, umbrella-salesmen and reservoirs. Ever since my Australian wife insisted, on her arrival, that I turn the tap off when I clean my teeth and use only a few droplets of water when I shower, I have felt perfectly equipped for the heat and dust of the South Australian bush. A man can dream. But instead of a sizzle on the barbie (Asda, only £6.97), there's been a steady drizzle on the garden. My Aussie wife is threatening to dust down her backpack if things don't improve. Then there's the weather.

This time last year, I had the perfect wine experience. It wasn't that I was drinking anything particularly special, so much that what I was drinking was in the right place at the right time. It was hot, I was hot, and there's not a lot that goes down better with a summer's meal of grilled river fish and salad than a chilled Loire Valley red brought in an ice bucket so that it, and everyone, stays cool. With that combination of little or no oak, easy tannins and fresh acidity, lighter-bodied reds from northern France and Italy such as chinon and bourgeuil, beaujolais and valpolicella are the perfect thirst-quenchers. Lighter reds benefit from being lightly chilled down to bring out their refreshing, summer-pudding qualities and they are the ideal wines for salads, light meals and picnics.

For beaujolais lovers, it would be hard to beat the superb 2003 Georges Duboeuf Juliénas (£7.99, Waitrose), aromatic gamay at its juiciest with an unusual level of plum and cherry-fruit richness offset by refreshing acidity. Looking beyond the obvious, there is a new breed of rather more exotic summer creatures worth delving into: such as the 2002 Lamura Nero d'Avola (£4.49, Oddbins), a ripe, peppery, beaujolais-style red from Sicily bursting with robust tannins and acidity; the 2003 Norton Barbera, Mendoza (£4.99, Waitrose), an affordable Argentinian quaffing red with the Andean cherryish freshness; or Weninger's fine 2002 Blaufränkisch (£6.99, Oddbins), a peppery, aromatic Austrian red full of appealing summer-pudding fruitiness.

No matter how exotic your summer reds, to limit your choice to the refreshingly fruity would be to omit a lengthening list of robust and spicy barbecue-busters ready to cope with chargrilled chicken, ribs, kebabs and sausages, or failing the opportunity, to console and comfort on chilly summer days. Southern France comes into its own here with the 2002 Les Granges de Ségure, Fitou, Vieilles Vignes (£4.49, Sainsbury's, reduced from £6.99 for August), a spice-laden red that's typically robust, raspberryish and redolent of the garrigue herb scents of the Languedoc hills.

As summer evenings start to draw in, you may find yourself in the mood for reds with a little more oomph, as we professionals call it. From northern Italy, the 2002 Bottega Vinai, Trentino Lagrein Dunkel, should fit the bill (around £7.99, Partridges, Sloane Street, London SW1; Wine Track, Surrey 020-8286 4566; Chimney Row Wines, Somerset 01934 863621). This bold and distinctive Northern Italian red offers spicy, dark cherry fruit in abundance with firm grip and a nip of acidity. Every bit as characterful, the 2002 Villa Maria Cellar Selection Syrah (£9.99, Oddbins), an uncaged beast from New Zealand's Hawkes Bay, is an immensely spicy, tarry red whose rich dark cherry and plum fruitiness will happily take on Indian summer or shivery autumn evenings.