Swigging in the rain

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Al fresco activity during the rest of Britain's capricious summer is destined to be hit and miss. But already there's been enough sunshine for twice as many barbecues and picnics as last summer. I relish the memory of those few days - except for the time I lost my bottle. I was showing my prowess as a sommelier by tying a piece of string to the neck of the bottle and dangling it ever so gently from the bank of a babbling brook. It wriggled free and laughed its way downstream like a fish off the hook.

While we think of whites and rosés as suitable summer thirstquenchers, lighter-bodied reds with relatively little tannin and oak and whose summer berry fruit qualities can be enhanced by being slightly chilled, make the best summer reds. My bolting bottle was a beaujolais, the 2004 Chiroubles, Domaine de la Grosse Pierre (£7.81 bottle / case, Haynes Hanson & Clark, 020-7259 0102) full of the vibrant strawberryish charms of summer. As is the lusciously cherryish gamay-laden 2003 Morgon Côte du Py from Maurice Gaget (£7.49, Booths), while the 2004 Sainsbury's Classic Selection Beaujolais Villages, from Duboeuf (£5.99), offers good value summer-pudding quaffing.

A good red will often serve double duty as a barbecue wine although for grilled meats and spiced ribs, avoid bordeaux, burgundy or anything pricey for that matter and aim for a blood and guts red that punches above its weight. The south of France is an abundant source of robust barbecue reds such as the spicy, rich and gutsy Mas La Cabes, Côtes du Roussillon (buy 2 for £5.99 each, Majestic), from Jean Gardiès or the vibrant, angostura-laden, blackberryish 2003 Minervois, Gérard Bertrand (£5.99, Marks & Spencer). From the New World, the tarry, berry-fruity 2004 Excelsior Paddock Shiraz, Robertson (£5.99, Sainsbury's) is an ideal barbecue glugger.

The perfect picnic wine should be refreshing, so a good rosé or light, unoaked white both fit the bill. Give a wide berth to big, fat oaky chardonnay and go instead for the crisp, unoaked virtues of chilled chablis, a summery vinho verde such as the citrus-tangy 2004 Quinta de Simaens Vinho Verde (£5.49, Waitrose), the aromatic charms of a riesling or a good value alternative to sancerre like the crisp, nettley 2004 Delaille Cheverny (£5.99, Waitrose). With a classically spicy coronation chicken, not much will beat a delicate, off-dry Mosel riesling with a touch of appley sweetness, like the mouthwateringly tangy 2002 Trierer Deutschherrenhof Riesling Kabinett (£5.99, Majestic).

As a scatterbrain who usually manages to leave the corkscrew in the kitchen drawer, I'm eternally grateful for the screwcap. Popular prejudice against this bottle seal is thankfully waning and wine producers are cottoning on to the fact that consumers like it. Aromatic Clare Valley riesling is mostly now sealed by screwcap. This includes the limey 2003 Knappstein Hand-Picked Riesling (buy 2 for £5.99 each, Majestic) or the charmingly named and just as delightfully zesty Skillogalee Riesling (£9.99, Booths). Kiwi sauvignons too, for instance the excellent value, lipsmacking 2004 Southbank Estate Sauvignon Blanc (buy 2 for £5.99 each, Majestic), and the pungently gooseberryish 2004 Dashwood Sauvignon Blanc (£7.59, Oddbins), are made for that Indian summer that we optimistically hope is just around the corner.