I’ve always liked the Euro approach to drinking – remove the taboo and you’ll promote responsible alcohol consumption. I have very fond memories of my parents attempts to replicate this by allowing us wine with food on holidays – though ‘food’ was often a moveable concept that included swigging cider with a picnic and Montlouis fizz with a hunk of bread in the back of the car. We’d be gloriously pissed as farts as we motored to our destination, singing those annoying car songs that drive the abstemious chauffeur to distraction after 57 choruses of ‘We all live in a Yellow Submarine’. Happy days and never a hangover between us.
Living in deepest, profoundest France exposed me to l’heure de l’apero when neighbours would invite us round for nibbly things – because you always drink with food – and the contents of their drinks cabinets which usually included a few homemade delights like epine (a kind of nascent sloe gin made with the young shoots of the blackthorn) and quarante quatre (pierce an orange 44 times then place it, with 44 sugar lumps and 44 coffee beans, in a jar. Pour over 1 litre of alcool des fruits or vodka and leave in a dark place to macerate to your satisfaction). I’ve enjoyed a decent, local rose enlivened with pink grapefruit syrup (try it, if you can find the sirop) and that 1 euro fizz from the supermarche? It’s not bad at all with a slug of cassis or mure (cherry and rose syrup work a treat too).
Want to trade up on les bulles? You can do much worse than Blanquette de Limoux (the oldest sparkling wine in the world). If you find yourself in Montlouis, visit the cave cooperative on the banks of the river and try their fizz – the very same that we slugged out of plastic picnic cups and got mullahed on all those years ago. Or you could do worse than head for Saumur, and pick up some sparkling white and rose – the latter is how we toasted at our wedding and an exceptionally good time was had by all. Along with the gallons of Sauvignon Blanc from our local vineyard Trahan and the rose from Chateau Oiron – deliciously drunk we stumbled around to Groove Armada and called it our first dance ‘If you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air…‘
I’m no connoisseur of ‘faine wines’ – I’ll take it ice cold, on a hot summer’s day, beneath the shade of a walnut or an apricot tree. Interestingly enough, the French are drinking less wine – I’m not suggesting that either a) I’m a lush or b) I’m on a one woman mission to turn that statistic around. But what could be better than a glass to punctuate the headlong rush of life, a comma in the dizzying dash of another 24 hours, a moment to kick back and breathe. “Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough, A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse – and Thou” as Omar Kayam so perfectly expressed it