Warm weather is a mixed blessing for the wine and spirits lover. Summer is a season for cold drinks, and the finer points of many favourites tend to be obscured when they are over-chilled. It is not a time for full-bodied red wines – the bigger Bordeaux and Barolos for example – or for undiluted fine cognacs, single malt whiskies or other strong brown spirits.
So what should we be drinking over the next couple of sweltering months? Wine drinkers traditionally gravitate to crisp white wines with relatively high acidity – sauvignon blanc from France’s Loire Valley and New Zealand in particular – or rosé, which has shed many of the negative associations it acquired during the years when pink Portuguese sugar water dominated international sales of the category.
There is now a wide choice of readily available rosé wines. Some of the cheaper ones are still marred by the sickly sweetness of yesteryear, but there are many more dry or off-dry options from both the Old and New Worlds to choose from.
It is true of wine in general that you get what you pay for, but this is particularly true of rosé. Don’t be put off by the underwhelming plonk someone poured for you from a bottle bought in a supermarket for less than HK$70. Be willing to pay just a few dollars more and you will be amazed at the difference it makes.
Good rosé wines at higher but perfectly reasonable price points are available from France, Spain, Italy, Australia and California in particular.
Provence, of course, is well established as rosé country, but red Bordeaux lovers may want to try sipping some of that region’s paler wines in the summer heat.
Chateau D’Esclans in Provence has a stated mission to produce the world’s greatest rosés, and it certainly makes serious wines. For casual summer drinking, Whispering Angel is a good default choice, but seek out Les Clans, or the rarer and considerably more expensive Garrus grand vin, to see what heights can be achieved in this often underrated area.
You don’t have to abandon red wines entirely for the summer, though. Reds that are relatively low in alcohol – generally 13 percent Alcohol by Volume (ABV) or less – can stand being slightly chilled.
Consider pinot noir from Burgundy or the lighter reds of the Rhone Valley as alternatives to heavier Bordeaux blends. The wines of the Beaujolais region are particularly suitable as summer reds and, considering they’re generally underestimated, are often competitively priced. Wines from Fleurie and Morgon are also worth sampling.
Tiki cocktails are usually quite potent, but if properly made with fresh fruit juices, they can slip down with deceptive ease
Champagne – which is generally served colder than it should be, even in the depths of winter – and prosecco, which is experiencing a boom in interest worldwide, are obviously appropriate summer tipples. It’s also the season for bubbly-based cocktails, with classic favourites including the bellini, mimosa and Aperol spritz.
Spirits, and spirit-based cocktails which generally pack more of an alcoholic punch, are a more complicated matter.
“Modern tiki” bars are now en vogue, and Hong Kong has two that were featured on the highly competitive Asia’s 50 Best Bars list: Honi Honi and Mahalo Lounge, both created by bartender/owner Max Traverse. The tiki trend has also made its presence felt in other Asian cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
Because of the strong beach associations of the fruity drinks and the décor of the bars in which they’re served, many people like to unwind after work by spending an hour or two in a tiki bar. The ritual offers a little escapism and a taste of the tropical holiday they’ve been meaning to make time for.
Tiki cocktails, often rum-based, are usually quite potent, but if properly made with fresh fruit juices and plenty of ice, they can slip down with deceptive ease. Beware.
There are some excellent creative cocktails being made in some of these bars, and there’s a good chance you will find yourself at some point this summer drinking a mai tai, zombie or plantation punch. Make sure it’s a good one, and sip it slowly.
Although there is growing interest in spirits which come from warm climates, such as rum, tequila and mescal, bartenders say the two that attract the most interest in this part of the world are of cool climate origin – gin and whisky.
Although gin was originally consumed primarily in the Netherlands and later in England, it came into its own in 19th century India with the development of the gin and tonic – a classic combination now enjoyed worldwide.
We have become much more adventurous in our choice of gins, which are plentiful thanks to a plethora of boutique producers as well as established brands such as Gordon’s Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire and Hendrick’s. There are now gin-themed bars that offer tens or even hundreds of them, including another Asia’s 50 Best Bars venue, Hong Kong’s Ori-gin.
Long gin drinks seem made for summer – not just the gin and tonics, but also fizzes, slings, the French 75, the gin rickey and many others – but brandies and whiskies are more of a seasonal challenge.
It is possible to serve high-quality brown spirits heavily diluted with soda and served over ice to produce a refreshing long drink. One can order a Hennessy XO with ice and Perrier in the Cognac region, but it seems a bit wasteful.
Most single malts drunk with less dilution, even if on the rocks, are too powerful for hot weather consumption. There are still options, though. Lowland single malts are traditionally much lighter in style – though generally not in alcohol – than their
Highland or Island counterparts. Glenkinchie, for example, is often designated a pre-dinner malt because of its light floral style, and it takes well to a cube or two of ice.
A cask-strength 24-year-old edition of Glenkinchie, bottled in 2016, has just been added to the Asian Moet Hennessy Diageo portfolio, although you may want to sip that one with a little chilled spring water instead of ice. Auchentoshan is another gentle Lowland single malt that’s suitable for summer sipping, but it’s best to leave the more intense Laphroaigs and Lagavulins for the onset of autumn.
Summer is also, of course, an ideal time to try a few craft beers – particularly the seasonal ones made by local microbreweries.
While we’ll all be drinking differently during the muggy months of July and August, with a little bit of seasonal know-how, we’ll at least be drinking well.
Text: Robin Lynam