Drinks Through the Seasons
April 17th, 2015 | By Vicky Rogers
By Susy Atkins
The marketing folks who promote drinks – whether that’s wine, beer, spirits or cordials – will tell you, of course, that their products are great all year round, but I don’t agree. Anyone for bone-dry, chilled rosé on November 5th, or a steaming hot spiced rum cup at an August lunch party? Thought not. Here’s a guide, then, to getting the best out of your drinks, season by season, and especially our wonderful local tipples…
Spring is the time of year when taste buds reawaken to crisper, lighter styles of wine, and those in particular with a floral and/or grassy note. That’s exactly what many English white wines taste like, so Spring is the perfect moment to sip young, refreshing whites from a local winery. Try Sharpham’s range of lemon-fresh, slightly herbaceous still whites and dry rosé, made near Totnes, matching them with the first local salad leaves and fish from the nearest river or coast. The best soft drinks for the season are elderflower flavoured – try Luscombe’s Wild Elderflower Bubbly; it’s made in the South Hams and scented beautifully, like essence of Spring hedgerows.
Hot sunshine and loads of outdoors activities – including barbecues! – make this the time for thirst-quenching beers . Why not discover a local brewery? The South Devon branch of CAMRA lists 12 breweries on its website (see box) including Quercus in Churchstow and the very new Two Beaches in Shaldon. Most of us enjoy the slightly bitter, hoppy, refreshing styles in summer, but if wine is more your thing, then this is the favourite time for fizz. Happily, the south-west makes spectacularly elegant and finely made sparkling wine, now renowned internationally. So whether it’s from Sharpham, (Totnes, see above), or another celebrated south-west winery, always chill your bubbly well and crack open as an aperitif, or as a summer celebration toast, or with seafood, especially crab and scallops.
It’s apple season, and cider makes a fine partner for autumnal feasts of roast pork and apple sauce, squash or mushroom risottos, or an English cheeseboard with mild pickles. Don’t buy the mass-market ciders in cans, find a local producer of the real, farmhouse stuff. Our local Devon apple juice is also delicious – you can source both cider and juice from Heron Valley Organic Drinks in Kingsbridge. In late autumn, heat up either good cider or apple juice, gently with a couple of cloves, a small piece of fresh ginger, a cinnamon stick or two, and add fresh local apple slices for a warming hot apple cup. I’m also a big fan of Ashridge’s fine sparkling ciders, made in Staverton near Totnes, especially their Devon Blush cider, which has a sweeter note of blackberry liqueur – now there’s autumn in a cup!
Christmas, and richer, darker beers suit the cold nights, as do ripe, full-bodied red wines. We don’t make big, hearty red wines in the UK (it’s a little too cool here) so turn to a wine merchant who can advise on the very best clarets, Riojas and Aussie shirazes to go with winter stews, steaks and roasts. The Dartmouth Wine Company is an Aladdin’s cave of fine wines, with powerful wintery spirits such as rum and whisky galore too. Whereas Red and White in Kingsbridge offer fantastic menu matching advice and often tasting evenings. Don’t forget to decant rich red wines to open up their aroma and soften their texture. Sloe gin is a warming winter spirit too – try Plymouth Gin’s delicious, inky-purple version, now widely available. If you’re after something truly different, though, check out Dappa, a new clear, clean-tasting spirit in the style of Italian grappa, made in Devon using grape skins, including some from Sharpham. A great digestif after the Christmas feast – cheers!
Some of the drinks companies below offer tastings and guided visits – click on the links to find out more:
Ashridge Organic Cider:
tel: 01364 654749
South Devon CAMRA
Dartmouth Wine Company
6 Duke Street, Dartmouth
tel: 01803 833579
Red and White
tel: 01548 853898
tel: 01803 812555
tel: 01548 550256
tel: 01364 643036
tel: 01803 812555.