Chin chin: a student’s guide to holiday tipples

Wine holiday drinking saint
Photo: Christopher Michel, Wikimedia Commons

Writing an article about tips and recommendations for drinking in St Andrews when most of the students have fled for (probably) warmer climes struck me as a fool’s endeavour. If you are reading this reposed on some glamourous beach in the tropics, or flitting through an international metropolis, why should you bother yourself with the best that wet and windy Fife has to offer? So, instead, I have decided to consider the other drinking opportunities presented by our long summer break. Chiefly, what to drink abroad and what to drink if you’re bored. This is not an advertisement for alcoholism as the cure for ennui; rather, I want to consider the interesting and exotic tipples one can find further afield and encourage an exploratory palette. Unfortunately, this cannot be an exhaustive list, for reasons of space and my limited knowledge. Instead, it will be a selection of, admittedly assumptive, recommendations.

Starting closest to home, within the United Kingdom, there is one product that perfectly captures the finicky and rare nature of the English Summer, and is emblematic of the ‘staycation’ mentality: English wine. The wine-producing areas in Britain are mostly confined by climate to the South East and South West, in a patchy band that stretches from Kent to Cornwall. The unreliable weather makes grape harvests a challenge, so the small supply does push up the price. However, both the quality and the quantity are on the rise. If you’re in the market for a treat or a gift, for a 21st birthday say, my suggestion is to opt for either Camel Valley or Nyetimber. Both produce sparkling whites of impressive quality (Camel do traditional white wine as well, the Atlantic Dry is very reasonably priced). With Nyetimber, you are also paying for the name. Their twenty-five year history gives them some claim to be a ‘prestige’ vineyard but if this seems unfair, it is worth pointing out that all the major champagne houses do exactly the same. They’re simply learning from the big boys.

Taking to the warmer climes of the Southern Mediterranean, one might be inclined to stick to the (un)holy trinity of continental lager, rosé wine and local aniseed spirits. Pastis, Raki, Ouzo, take your pick. I don’t mean to criticise this convention of alco-tourism but I do think the region has some other merits. Firstly, Spanish vermouth (or vermut). Their sweet vermouths, made with a base of red wine, have a mellow, toasty quality. Try it over ice, with an orange slice to garnish. These fortified wines are just as traditional as sherry but in my opinion are more palatable – less cloying than a dulce Pedro Jimenez and more quaffable than a real fino sherry. The great thing about vermouth is that it’s flexible enough to work as an aperitif or a digestif.

Secondly, if you find yourself in Croatia, the local product worth investigating is prošek, a sweet dessert wine with a slightly higher alcohol content than table wine. In comparison to a more traditional French dessert wine, the finish is quite clean. The sweetness doesn’t overtake your taste buds, making it an ideal companion for a light summer sweet (or an after-dinner cigarette, if you’re so inclined). Unfortunately, it can be quite hard to find in the United Kingdom, let alone outside of Europe. So, if you acquire a taste for it, try to sneak a little home in your luggage.

Another summer drinking practice I encourage everyone to try is chilling red wine. This is especially for us impecunious students, whose budgets are restricted to the cheaper, sharper end of the wine shelf. Placing a bottle of red in the fridge for twenty minutes can round of the edges and accentuate fruit notes. It works particularly well for lighter wines: Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, something from central France. They would all respond well to a quick chill and will hopefully also make red wine more appealing on a baking hot day. It’s not unusual for wine to be served this way in Italy (Emilia-Romagna mostly) or France (parts of Provence and around Nîmes).

One last thing – for anyone with access to a decent cocktail bar, or confident in their mixology, I urge you to try a Boulevardier. It’s equal parts Bourbon whiskey, Campari and sweet vermouth stirred and served neat, America’s answer to the Negroni. If you want more specific direction refer (as always) to Difford’s Guide.

This is only a very brief set of suggestions for livening up your summer’s drinking, and I am sure that anyone with a curious mind and a tolerant tongue can find some charming surprises hidden out in the world beyond St Andrews. Indeed, once September starts and we are back to being confined to a stretch of the Scottish coast, the memories of these vacation tipples will surely lighten the burden.


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