Seasoned drinker

Seasoned drinker

by Simon Wilder 3 September 2015

As the weather turns cold and the evenings draw in, Simon Wilder ponders the last of the summer wine.

Photographer and food blogger Simon Wilder is teaching himself to cook and eat in order to repair the damage caused by a childhood eating the inedible.

Simon Wilder’s mother was, possibly, the worst cook in the world. To repair the damage caused by growing up eating the inedible, he has been learning how to cook well, and how to eat well, too. He writes about this food education. He finds most inspiration in Europe, especially France and Italy. He tries to document all this, and everything else, in photographs and blogs about finding joy in food at Siberia.

Let’s say you are lucky enough to find yourself somewhere like oh, I don’t know, Aix-en-Provence, in late-ish September or early-ish October. Late summer, anyway. There aren't really any towns quite like Aix. There are others in France as personable, but few as beautiful. You will be, if you're anything like me, (and I'm certain you are), sitting, at 7pm, in the Place de Verdun with a glass of rosé in front of you. You’ll be feeling no pain in Aix. You will have reinforcements of ice cubes because, when it’s warm, you like wine to be really cold. There is a dish of peanuts to keep you going until dinner.

The square is busy. It is lined with cafés and is popular with the Aixois. So you sit, taking in the excitement. It's 25°C and you're wearing shorts and sandals.You may even be fanning yourself, lazily. You're feeling almost as lucky as the young people of Aix and you notice something: they are dressed differently from you. The collars of their coats are up, their scarves are coiled cosily around their necks, you can hear a shiver being suppressed. They are in a different season to you. They are not, for the most part, drinking rosé and certainly not with ice. They have moved, as you have not, from the summery half of the year to the wintry half of the year. There is pastis, of course – there is always pastis – but on the tables and in people’s hands are gins and tonics, bottles of deep red wine and cups of hot chocolate.

Aren't we lucky, us northerners. Northern Europeans, I mean. If it’s sunny for a few hours and the thermometer rises to 14°C in March, we all throw off our woollies and dance at signs of an early spring. If the watery sun warms us to 13°C in November we pack picnics and cheer an Indian summer. I know, we can have hail in June and be shivering all through Wimbledon, but it’s still summer. It must be, I’m wearing shorts and drinking cold white wine. Summer is stretched, in our minds, at least, to nine months of the year. It may be spring in February in Aix, but the Aixois will call it winter until they’re picking cherries from the trees.

I, too, like the Aixois, drink to match the season. Sometimes the season I want it to be, sometimes the season it is. I don’t mean I drink rosé in January, as much as I ache for summer. But, roughly, from the time the clocks go forward until the clocks go back I drink cold white. And, roughly, from the time the clocks go back until they’re put forward again, I drink fruity red.


I don’t really have a choice in any of this. A fruity red is, genuinely, as unthinkable to me in July as eating Christmas pudding. If forced (i.e., there’s nothing else to drink), I can manage a cold white in December, but I wouldn’t make a habit of it. This year I’ve been drinking Gavi, from Piedmont in the northwest of Italy. Perfectly balanced between fruity and desert-dry, and there have been plenty of bargains around, too. Italian wine is always better in Italy, but I don’t turn it down just because I’m not in Italy. Last winter I drank, almost exclusively, Chianti Classico. There was lots of that on offer for around £7 a bottle, too, and it all tasted like £15. Other years I’ve enjoyed Cabernet Sauvignon, Temperanillo and Montepulciano, all are warming on a cold, dark evening, all make me glad to be indoors.

I have seen people drink Guinness in a heatwave and sweated for them. It’s like they’re drinking soup.

I change my favourite each year. I spend a week or two trying different wines, dipping my toe in, before I settle on what it’s going to be for the season. Last summer it was a surprisingly subtly sweet Gewurtztraminer, made perfect by being icy cold. The year before was a Provençal-style rosé, the year before that a Bordeaux-style rosé. I’ve been through, and enjoyed, Albariños, Viogniers, white Navarras, as well, of course, as Pinot Grigios and Sauvignons. Chardonnays, too, as long as they weren’t too smokey.

I have seen people drink Guinness in a heatwave and sweated for them. It’s like they’re drinking soup. They’re the same people who wear corduroy shorts and a tie with their short-sleeved shirt, and look at me jealously as I sip, coolly, from a glass of cold Breton cider, tanning my shins, dressed in the lightest linen.

Aperitifs, too, are subject to seasonality. In summer it’s white wine Kir, in winter a red wine Kir, also known as a Cardinal. Kirs are made by adding a few drops of crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) to a glass of wine.Or you could try a Kir Berrichon, which uses crème de mûres, made from blackberries. (A kir royale mixes cassis and champagne). Purists will tell you always to add the wine to the cassis/mûre rather than the other way round. I often like a chilly Chambery, a French vermouth as dry as perfume, around 6.30pm in summer. Run some fresh lemon peel around the rim of a glass before pouring. In autumn, the sweeter, fruitier Somerset Pomoma in a heavy-bottomed lowball glass over some chunky ice cubes will suit me better.

This year I want a bridge between summer and winter drinking. As the food I cook moves from tomatoes to apples, courgettes to pumpkin, I’m going to stop buying Gavi and start buying young reds from the Loire: St Nicolas de Bourgueil or a red Sancerre, maybe. I’ll keep them in the fridge and drink them frais as the French say. Then the move, after Bonfire Night or the first mists, whichever is later, to whatever this year’s choice of red is going to be won’t seem so sudden.

Photographs by Simon Wilder