Brits have a bit of reputation when it comes to booze. We’ve all seen the documentaries of ‘lads on tour’ or a ‘girls night out.’ At Grape People we enjoy the freedom and liberation that comes from a bit of libation, but it’s never about getting drunk. It’s about enjoying a good bottle with family and friends that we love.
And a lot of that has to do with our background. In Portugal having a drink as part of a meal is a normal thing. Drinking, in moderation, is part of our culture – so that sudden licentious letting down of hair just doesn’t happen.
In Portugal it is, of course, about Port. Usually served as a digestif at the end of the meal, with rich foods such as cheese, nuts and fruit, it signifies that dinner is now finished – but there’s still time for conversation and socialising. But it can also be served as an aperitif, with petiscos, our version of tapas, especially dry white varieties. The trick is to drink hearty, deep Port, rich in colour and hue, and enjoy every sip.
In France there are a couple of hours between work and home that have made a name for themselves. Typically people will go to a bar, sit outside in the sunshine, and enjoy some light wine with nibbles. This is about savouring small dishes with wines that enhance their flavour, so a Chablis with cheese, or a zesty Chardonnay with nuts is ideal. The traditional aperitif is a ritual, and one to relish in. The focus here is on slow sips and lingering into the evening.
We don’t often hear about Lebanon’s wine culture, which is why we wanted to showcase some great wines from the region. With spicy foods such as tagine, cooked with rich and sumptuous lamb and chicken, you want to choose something like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and Malbec. Typically in Lebanon a bottle will be opened to share around a big family filled table, and everyone will get involved. The Lebanese wine industry is small but mighty, and starting to grow after the end of the civil war. There are now numerous vineyards and around 80 local wineries, so we expect to see more to come.
Ah Italy. The land of long lunches and longer dinners. How do the Italians drink wine with pretty much every meal but never get drunk? There’s an old adage that it’s either wine or water, nothing else. The trick is that they see it as part of the meal, rather than an add on to be raced through quickly. At lunch they might open a nice bottle of Trebbiano based wines, which are excellent with fresh salads and light dishes. Chianti pairs brilliantly with tomato dishes, so is perfect for pasta or pizza, and can be sipped and savoured long into the night. One thing you’ll notice in Italy is that it’s never large glasses. These are moderate dinner glasses, that might be topped up time and time again, but the focus is on the friends and family fun, rather than getting through a bottle. They also start them young. It’s ok for a teenager to have a glass with Sunday lunch, as it’s part of a convivial occasion.
Of course, it’s not that in England people don’t know how to appreciate a good wine. There’s been an explosion of wineries in vineyards in recent years, and sparkling wine from the south east is said to rival that of France’s oldest vineyards. Many gastropubs in particular take real pride in their wine menus, and you can often find some great rosé to accompany fish dishes when you’re at the seaside on a summer day.
Wherever you are in the world, we think drinking wine can be part of a fun and balanced meal that brings people together around a table for enjoyment and connection.