Down to earth drinking

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Definition of a hangover: ‘The Wrath of Grapes’

IN MY Christmas stocking, I found a pack of cards. They were 52 cures for a hangover. Being a sport, I tried a few of them, but they were so revolting, I decided I was better off with the hangover. Then I remembered the Irish saying: “If you want to avoid a hangover, keep drinking” – that works! On one of the cards was, “take a short walk”. I had no problem with that, but the walk was from the bedroom to the bathroom.

Sorry, I digress. Judy, you asked me, some time ago, if I knew any wine stories and I promised to include some in this issue. I can’t confirm they are true, but as I believe in the Banshee and Leprechauns, I can’t argue.

Est! Est! Est!

One concerns an Italian wine from Latium and a German Bishop. Going to Rome to see the Pope, he sent his servant ahead to sample the wine, writing ‘Est’ (it is) on the door of a suitable inn. The servant got to Montefiascone and found a wine so good that he wrote EST! EST! EST! on the door.

When the Bishop arrived, he liked it so much that he never got to Rome. Instead, he settled in the village and died there. Every anniversary, they poured a cask of the wine over his grave until the elders decided that it was a terrible waste. So they agreed to share the wine with all the villagers and I don’t think there were any objections.

Make sure you read the label, as it can be dry or semi-sweet (secco or abboccato). As Italian wines are not readily available here, I won’t dwell on them, except to say Italy produces some excellent wines and is the largest producer in the world.


A popular drink here, and in England, is what we call a‘Spritzer’. It is simply a white wine mixed with either soda water or sparkling mineral water. Ever wondered how it started? With the birth of the wine bar in London, ‘yuppies’ of the 1980s claimed they were the ones to introduce it. Not so! In fact, they arrived on the scene nearly 150 years after the first Spritzer was drunk…

Hockheimer, from Hockheim in Germany, was Queen Victoria’s favourite wine. This and other wines from the Rhine wine region are generally known as ‘Hocks’. Queen Victoria is also responsible for that. She visited the area quite often and would say, “bring me my glass of Mein Hock”. Whether she couldn’t pronounce ‘Hockheimer’, or just couldn’t be bothered, nobody really knows. So the name ‘Hock’ stuck, because if that’s what she called it, then so did everyone else.

On her trips, she was accompanied by her son, Edward VII, and, as they could never be seen to be drunk, they added soda water to the wine. Crafty, yes, but it worked, and that is how the world was introduced to the Spritzer.

Which wine should you add to the water for your Spritzer? Most German wines were medium dry/medium sweet in her day. However, today most people like a dry wine. Obviously, it doesn’t have to be German wine and, for me, Portugal produces the best wine for such a purpose – the Vinho Verde. Ever tried it with sparkling water? If you haven’t, you should.

A natural Vinho Verde should not have more than 10 per cent alcohol and, by adding sparkling water, you increase the ‘fizz’ and reduce the alcohol. What a lovely way to spend an almost alcohol free evening, especially if you’re driving!

The problem with Vinho Verde is that you may have to buy a bottle as it’s not usually sold by the glass. You will still have a great evening, but I wouldn’t recommend driving. Of course, if there are four or five in your party, then you may go for a second bottle. If so, make sure you buy a second bottle of water as well. Even if you do buy water, leave the car and either walk or get a taxi.

Red wine is also an option. I’ve always advocated that if you get a red that is too tannic, then add some water to it. By doing so, you will be able to enjoy the wine as you have reduced the harsh tannins.

If your tipple is red wine, then why not try a Vinho Verde Tinto? The same rules apply where alcohol content is concerned. My own preference for a red would be one from the Trincadeira or Periquita grape. The grape variety can be found on the back label.

There are other Portuguese wines that will be more than acceptable for a Spritzer. Remember the golden rule: drink whatever you fancy.

There is a change of plan for my next article. While back in England, I read an article in the Daily Telegraph, entitled ‘How to open a screw top wine bottle with panache’. So, my next article will now be ‘Screwcap v Cork’. Sorry Judy, once again I digress. Still, if you wait until April, my story is about eating snails. If you’ve never eaten one, I hope to tempt you.

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