What is wine if not a distillation – and promise – of summer sunshine?

Now is the perfect time to take to the bottle.

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After surviving minus 27 degrees during Montreal’s longest cold streak since records began, I wanted two things: a medal, and hot weather. Nevertheless, I surprised myself by enjoying Canadian winter, with its contoured feet of sparkling whiteness, ice rinks in every city park, and those gargantuan trucks, hoovering the roads then dumping tons of snow on the frozen St Lawrence river. The surfaces were icy but interesting and the interiors superbly insulated. And you drink well there, which does wonders for the circulation.

In Quebec and Ontario, they bury winter vines beneath the snow, which protects them until spring. Back in not-quite-as-snowy London, I sought a different style of insulation. Tio Pepe’s Fino Dos Palmas, tangy, elegant sherry that shelters eight years in barrel before emerging, golden as late-afternoon sunshine, into the hot air of Andalusia; and VV, a glorious, rich Roussanne, full of ripe apricots, from Château de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where the broad, flat stones called galets roulés capture summer’s heat and warm the old vines’ roots through winter.

With roast beef, I drank the plum and truffle Syrah called Terres Brulées (“burnt earth”) from Jean-Luc Colombo’s steep Cornas vineyards, surrounded by hills that protect the vines from wind as they bathe, soporific, in the heat; with lamb, Siccagno, a powerful blueberry and liquorice Nero d’Avola from the young Sicilian Arianna Occhipinti, whose skin is tanned to the same reddish umber as the soil beneath her vines.

As well as consuming liquid sunshine, I went to the National Gallery to gaze upon it in more viscous form. The calm vistas of Canaletto’s underpopulated Venice and a frugal Goya picnic of bread and wine and sweet sunlight warmed me, while Monet brought summer within stroking distance: on his honeymoon in Trouville, the brand-new Mrs Monet shaded herself with a parasol while fragments of the beach embedded themselves in her husband’s wet painting.

It’s all very well to demand warmth, and in Montreal I felt fierce pity for the early settlers, struggling through those punishing winters so that 400 years later, a thin-blooded wine writer could survive in comfort to complain another day. They probably stared at painted sunshine even more thirstily than I did, and how they would have loved our hot houses and perfectly temperate, multinational wines.

Still, I worry about the point when we find a way to fiddle with the weather as we already do with everything else. Perhaps we already have, inadvertently, for what is global warming but the sinister promise of eternal summer?

Cycles are important. Just as vines need winter warmth and shelter, then heat to create grape sugars that will convert, eventually, to alcohol, so we need to huddle and shiver before the time comes to get sand on our skins (and our paintings), picnic, bask, and underdress. Life is always a balance. Even in summer, nocturnal breezes soothe growing fruit; wintry cellars shield bottled wines, like galets roulés in reverse.

I am glad to be back in moderate climes, looking at art that was made before winter getaways were invented, drinking wine that is itself a celebration of survival and renewal. Winter is almost over and summer is coming, eventually. And we can all drink to that. 

Nina Caplan is the 2018 and 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and the 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman, and the author of The Wandering Vine: Wine, The Romans and Me, published by Bloomsbury. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

 

This article first appeared in the 08 March 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The new cold war