June 8, 2006

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Got milk?

Keep your cool, fool
Presenting the wines, and other snacks, of summer
By Tim Protzman tprotzman@sbcglobal.net

My Aunt Emma lived in a sawmill. She inherited it from her husband. They owned 70 acres on a hilltop in West Virginia. They had the logging rights to the trees in a nearby cemetery and they got a yearly fee from the cemetery association for the use of their driveway, which was the only way funeral processions could enter the graveyard.

Aunt Emma once gave me a cannonball. It was part of a grapeshot cluster, which was like a shotgun shell that went in a cannon. They were pretty deadly in the Civil War. Every summer I think of Aunt Emma, because her sawmill house was the hottest, stuffiest, darkest, most Victorian outpost of Hell on the planet. Even though it was the early 1960s, heavy red drapes, damask, crocheted lace doilies and a coal-burning fireplace decorated her living room. It was a time capsule, untouched for 50 years — a tableau of bad taste circa 1922, the year she moved in and married. The only concession to modernity was the Magnavox Color Console TV, which was used only on Sundays when she watched Lawrence Welk.

I’ve never been a summer person. Give me the chill mornings of autumn, the cool gray of a late-spring afternoon. But keep the heat. I’m big, I sweat and I end up looking like William Jennings Bryant at the Scopes monkey trial. So when summer comes, I slow down even more and find ways to keep cool.

There are thousands of summertime drink recipes. Some are cute. Some are classic. And some are weird. One thing about the heat and alcohol is sometimes it’s not healthy. The alcohol in the beer you chug after mowing the grass on a hot day gets in your system quicker, you get buzzed faster and, even though it’s mostly water, a steady diet of beer or any libation will actually increase your chances of dehydration because it acts as a diuretic, taking fluids out of your body. And many summer activities don’t mix with alcohol. Swimming and boating come to mind. As does grilling with real charcoal and lighter fluid, because at my house someone inevitably leaps over the flaming grill whenever a song about fire comes on the radio. It doesn’t matter which one; “Fire,” “Light My Fire,” “Fire on the Mountain,” “I am the God of Hellfire” or “Burning Down the House” all produce the same result. The best fire jumper ever was a short little guy we called Barney Rubble. And the weirdest summer drinks I ever had were served to me by the Lieutenant.

The Lieutenant was a slightly high-strung dude who came from Ayr, Scotland. He was nice, but a total egomaniac. He’d served in the British Army, played pro soccer and “shagged a lot of birds.” I thought it was a hunting term. He once got so loaded at a company picnic that he took his sock off, dipped it in his drink and whirled it around over his head baptizing everyone with toe jam Cosmos. His house was vaguely reminiscent of Aunt Emma’s, done in a style I called Highlander. The couch was Royal Stuart Plaid. The bathroom Clan Campbell green. It was tasteful, like a chav version of Balmoral, but with an air of haughtiness that said “too bad you’re Americans.” But he was generous with the libations.

One muggy night he rolled out a bar cart of Shandies. It was too hot for his collection of deep-throated peaty single-malts and too late for a leathery cool whiskey mixed with sparkling water. So we tried something light.

Shandies are beer drinks. There’s three kinds, but all of them start with half a glass of pilsner beer. Pilsner is a cold, top fermented beer that’s light in color. You can use any light-colored beer or ale, the crisper the better. The traditional Shandie is half beer, half lemonade. It sounds gross, but it’s actually nice. The lemon and hops bring out each other’s sweetness and the fizziness with the lemon is great.

The second Shandie uses half ginger ale. The spicier the better. This is very thirst-quenching, light and not too zombiefying. The third type is my favorite, just because it’s so different that most people won’t even try it. It’s half beer and half tomato juice (don’t use V8). I cheat and squeeze a lemon wedge in. This is a Bloody Mary without the spice, and much less of the punch. Shandies are fun, but not every day. Like withthe Lieutenant, repeated encounters become cloying and tiring.

Here are some wines that go with summer times, food and temperature.

Beringer White Merlot, $4.99: Like a white zinfandel, but just a touch lighter, with a few more tannins. Drank half a carafe of this one while trapped at a picnic where the topic of discussion was corn on the cob.

R. H. Phillips White Zinfandel, $5.99: Has a sparkly flavor. I made fun of this one at a cheap and cheesy wedding reception where my drink choices were this, wine coolers or head to the tavern. Thought I was too good for it, but it’s delicious — light with lemon, tannins and some minerals. Watched three college students polish off two bottles and pick up a bride’s maid.

Girard Russian River Valley Chardonnay, $17.99: Good with barbecue, cheese and hearty foods. Watercress sandwiches won’t stand up to this big wine. Nice for a day of sailing or boating. Had this on a friend’s 35’Egg Harbor. The best thing was that his wife’s top kept coming off when she dove in the water.

A smaller more demure wine would be Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc $15.99. While the Girard Chardonnay is great, this one is just as good, but a touch more subtle. It’s a Fume Blanc, which is the same as sauvignon blanc and it’s more vegetable friendly. And light, fresh summer eating is where it’s at.

Tell Tim your wine stories. You can reach him at tprotzman@sbcglobal.net.


Comments? Thoughts? Discuss this article and more at hippoflea.com


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