I generally watch my booze intake these days. Waking up with a fuzzy head and furry tongue isn’t a good mixer with effervescent children. But one weekend, a while back, I fancied a proper tipple. There being no red wine in the house (due to our austerity measures) I found a slightly-less-than ‘Stella’ Artois.

Reassuring alcohol hit – but the boast of ‘only four ingredients’ rang true. Unless it’s very very cold it’s just another fizzy beer. Not much ‘relevant complexity’ unless you have a skinful. In which case it’s likely the wrong sort.

So I decided to raise the stakes. Enter an unopened bottle of Baileys, bought for one Christmas, dug from the back of a cupboard. No ice, but cream is always nice I thought. Yeeuch. Warm, thick, saccharine sweet gloop. That was the end of booze for the week.

So what of white spirits? This was a stiff in-flight vodka and tonic – on a plane home from a work trip:

Glug, glug
Brain wobble

There is something in the tinkle, the ice cool fizz and the spirit hit which is much more intoxicating, combined, than just the intoxication alone. Dangerous things Gin and Vodka. I reckon they need to be carefully measured and properly rationed or they’ll getcha… So if you’re going to partake of either, you may as well make them the best you can. Cheap is cheerful, but it’s well worth tasting the distillers art.

Enough of the ‘grain’, how about the ‘grape’.

For me you can’t beat a Rioja. Of course French reds are the classic benchmark (albeit I once had French people purring about a cheeky red I tabled – until they found out it was from Down Under). But a half decent Rioja is ‘relevant complexity’ in a glass. Warm crushed red fruit, complex bouquet, smooth on the taste buds, and gently down the hatch. Marvellous.

As a health colleague of mine – once in charge of UK ‘liver policy’ – pointed out, it’s all ethanol in the end. But the point of red wine  – and all quality booze, is ‘relevant complexity’. I’m no connoisseur but I did learn a bit about reds living in France; and on pre-kiddie holidays, in the winelands of South Africa and Australia.

Someone else can write the book (and undoubtedly has), but the combination of grape, terrain, sunshine and rain, packages plain old ethanol in a very beguiling wrapper. Distinguishing your ‘legs’ from your ‘nose’, youth from maturity, new world from old, ‘terroir’ from ‘tinto’ is a life’s work. And one I’m certainly looking forward to – in due moderation.

And that’s before we’ve even started on Whisky (or Whiskey) and the world of ‘Ron’ – darkly latin and silky smooth but that’s a whole new chapter…

Required Drinking

Any old booze spices things up – but ‘relevant complexity’ makes life taste better. I’d live pretty happily on a Desert Island with these three:

Hendrick’s Gin

Scotland’s other spirit, this for me is the best gin of them all. Schweppes Tonic Water, a slice of lemon and lots of ice.

Campo Viejo Reserva

My default tipple of choice, Spain in a glass. Ok it’s mass produced, but you simply can’t go wrong, and the kind people at Campo Viejo once sent me a case of six, when I politely told them I’d had a duff one by email. Lovely people, reliably lovely drink.

Chairman’s Reserve

Keep St Lucia’s island economy afloat and treat yourself a bottle of Chairman’s Reserve. A lovely smooth dark rum, which with a clink of ice cubes and the fizz of coke is the Caribbean in a tumbler.

And if you can’t find the Chairman’s you could do a lot worse than the king of the ‘Rons’… Havana Club – el Ron de Havana. Cuba libré.

For more, follow this blog in the menu to the right and add your own recommendations via ‘comments’ below.

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