Torrential rain, gale-force winds and an autumnal chill in the air. Welcome to another British summer - a time when our natural inclination to sit outside sipping refreshing drinks and eating vibrant, colourful salads is tempered by the ominous black clouds gathering overhead.
But, despite the distinct absence of sunlight this year, you can still dazzle at the dinner table by choosing the right wines to accompany a wide range of dishes. And, in these budget-conscious times, you'll be pleased to learn that eating and drinking well without breaking the bank is far easier than getting a suntan.
Kir Royale - The Ideal Aperitif
Whatever's on the menu, it's always nice to start proceedings with an aperitif. And, for the perfect combination of fruitiness and refreshing crispness, take inspiration from our Gallic friends across the water and indulge in a Kir Royale.
This popular cocktail of white wine and crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) is perfect at the start of a meal and can turn even the most uninspiring bottle of plonk into a sophisticated summer sparkler. For a rustic variation on this theme, try a Kir Breton and replace the wine with your favourite dry cider. In both cases, add the crème de cassis first and top up with your chosen mixer.
Alternatively, add a tropical twist to your pre-dinner drinks with a mango Prosecco - the combination of this crisp, dry Italian sparkling white wine with the fruit's natural sweetness is sublime.
Wines to Match With Main Courses
Selecting the right wines to go with your starter and main courses depends upon what you're having, but, as a general rule, stick to whites and rosés for salads, chicken, fish and seafood and leave the heavier reds for more robust dishes such as steaks and lasagne.
Spicy foods such as Indian, Thai, Chinese or Mexican go well with crisp whites, such as Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling, while a full-bodied red, such as Merlot or Chianti, is the perfect match for moussaka or a burger from the barbecue.
However, for a red wine that can cosy up with just about any food, it's hard to beat the French grape variety, Pinot Noir. Because it's light in tannins (the substance produced from the skins and seeds of red grapes when fermented), this easy-going companion is at home with a wide range of foods and flavours. Drink it at room temperature or try it slightly chilled as a great accompaniment to white meats, fish and seafood.
Strawberries and Sauternes
Moving on to dessert, Sauternes is a perfect match for strawberries, it's sweetness complementing the fruit perfectly. And, while we're on the subject of strawberries, try adding some shredded basil leaves to this classic summer fruit for a fresh burst of flavour. Fortified sweet wines based on the Muscat grape, often called Muscatel or Moscatel, and are also a good choice with this type of dessert.
For chocolate-based sweet courses, it's back to medium- to full-bodied reds, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, which will match the richness of these desserts perfectly. This is also a good opportunity to rescue that Christmas bottle of vintage port from the drinks cabinet, as you'll find its complex flavours are a superb accompaniment for the bittersweet rapture of the cocoa bean.
With so many offers available on the shelves of UK supermarkets, it's perfectly possible to pick up many of these wines for between £5 and £10.
So, while this summer may be a washout, you'll find the wine aisles are flooded with an extensive range of excellent wines to bring an added dimension to your summer menu - even if it's too cold to eat outside.