WHEN Shanghai Daily food and wine writer Ruby suggested I write this week’s column about wine and rain, I was somewhat perplexed. Over the past several decades of writing on wines and other topics I’ve never broached the subject of wine and rain. Nonetheless, with the plum rain season officially upon us I realized the idea had merit and set about developing an appropriate angle.
Plum rain season
Many years ago on a very rainy June morning, I first set foot in Taiwan. It continued to rain for weeks and I must confess I had second thoughts about my move halfway around the world. Later I would learn about and annually experience the plum rain which is a semi-permanent convergence zone that saturates much of southeast China, including Shanghai, in rain for several weeks. So how can we best survive the seemingly endless rainy days? Other than sleeping, drinking wine is about the best solution. Here are seven splendid ways to enjoy wine on rainy days.
Cook up a storm
Inclement weather makes staying home a natural option, and what’s more fun to do at home than cooking? There’s not much else to do so you have ample time to cook something special. Good ideas include slow-cooked stews, big roasts, or if you desire something lighter, a large salad with cheeses and cold meats. Remember to cook with wine and drink wine as you cook. The food will taste better and you’ll be happier. One palate-pleasing rainy day dish is beef bourguignon, or beef in Burgundy sauce as we say in English. Half the bottle is for the sauce while the other half is for you.
Watch a movie
Movies and wines are natural companions. Drinking a wine related to the movie can help you become more intimately involved with characters and theme of the movie. Two great old movies are the 1942 classic “Casablanca” and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1946 thriller “Notorious.” These two all-time-greats feature well-developed characters and compelling story lines, as well as some great wines.
The wine of choice for “Casablanca” is Champagne, as it is consumed throughout the movie by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. The most appropriate brand would be Vueve Cliquot because in a key scene the suave French Captain Renault recommends a 1926 Veuve Cliquot to German Major Strasser. You may not be able to find a 1926 vintage but there are plenty of younger vintages available in Shanghai. Bergman also stars in “Notorious” alongside Cary Grant and together they enjoy a Premier Cru Volnay. Excellent Volnay reds are easy to find, with those made by the producer Domaine de Montille particularly standing out.
More modern movies featuring wines include the James Bond flick “Casino Royale” with Chateau Angelus, a superb Saint Emilion red wine, and “Jurassic Park: The Lost World,” where the prestige cuvee Champagne Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque is enjoyed among terrifying prehistoric monsters.
Plan a wine trip
When it rains you’ve got time on your hands, so why not surf the net and start planning a wine trip? Every wine lover should experience the beauty and thrill of visiting the world’s great wine regions. It’s the best way to learn about wines in general, and regional wine in particular. You’ll discover that wine is much more than a liquid; it’s a lifestyle replete with history, culture, gourmet food and splendid scenery. I’m fortunate to have traveled to many of the world’s most famous wine regions, and those I most highly recommend include Tuscany, probably the most beautiful; Bordeaux, full of history and great wines; Burgundy, especially if you love Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; and Jerez a quaint ancient Spanish city that combines Christian and Islamic influences and makes the incomparable fortified wine Sherry.
Hold a virtual wine tasting
Enjoying wines with close friends without even getting dressed or leaving the house is a simple pleasure for a rainy day. Sure, it takes some advance planning as everyone should taste the same wines but fret not; you most likely have several more weeks of rain to plan. The key is to communicate with friends ahead of time and pick the styles of wines you wish to taste, then wait for a rainy weekend day and go online and enjoy not only the wines but also the company of your closest friends.
Take a bubble bath
So cooking, holding a tasting or planning a trip is too arduous for you? Then why not just take a hot bubble bath with bubbles in both your bath and wine. There are few things more relaxing and reflective that laying back in a hot bubble bath with a delicious sparkler. My bubbly of choice for a hot bath is Prosecco because it is light, fresh and pleasantly fruity. Two of the best producers are Bisol and Carpene Malvolti. A little rain-related music will add to the experience.
Walking in the rain
Perhaps the most romantic thing to do on a rainy day, save a bubble bath for two, is to take a walk in the rain with your lover. Hats are optional but definitely no umbrella as there’s nothing romantic about umbrellas. The idea is for the two of you to get very wet, go home and take a hot shower together and then finally savor the warming effects of a fine fortified wine or brandy. If this doesn’t spark some flames in your relationship, then you definitely have issues.
Buy a wine cabinet
Plum rain season is a perfect time to pop a cork and do some research on buying a wine cabinet. With the advent of summer heat just around the corner this becomes an imperative. If you’re like many people in Shanghai and turn off your air conditioning when you go to work, then the daily fluctuations of room temperature will quickly destroy the wines you keep at home. Unless you’re privileged enough to have a custom-built wine cellar in your home, your best solution is a wine cabinet. Thankfully in China there are numerous affordable, domestically produced models that do a fine job of protecting your wine from the harmful extremes of temperature. Spend only about 3,000 (US$480) to 4,000 yuan and you won’t have to worry about the coming heat ruining your precious wines.