When it comes to pairings with afternoon tea, you have two options. The first is the obvious one. Have some very nice loose leaf tea that is brewed in a teapot, allowed to settle, and then strained into a bone china cup. This brew will work perfectly with that idiosyncratic meal that falls between lunch and dinner. I have to admit that I never know quite how to work afternoon tea into my day. Not that it's a regular problem. It is a lovely thing, but I am always faced with the dilemma of which meal I should skip. Should it be lunch or dinner? Or tea? And although I've been known to rustle up some pretty nice scones, I have never in my whole life made afternoon tea. But whenever I've indulged in a genteel spot of this Great Bakeoff wonder in somewhere like The Shelbourne Hotel or Hayfield Manor, it has always been a giddy pleasure. Once I was even invited to afternoon tea by a lovely posh neighbour when I was living in England.
But if you're looking for something a little more celebratory than tea, what should you have? It's like ordering wine to go with a whole meal. With an array of savoury snacks, cucumber and salmon sandwiches, scones and tantalising pastries, it is not so much a question of red or white, more what suits the occasion. And I have to admit that my default setting is bubbles which - if you're out - can run up your bill substantially. If you do decide to have an afternoon tea type garden party, which would be absolutely lovely for a celebration like a Christening, there are plenty of options.
You can break sparkling wine down into a few main categories: Prosecco, Cava, Crémant and Champagne, and with that, you get a good price range. Most sparkling wines develop bubbles as a result of a second fermentation. So when a white wine is fully fermented, and could in fact be bottled, it undergoes a second fermentation and this creates bubbles, which are trapped. Prosecco is the lightest, as the second fermentation takes place in a stainless steel tank and it is bottled immediately afterwards, without any ageing. A Prosecco Frizzante is the cheapest option. Because it is semi-sparkling and as it does not have a pressurised cork, it complies with the lower tax rate for still wines. Prosecco Spumante, which has a champagne style cork, falls under the higher rate of tax.
Cava, Crémant and some of the more premium new world sparkling wines, like Polaris from New Zealand, and Jansz from Tasmania, are all made using the Champagne method, which means that the second fermentation happens in the bottle and the wine is aged for some time to give it a more complex flavour profile. There is some great value to be had in these wines, and even if you're not having afternoon tea, they are lovely for a summer touch of spritz.
Every Monday, Fish Shop Benburb Street hosts a weekly wine club from 5pm, opening a few special bottles. This is poured by the glass at very reasonable prices. So if you fancy a glass of grower Champagne with fish and chips, this is a nice little treat. For a taste of Italy, Ely Wine Bar is hosting a Tuscany wine dinner with three Tuscan superstars on June 5, costing €80.
€10.50, 11.5pc, from Marks and Spencer
Aged for at least nine months in the bottle, this Cava, made from a blend of Xarel·lo, Macabeo and Parellada, is fresh and easy drinking with flavours of green apple, citrus and a touch of fennel.
€27.50 approx., 12pc, from Baggot Street Wines, Blackrock Cellars, Fallon & Byrne, Corkscrew, Ely 64 Wines, Redmond's, Liston's, Clontarf Wines, Green Man Wines, all Dublin; MacGuinness Wines, Dundalk; Bradleys, Cork, World Wide Wines, Waterford and Le Caveau, Kilkenny
A biodynamic sparkling wine made from a blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir, this has concentrated flavours of crisp green apple, white peach, greengages and a floral touch of acacia and honeysuckle.
€32 approx, 11.5pc, from Green Man Wines, Ely 64 Wines, Red Island Wines, Clontarf Wines, Dublin
Made from 90pc Pinot Noir and 10pc Chardonnay, this rosé has a generous, creamy texture and is packed with flavours of ripe strawberry and cherry.