With summer comes a whole new range of mealtime and entertainment adventures. Informal outdoor settings, lighter cuisine emphasizing freshness and more delicate dishes served with a gentle touch. So how do these culinary changes affect our choices in wine?
While winter’s cooler weather calls for robust and complex wines to pair with the richer and more intense cuisine of the season, we do not necessarily have to abandon our favorite varietals and blends as we approach the warmer summer months. Rather, we naturally gravitate to the more elegant examples of these and others to enhance our mealtime enjoyment.
Rosés, whites and sparklers often first come to mind for summer, but let’s not forget the opportunity to include many great reds that exhibit various stylistic expressions and are often served with just a bit of chill.
I whole-heartedly agree with recent conventional wisdom that has elevated Rosé to the top of the summertime menu from a point of relative obscurity just a decade ago. They most definitely add a celebratory atmosphere to the table with bright pink colors ranging from the pale tones of France’s Provence to a deeper shade from Tavel in its southern Rhone and even deeper hues often seen from elsewhere including some domestic examples.
Although many associate Rosé with sweeter wines, most today are made from a broad range of varietals in a dry style with lower alcohol, higher acidity and a bundle of fresh fruit on both the nose and palate. They truly are compatible with virtually any course of the summertime menu and a great choice. But definitely not the only one!
The more familiar bolder styles of Chardonnay with higher alcohol, richer texture and possibly a heavy dose of oak may be popular in the colder months with heftier fare, but summer calls for different white wine expressions. Thankfully, your wine merchant’s shelves and your favorite restaurant’s wine list are packed with examples galore (usually at moderate prices) that will not only please your palate and enhance your meal but also encourage your search for additional new discoveries.
Lighter Chardonnays along with tried and true Sauvignon Blancs will strike some familiar chords and complement the season. But why stop there when so many other varietals await your exploration from both familiar and remote wine producing areas around the world and here at home?
Not so long ago, Pinot Grigio was virtually unknown in the U.S. market. It only rose to its current level of extraordinary popularity due to courageous importers and merchants that promoted it to a thirsty and bored wine drinking public. And in the world of wine, exploration is the key to discovery.
Summer is the perfect time to reach out and enjoy some beautiful aromatic whites such as dry Riesling or Gewürztraminer along with Albariño, Verdelho and Torrontés. In your search for just the right white to increase the pleasure of your summertime meal, don’t forget to try Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Semillon, Verdejo, Arneis, Arinto or the very floral Viognier. Other more recognizable choices could be dry Chenin Blanc, Vermentino, Pinot Blanc and Soave Classico.
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While all of these wines and more continue to hail from their Old World homes, most have also found their way to our domestic vineyards (especially California’s Central and North Coasts) where committed growers and talented winemakers are fashioning some outstanding wines with Old World “roots.”
Sparkling wines now originate from most of the world’s heralded wine-producing countries and quality examples can be found at all price levels whether produced by the Méthode Traditionnelle (aka Methode Champenoise in Champagne) or the Charmat Method (aka Metodo Italiano in Italy). Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the driving grapes from many different areas, but indigenous varietals are also used throughout the Old World including Spain’s Cava, France’s Crémant d’Alsace and Italy’s Prosecco.
Even if you’re not christening a ship, toasting a wedding or kicking off the new year, sparklers shine year-round but reach even greater heights on the casual summertime table. Whether the style is a Rosé, Brut, Blanc de Blanc, Blanc de Noirs, Demi-Sec or numerous others typical of their region of origin, sparklers will enhance your meal regardless of the occasion and lend an air of celebration any time the cork pops.
Red wines for summer may be a little trickier as it’s best to stay away from the big, bold and concentrated examples that usually top the critics’ charts. The typical cuisine of summertime is not a good match to higher alcohol, intense tannins and concentrated plum-like fruits that are far better suited to the winter menu of stews, braised meats and heavy sauces.
So, what are my choices as the temperatures rise? And, is a little chilling recommended?
I tend to look for bright flavors, youthful fruit and more elegant styles at this time of year. Two good clues that could quickly set you on the right path are alcohol levels around 14 percent and below along with lighter colors. Beaujolais, either Cru (10 classified appellations) or Villages bottlings and their Gamay Noir sisters from other growing areas, are great summer companions. Also from Italy, you can look for Dolcetto, Valpolicella and Frappato (Sicily).
Other choices include some lighter styled Pinot Noir, Grenache or Sangiovese and for something different, try Lambrusco from Italy or a sparkling Shiraz from Australia.
These reds are often served in summer with a slight chill (about 55 degrees cellar temperature or a little below), but be careful not to go too far. Excessive chilling will overly accentuate the tartness (acidity) and reduce the aromatic and flavor elements. Just a little goes a long way.
Summer should be the most adventurous season when it comes to wine, food and entertainment options. So, don’t be bashful! Step-up for something new and exciting to tantalize your palate and enrich your dining experience.