Why do so many people tend to categorize the wines they intend to open by the season of the year or elect to save them only for specific occasions?
All categories of wine— rosé, sparkling, white, red, sweet, etc. — are truly meant for all seasons, and depending on their style, pair with a variety of cuisine. Rather than these arbitrary limits, our choices should be based on the culinary pairings we are planning, the nature of our entertaining and, most importantly, what we feel like drinking.
Instead, Champagne (and other sparklers) are most often opened for special occasions like the New Years holiday and weddings. Rosé, in the minds of retailers and most consumers, is routinely confined to summer months. White wines are most popular when fish is on the menu and during warmer months; while reds have assumed the role of pairing only with red meat and preferably in cooler (or very cold) months.
Until recently, dry rosés languished for years in the U.S. marketplace but now represent one of the most explosive segments of the market with double digit year-on-year sales increases.
For those interested in a culinary adventure, you will find these wines as perfect accompaniments for a wide range of interesting dishes from hors d’oeuvres through the main course. Given their inviting bright colors from a very pale pink of the Provence styles to richer/deeper shades of the Tavel styles, they are a delight to observe in the glass and a joy to drink. And with many varietals and blends available, countless examples are readily obtainable to tantalize our taste buds throughout the year.
Yet unfortunately, conventional wisdom and market forces have largely relegated these wines to summertime enjoyment. I always keep rosés in the cellar year-round, and with a little less chill I find them even more enjoyable in fall and winter. At these “cellar” temperatures, they are more on the richer side and pair well with a range of savory cool-weather dishes.
Sparkling wines now originate from most of the world’s heralded wine-producing countries, and quality examples can be found 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.
In addition to christening a ship, toasting a wedding and kicking off the new year, sparklers shine all year round. Whether the style is a rosé, brut, blanc de blanc, blanc de noirs 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.
White wines offer us some of the most varietally characteristic and versatile choices found anywhere in the vinous world. In cooler months I tend to enjoy more robust examples of Chardonnay or the richer offerings from the Southern Rhone Valley. During warmer months, my tastes gravitate towards more delicate aromatic wines such as Arneis, Verdelho, Chenin Blanc, Torrantes, Riesling or a spicy Gewürztraminer as they pose a better complement to the season’s lighter cuisine.
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But that doesn’t mean they should be shelved as temperatures cool and cuisine becomes more substantial. In any season, there’s always a place for these lighter whites with the appropriate dish. The same is true of the more mineral Chardonnays in spring and summer that pair beautifully with a chilled corn chowder or other warm- weather fare.
When most people think of reds, bold Napa Cabernets, higher-alcohol Zinfandels and more tannin-driven Barolos may initially come to mind as the cooler months of fall and winter seem to better fit the model. But how about a classic Pinot Noir that is well suited for all seasons, Grenache that is now gaining a strong and multi-purpose persona, Sangiovese or cool climate Merlot for year-round enjoyment?
For a real surprise, try a lightly chilled Cru or Villages (not Nouveau) Beaujolais or Dolcetto for a winter intermezzo or summer main course. And don’t forget Pinot Noir with a grilled salmon (yes, red with fish), Zinfandel with barbcue ribs in the summer, a delightful Chianti with almost anything (regardless of the outside temperature) and a more elegantly styled Cabernet with grilled chicken and veggies at the picnic table.
Sweet wines also cross over the barriers of seasonality and pairings. From the lightest and most elegant Old World Rieslings and Gewürztraminers—dry or with a touch of sweetness—to their far sweeter siblings, there is a range of flavor and appeal to suit any occasion. Sweeter examples (e.g. Auslese, Vendage Tardive) perfectly pair to the right dessert while drier or semi-sweet styles (e.g. Trocken, Kabinett, Spatlese) will enhance any spicy Asian dish or even a Bavarian bratwurst.
The multi-faceted personalities of Sauternes and Barsac (botrytized Savingnon Blanc and Semillon) are best demonstrated at the beginning of the meal when complementing the classic pairing with foie gras to enhance its savory nature or by showcasing their elegance at the end with a stylish apple tarte tatin.
The Port wines of Portugal’s Duoro Valley symbolize a classic presentation of sweet red wines that are crafted in a variety of styles to fit various roles at the table. Ruby Ports and some 10-Year Tawnys are perfect before the meal or just a tasty treat anytime. 20-Year, 30-Year and 40-Year Tawnys, along with vintage dated Cohleitas. are wonderful to sip and savor after a dinner meal in any season.
Because of their unbridled intensity, Vintage Ports may be considered an exception. They are best in the cooler weather months while sitting in front of a fire with walnuts and a bit of Stilton cheese. If you’re not following this English tradition, feel free to enjoy a glass with friends after the meal or on its own.
Wine has weathered many opinions over the millennia while satisfying the tastes and traditional preferences for countless cultures in so many ways. I suggest you forget any preconceived ideas you may have heard regarding wines for specific seasons and celebrations. Just enjoy wine as the exhilarating beverage it is.