The balmy days of spring and summer are here again! Our flash freeze in March, after a particularly warm February, has ushered in a spring and early summer that promise to be a warm start to the season. It’s time to leave the heavy red wines of winter, that were so soothing when it was so cold, and explore some wines to match the foods of the season and the weather!
Think about the foods and activities of the summer: to start with, we are outside so much more of the time, especially now that we are in daylight savings time. In the heat of summer our bodies cannot metabolize the sugar content of sweet wines, and the tannins and high alcohol content in the big red wines of winter are “mouth-parching” by their very nature. Now we are grilling our main courses, and eating summer fruits and vegetables. Our grilling runs the gamut from fish and shellfish to chicken, barbequed pork, and on to the heavier fare of burgers, steaks and lamb. When we pair wines for these foods, we need to consider not only the weight of the food, but also the spices in the marinades and sauces, and the amount of char in the grilling.
Let us begin with the lightest of these food groups: the fish and shellfish. These foods are lovely paired with light white wines, such as an Albarino from Spain. This wine is from the tiny, Rias Baixas region in the northwest corner of Spain. The region is known exclusively for white wines. The Albarino is refreshing and flavorful, with a crisp, creamy texture and is considered to be one of the best matches in the world for seafood. Both Sauvignon Blanc and dry Rieslings are also a good match for seafood and are incredibly flexible. Sauvignon Blancs come from all over the world. The Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire Valley, New Zealand and Austria are know to be the most acidic, and are often described as having strong notes of grapefruit. The Sauvignon Blancs from Bordeaux are often blended with Sémillion, which mellows the wine. These wines have more mineral qualities. The first cousin to Sauvignon Blanc, Fume Blanc, is also a good pairing for these foods. Other great pairings for this group of foods are Gavi from the Piedmont in Italy, which is generally bone dry and crisp; Verdejo from the north central region of Spain, which is
considered one of the best Spanish whites, with notes of bay laurel and bitter almond; and Picpoul de Pinet from the Southern Rhone region of France. Last, but not least, a very light, dry Rosé is a lovely pairing for seafood.
The next category includes richer fish, such as salmon, pork and chicken. The classic pairing for grilled salmon is a Pinot Noir. Many people pair an Oregon Pinot Noir with this fish, although that can be a heavy combination for summer. A lighter Pinot Noir is also lovely, as is a fuller bodied, heavier dry Rosé. For grilled chicken, an unoaked or slightly oaked Chardonnay, or a white wine from the Rhone valley, such as a white Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc are excellent choices. Another interesting pairing for grilled chicken is a Beaujolais. The “cool” thing about this wine is, quite literally, that it is best when served slightly chilled. The classic pairing for grilled pork is a Pinot Noir, but that can be very predictable. Other great, slightly less predictable options include a Croze Hermitage or a Chianti. If you are preparing barbequed pork or chicken, a Carmenère or a Chianti from Italy will hold up to the spice in the sauce.
Our last category contains the heaviest grilling fare of red meats such as steak and lamb. The Spanish and Rhone blends that are Grenache heavy are a wonderful pairing without the higher alcohol content and tannins of the red Zinfandels, Cabernets, and Malbecs that are too heavy for a summer evening meal. Another great wine for these meats is a Spanish Tempranillo from the Rioja Alta or a Grenache based blend from the Priorat. Lamb also pairs beautifully with a cru Beaujolais or a Pinot Noir, but a dry rosé, especially a rosé Champagne is a marvelous summer pairing for this meal.
Enjoy your summer! Enjoy your time in the sun, sharing good food and wine with the ones you love!
Written by Pat Daniel. Permission to publish by Columbus & the Valley Magazine.