Finally, finally, winter has released its grasp and the weather is warm and sunny, trending toward summer. We’re back outside for sports, picnics, walks, and, most importantly, relaxing by the pool! We’re firing up the grill and getting ready for the first harvests from the garden. What shall we drink?? Let’s venture into some new ideas about refreshing pairings and wines that fit the season. Let’s explore some alternatives to the traditional Chardonnay and Southern Hemisphere Sauvignon Blanc.
Alternative White Wines
There are so many white wines to choose from that are wonderful to explore this time of year. Let’s start with the whites that we don’t usually reach for. Most of these choices for summer wines are Old World wines because the alcohol content is usually lower and, therefore, easier to enjoy in warmer weather. Let’s begin with some whites from the Loire Valley, west of Paris. Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé are some of the world’s finest interpretations of the Sauvignon Blanc varietal, less herbaceous, less citrusy than the New Zealand versions. These wines are wonderfully food friendly. Pair them with tart cheeses, such as fresh goat cheese, and fruits, such as peaches, plums and with almonds. From the central Loire valley, comes the Chenin Blanc, notably Vouvray, which can be still or sparkling and dry to semi sweet. The drier versions of this wine have a floral, nutty flavor with fruity characteristic. They are rich in texture, but with refreshing acidity. Pair these wines with light fare such as salads, vegetables, white fish and goat cheese. From the Rhone Valley, two varietals stand out: Picpoul de Pinet and Voignier. Wonderfullly light, palate cleansing and refreshing, Picpoul is made to pair with porch swings, pools and conversation. Viognier, on the other hand, is medium to full bodied, with a floral aroma and is lightly apricot-like, with low acidity. Pair this wine with fish, fruit or Asian dishes such as Pad Thai with chilies. Last, but not least from France are my personal favorites, the Sauvignon Blancs from Bordeaux. These wines lack the citrus flavor of their cousins from New Zealand. These wines are minerally, crisp, clean and are often blended with Sémillion. Pair these with chicken or fish dishes.
Dry white wines from Germany are also interesting choices in the summer. Dry Rieslings are a great option as they pair with Asian dishes such as Thai green curry and . . . wait for it. . . VANILLA ICE CREAM!!!!! Gewürztraminer, from the western section of Germany and Alsace region of France, is a deep-colored, full bodied, soft wine with aromas and flavors of roses and lychee fruit. Pair this wine with Asian and spicy foods. Grüner Veltliner is an Austrian varietal that has complex aromas and flavors that are spicy, minerally, and rich in texture. This is a food friendly wine that pairs with sushi, smoked salmon, roast chicken and salads.
From Spain, Albarino and Vino Verde are good summer whites. Albarino is an aromatic grape from the northwest corner of Spain, the region known as Rias Baixas. It is a crisp, medium-bodied, unoaked white. Pair this wine with shellfish, prawns, langostino, and mussels. Vino Verde is produced in both Spain and Portugal. The name means “green wine” and has a slightly greenish tint. This wine is wonderful with grilled fish and seafood.
Last, but not least, Gavi from the Piedmont region in Italy is a crisp, floral, peachy wine that compliments herby pastas, such as pesto, white fish and vegetables.
Don’t forget about red wines just because it’s hot outside! There are great light bodied reds that are wonderful in the summer when served lightly chilled! Again, these are often Old World wines, because the alcohol content is lower. French red Burgundies, which are exclusively Pinot Noir, are more nuanced, lighter and more elegant than their earthy cousins from Oregon. The classic pairing for this wine is grilled salmon, but it is also beautiful with grilled pork and fruit. From a neighboring region, Beaujolais, lightly chilled, has notes of violets, blueberries, and loamy potting soil. This wine pairs well with appetizers, mature cheeses, and roast pork. From the southern part of the Loire Valley, Chinon, made from Cabernet Franc, is an excellent light to medium bodied wine that is fruity and lively, with aromas and flavors of raspberries and wild strawberries. The dry undertow makes this wine perfect for grilled pork and other meat dishes. Grenache based wines from both the south of France and the northeastern corner of Spain are fruity, soft and easy to drink. They do not require food, but complement veal, pork, chicken and grilled meats.
Italy also has its own wonderful wines that work well in summer. Given the climate of the country that is hardly surprising. Chianti, from the Sangiovese grape, can be a great summer wine. The lighter versions of this wine are dry and slightly spicy, making it the perfect pairing for barbeque, grilled chicken and grilled fish. Secco (dry) Lambrusco has flavors of blueberries, and sour cherries; it is creamy and slightly bubbly. It is wonderful with cold meats, such as salami and prosciutto and also pizza. Valpolicella, (basic, not the Ripassa) and its little brother, Rosso del Veronese are from the Veneto region of Italy. Veronese is lighter and pairs with fish, seafood, light meat entrées, pasta and pizza. Valpolicella is a perfect accompaniment to grilled steak and grilled summer vegetables, such as eggplant, squash, onion, and peppers.
Dry rosé has been the summer wine for centuries in the South of France and in northern Italy. It is the perfect poolside drink. These wines now come from many regions in many parts of the world and can be made from any number of varietals. The flavor profile can vary dramatically from extraordinarily light, to much more substantial depending on the varietal and the vinification. Enjoy these wines with, or without food, especially seafood and light summer fair.
White wines in summer should be served very cold. Rosé wines should be chilled, but not as ice cold as the whites. Red wines in summer should be slightly chilled. Keeping wine cold in the summer is a challenge. If you are serving wine outside, keep the bottle in a wine cooler or container with ice. Rather than put ice in the glass with wine, frozen grapes or strawberries, will keep the wine cold without diluting it.
Whatever wine you choose this summer, enjoy!
Written by Pat Daniel. Permission to publish by Columbus & the Valley Magazine.