WineLine No. 12
As our correspondent fights the summer doldrums with wines worth looking for, if not thinking about (read on, you'll know what I mean ...)
Ah, those lazy, hazy, crazy days ... Summer, whether oppressively hot and humid or delightfully sunny and pleasant, has a way of diminishing ambition and kicking our (or at least my) engines into low gear. Compound that with writer's block, a squealing toddler and a strew of mediocre wines and the problem of deciding what to write about only gets worse.
Recent disappointments chez Mac have included an oxidized "reserve" Pinot Blanc from a reputable Alsace producer, a corked bottle of rosé and a dreadful Sauvignon Blanc from Greece purchased in an impulsive binge of experimentation. (The retailer said it was Sauvignon Blanc; the lovely label had no English, only Greek and the puzzling "Produit de Grece" in French.) Then there was a slew of unfortunate closeouts from a favorite retailer that served only to prove that you do, sometimes, get what you pay for. There's a reason most wineries do not make a varietal Negrette. At least my kitchen drain was happy, if not my palate.
These mishaps have led me to return to the tried and true of Summer Sippers: Dry to off-dry fruity whites, crisp rosés and light reds. While the summer issues of Wine Spectator and the other magazines are still featuring heavy Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons and bemoaning the price of Bordeaux futures, I flip the pages while sipping a Riesling from the Finger Lakes and chuckling at the market's tunnel vision that glorifies a limited array of wines in the vast variety that's out there.
What do we want in a summer wine? Something "cerebral," as The Washington Post called Albariño this week? Not me, though I love that grape. Something profound, scoring at least 90 points in two or more major wine publications? Only if we're trying to impress someone. Here's a novel concept: how about something refreshing, maybe even "fun"?
How about a Riesling, a Chenin Blanc, or an aromatic Gewurztraminer to perk up the senses after a hard day at the office and long commute home? How about a slightly chilled - "gasp!" say the wine geeks - Beaujolais with that pasta and fresh tomato-basil sauce? Or that cheese, or even that grilled sausage?
Riesling has its advantages beyond the patio. I've enjoyed Firestone's offering in a Chinese restaurant in Wheaton and as a by-the-glass charmer at an Italian trattoria in Frederick. Whoever markets that one in Maryland has smarts.
Earlier this year, I immersed myself in New York wines for two projects, including features for the nearly late, lamented WineToday.com. The Finger Lakes is a region to watch for a variety of reasons (varietal of reasons?) The reputation is for Rieslings as a hardy, sweetish variety that can withstand the northern climes, but currently the vintners there are doing their best work with reds. No, not Pinot Noir, though there are several good ones, but Cabernet Franc and even a few rogue Merlots.
But we shouldn't neglect those Rieslings. Finger Lakes Riesling, even those marked "Dry", is not going to slash your palate with razor-sharp acidity like the trocken bottlings from the German producers that are gaining the attention of cerebral wine writers. And the labeling, though not in German, can be confusing. There is no standard definition to be discerned of "dry" or "semi-dry", and some are just labeled "Riesling." Hermann Wiemer's delicious "Late Harvest" Riesling may disappoint if you open it with dessert; but think "Spatlese" and serve it up with a pork roast and you'll be delighted. For petrol fans, Wiemer's Reserve bottling may have you checking the back label for octane content.
In general though, these wines offer pleasant quaffs to wash away your blues or wash down your picnic. My favorite producers include Fox Run, Silver Thread, Anthony Road, Swedish Hill and its sister winery Goose Watch, Hermann J. Wiemer and Dr. Konstantin Frank. (For more info on New York wines and wineries, check out the way-cool web page of the NY Wine and Grape Foundation at http://www.nywine.com.)
"One Barrel of Wine Can Work More Miracles Than a Church full of Saints""
- Italian proverb on the back of my t-shirtHere are some more "Summer Sippers" to lighten your step:
Hans Lang 2000 Riesling Trocken. Lang makes some of those palate-searing Rieslings, but this one does not need years in the bottle to settle down and unfurl its charms. Soft, well-balanced and delightfully refreshing, and at $11 for a full liter bottle, a steal.
Prieuré Saint-Hippolyte 2000 Coteaux du Languedoc. My house pick for this summer's rosé has everything I'm looking for: vibrant cherry fruit, good acidity and decent length. Friendly to foods and, at $8, to the wallet, too.
Domaine Gibault 2000 Touraine Val de Loire. At $8, this modest Sauvignon Blanc blows away most Sancerre at twice the price. Boldly flavored and proud of its varietal character, this will last well into the colder months to pair with goat cheeses and seafood.
Jacky Piret 1999 Beaujolais "La Combe." Why do wine geeks diss Beaujolais? A Georges DuBoeuf backlash, perhaps? Not cerebral enough, maybe. Well, I'm tired of thinking about it, but I can't tire of drinking this delicious wine. It's food-friendly Gamay at its best, sure to turn your backyard into a bistro with the pop of a cork.
To contact Dave McIntyre, write McIntyreWineLine@yahoo.com