WineLine No. 21
Written and © copyright by Dave McIntyre
July 30, 2002

Summertime for summer wine

Dear Friends:

Summertime, and the living is sweaty.

The commute is horrific - stuck on the subway in an unairconditioned car next to someone for whom hygiene is NOT a priority, you wonder why you ever tried to develop a nose for the aromas in wine. Your car is hotter, and steamier, than a bread oven. Every doofus in the county is on the roads, driving SLOWLY, with the apparent purpose of delaying your arrival home. Finally, you pull up in the driveway of the 3-bedroom, 2-car-garage cookie-cutter suburban idyll you once swore you would never own, dash through the humidity to your front door, wave to your spouse, pet your kid and kiss your dog, then, seeking the ultimate relief from the heat, you head out to your patio and ... fire up the grill!

Okay, but there's thirst going round-for-round with your hunger, so what to drink in this ungodly hot weather?

Assuming your choice is wine, think crisp, acidic, unoaked and dry (for whites) and juicy, light and aromatic for reds. Forget the canard that one shouldn't drink red wines between Easter and Labor Day; that's something perpetrated by wine writers grateful that they have an excuse to write about white wines for three months each year while they think up new ideas for columns on the heavy high-alcohol red wines they really care about. The idea that summertime is unsuited to red wines is ridiculous. We need something to wash down those burgers and steaks from the grill, after all. They just might not be the same massive reds we would pair with winter stews and roasts.

As always when choosing wines, think about your purpose in drinking it. Are you slaking that massive thirst when you arrive home and "chill" on the patio? Looking for something with grilled shrimp or fish? Washing down a burger or a dry-aged porterhouse?

Summer can be fun for wine lovers because we can explore little-known appellations and some "forgotten varietals" that are eminently suited for this weather. Spain, for instance, offers several "patio" whites that are dry, crisp and refreshing - just the ticket for cleansing the cares from your palate and sparking your appetite for dinner. Think white Rioja (Marques de Caceres 2000 at $6 is widely available), or look a little farther afield for Rueda. These refreshing whites, made with the Verdejo grape, offer a refreshing alternative to the Chardonnays we're used to. One currently on the market worth seeking out is the Dos Victorias "José Pariente" Rueda Superiore 2000, $12, which offers lush apricot and pineapple flavors with a crisp attack.

Somewhat more substantial, and great with grilled fish or shrimp, look for Chenin Blanc, such as the Dry Creek Vineyard 2001 Clarksburg, ($9) which will make you wonder why California growers keep grafting over this varietal for others. Or think Italian whites. I've long considered "Pinot Grigio" to be the Italian word for "boring," but the Barone Fini 2001 from Trentino ($11) puts the lie to that notion. It's full and long, with some nuances that actually benefit from airing like a red.

Summer is also for rosé. Most wine lovers are thinking beyond White Zinfandel to Spanish Rosado, such as the Conde de Valdemar 2000 ($10). A winery from Penedes with the quizzical name of "1+1=3" (there's a story there somewhere ... I think that guy was in my math class) offers a 2000 Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon ($11) that offers verve, balance and plenty of fruit.

Southern France is rosé country, especially with the Domaine de Fondreche 2001 ($9). Too often we think of rosé as an aperitif, but it is also a perfect match for grilled fish. From the Loire Valley, Domaine Henri Bourgeois "La Porte du Caillou" Sancerre 1999 ($17), a rosé from Pinot Noir, may be the ultimate wine for grilled salmon.

Now about those reds. When the meat comes off the grill, open a red with a slight chill. A few minutes on ice or a half hour in the fridge should do the trick. Try this with the Domaine des Blageurs 2000 Sirah/Syrah ($9) from southern France, imported by California's Bonny Doon winery. This is aromatic Syrah at its best, with violets, fennel, smoke and maybe a hint of juniper. Another Bonny Doon import is the Il Circo "La Violetta" 2000 ($15) from Puglia. Made from the Uva da Troia grape, this wine is spicy and fragrant with herbs and earth.

Forget the heat, and enjoy the cool night. Or at least the air conditioning.

Dave McIntyre

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