Short and sweet
Here's a convenient truth: Global warming, global schwarming, whatever the cause of it is, it's still too darn hot.
With the temperatures hereabouts rising well into the 90s lately (that's the 30s to the rest of the world), and little relief in sight, it's no coincidence that I've been tasting a disproportionate amount of cool, refreshing summer wines, from sparkly Prosecco to crisp, cold rosé.
This is no time for roast beef and Barolo, so we turn instead to the refreshers, two cooling draughts that I call short (for their very low alcohol content) and sweet for their fresh-fruit sugars that, happily, come across as crisp and refreshing as fresh fruit juice.
The white wine, Moscato d'Asti ("Mos-CAH-toe DAHS-tee"), is a cousin of the familiar Asti Spumante (nowadays usually seen as just-plain Asti). It's made from the Moscato (Muscat) grape, an ancient and widespread variety that's exceptionally aromatic - usually showing distinct and characteristic scents of peaches, apricots and grapefruit - and almost invariably made sweet and fizzy, although it can range from the light prickly carbonation that the Italians call "frizzante" to a more bubbly carbonation ("spumante"). Moscato rarely comes with a Champagne-style cork and wire cage, but is generally produced in a heavyweight bottle with a tight-fitting cork that expands into a cone shape when it comes out of the bottle.
Today's red is a rare bird, produced and exported in relatively limited quantities, but if you have an adventurous spirit, it's well worth seeking out. Brachetto d'Acqui ("Bra-KET-toe Dah-KEE") is made from the Brachetto grape in the Monferrato region, just down the road from Barolo and Barbaresco. Like Moscato, it's usually frizzante or spumante, but it's not usually as sweet, qualifying as "semi-secco" or "half-dry," a light sweetness that barely shows against crisp acidity and sparkling bubbles. Its signature aroma is strawberries, juicy and fresh, although I admire it as much for an unusual complexity that adds in pleasant medicinal and herbal notes and a light bitterness that remind me of Campari and similar aperitifs. (Candor compels me to confess that my long-suffering bride does not share my affection for Brachetto. She likens it to a warm, flat Coke. You have been warned.)
As noted, both Brachetto and Moscato are very low-alcohol wines, usually produced at 5.5 percent alcohol, well below half the strength of typical table wines, which makes it easy to quaff them as a cooling summer aperitif. They do still contain alcohol, though, so if you're driving, take care.
They're most often drunk cold, without meals, as summer cocktails, but in pursuit of my theory that slightly sweet, fizzy wines go exceptionally well with fiery fare, I poured both with a hot-and-spicy Western Chinese cool salad, "hacked" chicken with cucumbers, and thought both served reasonably well.
Marenco 2004 "Pineto" Brachetto d'Acqui ($19.99)
Clear, fairly light cherry red; a quick froth drops back, leaving a few bubbles around the rim. Subtle but pleasant cranberry aromas carry over to a tart-sweet red-berry flavor with prickly carbonation and a distinct, pleasant herbal-bitter character in the finish. It reminds me more than a little of a Campari and soda, and I like that. Lightweight 5.5% alcohol makes it a winner for summer sipping, and subtle complexity elevates it well above mere "pop" summer wines. U.S. importer: VIAS Imports, NYC (July 28, 2006)
Here's the importer's fact sheet on Marenco Brachetto: http://www.viaswine.com/regioni/schedaProdotto.asp?vino=171
Find the wine online on Wine-Searcher.com:
Batasiolo 2004 "Bosc d'la Rei" Moscato d'Asti ($13)
This clear, pale-gold wine pours with a frothy mousse that soon falls back, leaving no visible bubble stream but a sense of prickly carbonation on the tongue. Fresh grapefruit and peach aromas lead into a sweet peach flavor that evokes peach nectar, but it's light-bodied, and crisp acidity keeps it refreshing. A soft drink for grown-ups, relatively low (5.5%) alcohol invites quaffing. U.S. importer: Boisset America, Bardstown, Ky. (July 28, 2006)
The Flash-heavy Batasiolo Website is available in your choice of Italian, English, German, Portuguese or Spanish: http://www.batasiolo.com/index.htm
The winery Website provides a world-wide list of distributors:
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This week on WineLoversPage.com
Some highlights of recent articles on WineLoversPage.com that I hope you'll enjoy:
Italian Wine Guide: Brachetto
Bucko's Wine Reports: Summer 2006 Releases
Hot topics in our WineLovers Discussion Groups
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Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Fruit bomb! (July 28, 2006)
A rosé is a rosé ... not! (July 26, 2006)
Zork! (July 24, 2006)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Spiced duck for Pinot (July 27, 2006)
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Monday, July 31, 2006