Summer de-lights
© by Linwood Slayton

Summertime! The living is said to be easy and I tend to prefer my wines to be a little easier, softer and refreshing. I do so love and enjoy the longer summer days and starlit evenings when I can just kick back, relax and chill and enjoy a bottle of something light, with or without food.

Make no mistake now, I do enjoy a good bottle of Chardonnay. I tend to prefer the more full-bodied Chardonnays with lots of oak and color. I also have learned that I prefer my Chardonnays less cold than most folks as too much chill will kill the taste for me. But in the summertime, I find myself opting more and more for something a little different. Yes, I still enjoy my reds in the summer and lean towards the lighter reds especially Pinot Noir which I also like to drink slightly chilled. But when I say different in this context, I am talking about other lesser-known and white wines.

So, let's journey down a slightly different wine path and look at some alternative white wines that are often misunderstood, confusing to some and significantly under-appreciated by many. Some of my favorite summer "de-lights" are Pinot Gris, Pinot Grigio and Riesling.

Is it Gris or Grigio? Lots of folks assume these are one and the same and essentially interchangeable other than the country or place of origin. Actually, "Grigio" is the Italian word, "Gris" is French (it's "Gray" in English). We are talking about two distinctly different manifestations of the grape - both cousins of the red Pinot Noir.

Pinot Grigio is Italian in origin and presently grown in California as well. These wines are typically acidic, citrusy and crisp, low in alcohol and light in body. Gris grapes hail from France in the Alsace region and are known for their floral and mineral character. Gris tends to be fuller in body and works well with most foods. These wines are excellent alternatives to Chardonnays and tend to be much lighter and easier when drinking just for drinking's sake.

New Zealand, Oregon and Washington State produce some very good Pinot Gris which has the distinctive fruity essence (apple, pineapple, lemon, peach) along with a unique mineral taste akin to what one writer aptly describes as "essence of wet sidewalk".

Another compelling feature or characteristic of Pinot Gris wines is the price - good selections are readily available in the $10-$15 range, and when you spend $20, you can expect to get a high quality bottle. Thus when we are talking about sipping and chilling on long summer nights with friends and loved ones, this price range makes a lot of sense to me!

A word or two on Rieslings is in order. Lots of folks erroneously believe that Rieslings are sweet. Some are lots are not! One of the interesting and unique features of Rieslings is the range from sweet to dry. Newcomers to Rieslings need to inquire of their wine merchant when seeking drier or sweeter selections.

Back in "the day" about 30 years ago I thought I had "arrived" and was on "top of my wine game" as I discovered and learned to love Blue Nun. Didn't you just love that sleek blue bottle with the classy nun on it. It seemed almost sinful to like something called Blue Nun. This was, in fact, a Riesling from Germany and it led me to experiment with and enjoy other German wines - wines from Piesport, wines rated Kabinett and Spatlese, - running the gamut from dry to sweet.

Traditionally a German wine, Riesling is also produced in Alsace (which borders Germany along the Rhine and also produces Pinot Gris) as well as Oregon, Washington, California. Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Drier Rieslings are characterized by a lighter color of straw, lots of fruit flavors from apricots to apple to citrus. Most Rieslings that are drier and less sweet tend to match well with spicy Pacific Rim, Asian and Thai food selections. Like the Gris and Grigios, Rieslings are also moderately priced and provide excellent value for dollars spent.

So, as the summer winds down and Indian summer emerges, dare to do it a little differently. Change is good! Allow your palate and taste buds to evolve. Expand your wine horizons and invite your friends to do the same with alternative whites. Take the path not well traveled but deservedly worth the journey.


August 11, 2003

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