Sparkling: Piper Heidsieck NV Brut Cuvée
The first time I bought a bottle of Piper it was a money–driven decision — their prices are quite good for Champagne — but since then I’ve returned to it each summer or any other time I want a sparkler that’s not too serious, but that does have some real complexity and structure. There’s a delicious fudginess to the house cuvée, complemented by floral, lemon, and brioche notes. It’s got good heft, and it’s quite smooth — probably the most unusual feature in a Champagne at such a reasonable price.
Serve with: scallops Greg Reeves’ Diver Scallops with Red Kuri Squash
More Champagne: Ed McCarthy Interview
White: Ponzi Vineyards Arneis 2006, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Arneis is one of the many indigenous varietals that dot the Italian peninsula; while many of them can produce quality wines, few have ever received much attention from winemakers abroad. However, the Ponzi family’s Italian ancestry (and a visit to Vietti, in Piedmont, whose own Arneis is certainly notable) provoked their interest, and today Ponzi is the only producer in Oregon to grow the grape. The nose of the 2006 is surprisingly tropical, with a pineapple note offset by more floral aromas. On the palate some almond and honey notes also appear; the wine is medium–bodied, soft, but still refreshing.
Serve with: catfish Norman Van Aken’s Catfish with Peanuts, Green Onions, and Bacon
More Oregon Wines: The Willamette Valley
Red: Francis Ford Coppola ‘Director’s Cut’ Zinfandel 2005 Dry Creek Valley, California
The Director’s Cut series is a new addition to the Coppola portfolio, made in the winery recently acquired from Chateau Souverain. Part of the premise is that the series allows the winemaker to do his own thing (hence the name); the other goal was to produce something in the $20–$30 range, retail. This a blind–taster’s dream; with its weight, big fruit — cherry, raspberry, boysenberry — and touches of clove and vanilla, there’s little chance of mistaking it for much besides California Zinfandel.
Serve with: grilled meats, especially game, like Mark Miller et al’s Coriander–Cured Beef Tamales with Barbecue–Onion Marmalade
More Zinfandel: Ravenswood
Dessert: Navarro Cluster Select Late Harvest Riesling 2003 Anderson Valley, California
California’s winemakers, on the whole, rarely give dessert wines the same sort of attention they receive in much of the Old World. (In fact, it seems that only the British predilection for Port and the like drives any New World interest in sweet wines, the Commonwealth countries of Australia, South Africa, and Canada having solid reputations in that department.) However, given their interest and ability with Riesling and Gewurztraminer, it was probably inevitable that Navarro would find a talent for dessert. Superbly floral and honeyed on the nose, the fruit comes through on the palate with notes of peach and melon. It’s sweet, but cleansing acidity keeps the finish fresh and not cloying.
Serve with: Summer fruits Lisa Scruggs’ Angelfood Cake with Peach Chutney
More from Northern California: Humboldt Brewing
Sake: Moriko Junmai Daiginjo Kaoritsuru, Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan
Normally I’d be talking beer, but sometimes other sorts of brewing can be more refreshing in the summer heat. That said, though, this is one of those sakes that lives up to the name “rice wine” — inaccurate though it is. I say that because of its complexity; while in some sakes one aroma can dominated the others, the Moriko has a really well–balanced mix of aromas. The fruit side offers a touch of melon and peach, but there’s also a great streak of minerality and a hint of mint and spice. It’s a lighter sake, and not too sweet, finishing cleanly.
Serve with: Ceviche Stephan Pyle’s Ecuadorian Shrimp Ceviche
More from Japan (beer, in fact): Hitachino Nest
Spirit: Pernod, France
Why are so many of our anise–flavored liquors too sweet? Each summer I reach a point where I want something different as an aperitif, and it usually turns out to be Pernod and water. I even like the way it turns cloudy — I remember a server once apologizing for it — not being familiar with Pernod, she assumed there was something wrong with the restaurant’s water, and had remade my drink three times trying to get it to stay clear. Being relatively dry compared to cousins like Sambuca, Pernod is better balanced on its own — refreshing without the caffeine of an espresso.
More on Pernod: Harold McGee