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The Wines of Summer
By Jim Clarke

The Fourth of July kicked off summer’s party season, and if you’ve already been to a few shindigs you may already be growing tired of the usual offerings of beer and margaritas. There’s no reason not to throw wine into the mix: whites are the usual summer quaffers, but rosés are on the rise and there are even some reds that lend themselves to drinking under the hot summer sun. Here’s a list of some of my faves for summer party wines; they’re all reasonably priced ($10-15/bottle) making them suitable for big events or a wine-by-the-glass program.

1. Jurtschitsch “GruVe” Grüner Veltliner 2003 Grüner Veltliner is Austria’s pride and joy, a native grape that’s spearheading their winemaking renaissance. Several different bottlings of the grape take pride of place in the Jurtschitsch portfolio, alongside Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and several other grapes;the wild GruVe label, reminiscent of a Jackson Pollock painting, tells you this is their wine to party with. This white is rich with mineral, peach, and floral aromas, with a streak of white pepper that is Grüner Veltliner’s calling card. GruVe is light-to-medium bodied, with refreshing but not searing acidity. A perfect match for many Indian dishes, it’s also the wine that springs to mind when I take part in an esteemed NYC tradition: hot dogs from a street vendor, slathered in mustard and sauerkraut (owing to local laws, this pairing can be tricky to execute).

2. Niebaum Coppola “Sofia” Blanc de Blancs 2003 If you’re picnicking and don’t want to pack along a champagne flute, how about some sparkling wine…from a can? As a tribute to his daughter Sofia (director of last year’s Lost In Translation) owner Francis Ford Coppola has re-packaged his sparkling wine in hip, pink cans, complete with a flexi-straw. The wine inside is made from Pinot Blanc plus a touch of Muscat and Sauvignon Blanc; aromas of passionfruit and peach evolve into lemon and tangerine on the palate. It’s a natural companion to sushi or strawberries, but this sparkler also suits clubbing or lying around watching Sex and the City on DVD with the air-conditioning on.

3. Goisot St. Bris 2002 The crisp, clean character of Sauvignon Blanc has always lent itself to summer, whether it’s the fruity flavors of Marlborough New Zealand or grassy, minerally Sancerre. France recently elevated another Sauvignon Blanc appellation to AOC status (France’s highest designation, over VDQS and Vin de Pays); celebrate their promotion by checking out Goisot’s 2002 bottling. The appellation’s proximity to Chablis comes through; chalky minerality is balanced by notes of lemon curd and a touch of grassiness, while the high-acidity makes your mouth water for the next sip. Open one to accompany a salad or a sampling of New England’s up-and-coming artisanal goat cheeses.

4. Basa Rueda 2003 A decade or two ago the Rueda appellation, in Castilla-Léon, Spain, began turning away from strong, sherry-like wines toward a more youthful, fresh character based on the native Verdejo grape plus grapes from more recent plantings of Sauvignon Blanc. Basa has added a touch of another native, Viura, to create a daringly aromatic wine redolent of flowers, melon, grapefruit, and grass; it’s slightly tamer in the mouth, but with a tangy, high-acid finish. Despite its source in the interior of the Iberian peninsula, it’s a knockout with shrimp and other shellfish.

5. Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel 2001 I certainly wouldn’t deny barbecue fans a Zinfandel to accompany them when they’re grilling. Along with his higher-end Vineyard-Designate wines, winemaker Joel Peterson also releases a well-priced blend that captures what Zinfandel is all about. Lots of fruit comes through, especially cherries and raspberries, tempered by touches of vanilla, mint, and spice. Pop one open and slather on the sauce.

6. Bonny Doon Dry Pacific Rim Riesling 2003 This Riesling blend is a great value from another of California’s most respected winemakers, Randall Grahm. Stretching beyond the definition of Pacific Rim, this wine includes fruit from California, Washington, Germany, and Austria; it’s an oddball mix of sources that only someone from the West Coast would come up with. The 2003 vintage in Europe was a hot one, lending richness to the wine, which tackles the nose with aromas of tropical fruit, melon, and pear. It’s still a Riesling, however, so it retains a tartness and won’t weigh you down in the hot sun. This is a brilliant match with all sorts of crab, or, for that matter, a beachball.

7. R.H. Phillips Toasted Head Chardonnay 2002 When you do want to turn to something richer, look for the bottle with the fire-breathing bear on the label. R.H. Phillips’ “Toasted Head” brand represents good value across the board, and this California Chardonnay is as shameless and over-the-top as a summer bikini. It shows a lot of flesh: tropical fruits and pear on top, with lots of butterscotch and vanilla holding it up. Serve this wine with chicken or bring it to a luau. It may be a bit in-your-face, but summer isn’t the time for subtleties.

8. Chivite Gran Feudo Rosado 2002 After a long exile in the wake of mass-produced White Zinfandel, rosés are back with a vengeance. Producers themselves have upped the stakes, creating pink wines with complexity and style. In Spain, Chivite is a frontrunner, shaking up Navarra’s traditional rosados (i.e. rosés) with this lively take. The Gran Feudo Rosado sports classic strawberry and white pepper aromas along with notes of red currants and wild berries. It has more presence in the mouth than you’d expect and a touch of tannins that put some muscle behind the fruit. It’s not too strong for most fish, and lends itself especially to ham.

9. Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino 2003 Wild herbs like sage and fennel dominate the nose, tattooed by a streak of citrus; this wine sings so strongly of arid Mediterranean hillsides that it may take your mind off the summer humidity – it’s a dry heat. Crisp and cleansing, this wine complements seafood magnificently – the desert caravan comes to the port city.

10. Zenato Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2000 Given their climate, the Italians were obliged to figure out how to make summery reds a long time ago. This blend of three native grapes – Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara – plus a slight touch of Sangiovese, makes for a red wine with substance, but as suited to hot weather as a shady tree. A core of sour cherry and red currants is complemented by notes of violets and almonds on the nose; these evolve into cinnamon and light smoky flavors on the palate. The wine is round and lighter-bodied; clear but unobtrusive acidity makes for a clean finish. It’s versatile with food, lending itself in particular to pork, poultry, and Mexican dishes with a tomato base.

 

When you’re filling the kiddy pool full of ice for your next get-together, don’t forget to include a few wine bottles; whether you’re hitting the beach or the backyard, all of these wines should be welcome. And being such great values,

I can tell you,
Your love for them will still be strong,
After the wines of summer have gone.
(apologies to Don Henley).

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 Published: July 2004

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