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Must-Have Wines for the Summer Holidays

Memorial Day

Independence Day

Labor Day

 

By Jim Clarke

There are certain universal tendencies for summer wine, holiday or no. Chilled, crisp white wines. The sometimes neglected, even chillier sparkling wines. Rosés. Light reds. And nothing too pricy; we want to make the summer last (hence the neglected bubbly, which can quickly outpace still wines at the cash register); we may even stick to wines by-the-glass when we go out. Here’s a holiday-oriented list of wines for your summer by the glass list.

Memorial Day

A holiday to honor and remember those who have died fighting for our country. In the twentieth century, we had two occasions to fight in the winemaking countries of Western Europe. In fact, soldiers who fought in the Italian peninsula during World War II brought back a taste for Chianti and Soave that made those wines the most recognized Italian wines in the U.S. for several decades. Nowadays there are plenty of other Italian wines reaching our shores as well; in fact, Italy is the U.S.’s biggest importer, closely pursued by Australia. Di Majo Norante is based in little-known Molise, not Chianti, but their Ramitello blend of 80% Sangiovese (also Chianti’s main varietal) and 20% Aglianico speaks with a clear Italian accent. The 2002 provides lots of blackberry and licorice aromas, supported by a touch of leather. It’s well-structured, with a rustic touch that suits light-hearted summer weather. ($11)

Shortly after World War II, a new French tradition was born: Beaujolais Nouveau; however, it’s more notable for its clever marketing than anything else. Fortunately Beaujolais also makes some more interesting wines; “Cru” Beaujolais, from one of ten authorized villages, reveals the Gamay grape’s potential for a balance between fruit, structure, and spice. The 2004 Potel-Aviron Chenas “Vielles Vignes” is a medium-bodied wine, with notes of cedar, cherry, and chocolate as well as surprising length. It will age well for several years. ($19)

Is it in bad taste to include a wine from what was, in World War I and II, the enemy? If you think so, try to concentrate instead on the good our soldiers did in defeating and liberating Germany. If that doesn’t do it for you, the fact that German Riesling is the perfect thing for summer should. The Pfeffingen Riesling QbA Trocken 2004 from Pfalz is a good pick for winedrinkers leery of Germany’s tendency for sweetness; it’s dry and crisp, with peach and grapefruit aromas. Pfalz is one of the country’s more southern wine regions, and the extra warmth gives the wine a bit more body than a Mosel or Rhineland wine. ($15)

Independence Day

The Fourth of July, on the other hand, calls for American wine, and we can do Riesling here as well. In fact, one of the original 13 colonies has been building a reputation for Riesling; New York’s Finger Lakes have been a home to the grape since the 1960s, when Dr. Konstantin Frank proved it could survive the area’s difficult winters. The Ravines Wine Cellars Dry Riesling 2004 looks more to Alsace than Germany; it’s a muscular, well-focused wine, with pineapple, slate, and mango aromas supported by touches of spice. ($15)

Alternatively, honor our first president on the Fourth by enjoying a wine from the state which bears his name. While Washington is primarily known for its Merlots and Syrahs, they have some well-made white wines well, including Chardonnay and Semillon (and yes, Riesling as well). For that matter, their neighbor Oregon does not have a lockdown on Pacific Northwest Pinot Gris; Columbia Winery’s Yakima Valley Pinot Gris 2004 has plenty of melon, citrus, and peach notes; crisp and summery, it’s more “Grigio” than “Gris” in style. ($14)

Rosés make great summer drinking: slightly chilled, refreshing, and not overwhelming on the palate. In fact, sometimes a bit underwhelming. California’s rosés get little respect owing to the success of White Zinfandel in the 80s and 90s. Instead of following in Sutter Home’s tracks, some of today’s winemakers are looking elsewhere for inspiration on how to think pink. Quivira, for one, has obviously turned to Provence, where rosés from the Mourvedre grape help locals and tourists alike keep cool in the summer sun. The Quivira Mourvedre Rosé 2005 is medium-bodied, with rich cherry and fennel aromas complemented by some floral touches and a firm, dry finish. ($14)

Labor Day

The end of summer; back to work. For winegrowers, the crush – the busiest part of the year – approaches. But some wines are more labor-intensive than others. Sparkling wine, for one – the classic Champagne method is demanding in time, work, and capital, which can account for its expense. Domaine Chandon’s Non-Vintage Blanc de Noirs is a quality California bubbly which comes in under the $20 mark. Primarily made from the two red Champagne grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, it isn’t truly “blanc” but instead sports a light salmon color. With the color comes some delicious red fruit flavors: notes of cherry and strawberry complement fruitcake spices and a touch of brioche, all delivered by a smooth stream of bubbles. ($18)

Sherry, too, takes extra work, capital investment, and a lot of patience; soleras – the complicated aging and blending apparatus that makes sherry what it is – don’t just build themselves. However, most Sherry companies have been around a long time, so they paid off that initial investment many years ago; these days Sherry is one of the best-value wines out there. Fino and Manzanilla Sherries are the best for the summer; the Lustau Solera Reserva Puerto Fino Sherry is crisp and clean, showing plenty of citrus, cashew, and mineral aromas, with a light touch of freshly baked bread. ($13)

Instead of waiting for winter in some cold part of the world to freeze their grapes before they harvest them, Bonny Doon pulls the ripe grapes off the vine and chucks them in the icebox. Voilá – they’re ready for pressing with all the sugar, intensity, and concentration that freezing out the water can bring. OK, maybe it’s not the same as German or Canadian icewine, but it saves a lot of work and money. The result is the Vin de Glaciere; the 2004 is medium-bodied, with well-balance sugar and acidity; it’s richly flavored with notes of pineapple, apricot, and elderflower. If you see owner and winemaker Randall Grahm relaxing on the beach this summer, now you know how he found the time. ($14)

Di Majo Norante Ramitello 2002
Potel-Aviron Chenas “Vielles Vignes” 2004
Pfeffingen Riesling QbA Trocken 2004

Ravines Wine Cellars Dry Riesling 2004
Columbia Winery Yakima Valley Pinot Gris 2004
Quivira Mourvedre Rosé 2005

Domaine Chandon Blanc de Noirs NV
Lustau Solera Reserva Puerto Fino Sherry
Bonny Doon Vin de Glaciere 2004


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       Published: May 2006
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