One Boston sommelier shares her passion for the wines of southwest France.
Courtesy of Franciscan Estate Napa Valley
Ah, Sauvignon Blanc. It’s zesty, it’s crisp, it’s loaded with citrusy zing, it whets the appetite and it tastes great served cold on a hot day. And, once in a while, it smells like a green pepper exploded in your glass. More on why Sauvignon Blancs sometimes have a cat-pee aroma and great bottles of it under $20. »
Courtesy of Rustico.
Ray's top three sparkling wines under $20. Also, how to avoid fast-flying corks and unintentional champagne showers. »
Ray Isle illustration by Kathryn Rathke.
The summer of Riesling is upon us! "Hide your Chardonnays in their special locked cages, and smack them in their glassy snoots if they try to escape." »
© Alex Nabaum
Sauvignon Blanc, possibly more than most wine grapes, reflects where it is grown: Warm-climate wines will have notes of melon and ripe citrus, cooler-climate ones will be more herbal and green-peppery. Some people prefer one end of the spectrum, some the other—and knowing the wine’s origin will help you find a bottle you like. Here, a visual guide to the range of aromas and flavors.
Beaujolais is very nice with a light chill.
The perfect picnic wine, and so, unsurprisingly, nice with a light chill. The gamay grape, from which Beaujolais is made, is unprepossessing, not very tannic at all, and full of lively cherry-raspberry fruit. The 2009 Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages ($10) is a fine option. (pictured: 2009 Georges Duboeuf Domaine des Rosiers Moulin-a-Vent ($17) is also great.)
Italy’s answer to Beaujolais (though Frappato from Sicily is another strong contender). Bardolino comes from the hills near Lake Garda, uses the same grape varieties as Amarone (oddly enough, given that Amarone is one of the higher-octane reds around), and has a gentle wild-cherry-ish flavor. The 2010 Corte Giara Bardolino ($11) is a good one to seek out.
Some Pinots don’t chill well—more robust versions, for instance a good percentage of what California produces. But find a delicate, lighter style, and Pinot tastes great chilled down. Oregon’s a good place to look; among the best choices there is the floral 2010 Willamette Valley Vineyards Whole Cluster Pinot Noir ($20).
Freaky stuff: black-purple in color, big and hearty in character, and fizzy. But for a cookout it’s a fun option, and it tastes far better cold than regular, non-sparkling Shiraz. Plus, when your friends see you holding a glass, they’ll say entertaining things like, “What the heck is that?” The best I’ve run into recently is the NV The Chook Sparkling Shiraz ($19).
More Great Summer Wines
East Coasters lost the last weekend in August to tropical storm (née hurricane) Irene, so the pressure is on to get outside for Labor Day. If the weather cooperates where you live, enhance the best summer activities with these perfect wines:
© Courtesy of Sula Winery
Sula's 2010 Sauvignon Blanc is light and cooling.
Seafood Extravaganzas: For lobsterfests and clam bakes, there are many options beyond the ubiquitous rich Chardonnay, like melony Godello and crisp, citrusy Vermentino.
Sunning Sessions: When the weather is genuinely hot, superlight whites, like Vinho Verde and Albariño, are good bets.
Park Picnics: Awesome portable dishes include shrimp-and-noodle salad in a gingery dressing, which is great with Riesling.
Backyard Cookouts: Grilled foods need assertive wines to stand up to strong flavors. Moderately oaky wines, which can otherwise be tough to pair with food, are often great with smokey meats.
Sunset Toasts: Try wine with some color, too. There are few things more refreshing than Provençal rosé, and low-tannin Beaujolais are among the best reds to serve chilled.
Beach Trips: Pulling corks with no leverage, while sitting in sand, can be troublesome. Try these 10 excellent boxed wines, plus 10 great-value screw-capped wines.
New York City is a sweat-slick, hideously hot, concrete-covered steambath right now, something that actually doesn’t make me think of wine so much as igloos. So maybe it’s the idea of summer—cool breezes off the water, sunlight on white sand, nothing to do but lounge around—that always gets me thinking about shellfish. Lobster rolls…crab rolls…shrimp on the grill…a big bowl of mussels in some sort of white wine sauce with a little garlic and parsley…scallop ceviche with cilantro and a zap of lime juice…anyway, you get the idea. Here are five suggestions for great summer whites to go with all those tasty, shell-covered denizens of the sea.
2010 Aveleda Vinho Verde Casal Garcia ($8) Vinho Verde really ought to be described with comic-book words: ZAP! POW! KA-ZING! It’s thrillingly tart, with a happy touch of fizz and a kind of cracked-oyster-shell mineral note that makes it incredibly refreshing. Casal Garcia is a classic: Chill the heck out of it, then serve with something messy like shell-on cold boiled shrimp.
2010 Chateau Ste Michelle Dry Riesling ($9) Washington’s Chateau Ste Michelle makes more Riesling than anyone else in the world—close to a million cases a year. Most of that is off-dry (lightly sweet), but I prefer the winery’s crisp, peachy, dry bottling. It’s a great crab wine—cracked crab, crab rolls, crab salad, crab-on-a-stick, you name it.
2010 Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc ($9) Chile tends to be known for inexpensive reds, but the real secret is the country’s terrific Sauvignon Blancs. The cold winds off the Pacific give Sauvignon Blancs like this one a finely-tuned citrus zestiness, perfect for ceviche (something else they do extremely well in Chile).
2010 Domaine Lafage Cote d’Est ($10) This floral southern French white tastes like it costs twice the price. It’s sealed with a screwcap, handy for picnics when you realize you forgot the corkscrew. It’s also cheap enough that you could use half the bottle for steaming mussels, and still have two glasses left to drink.
2010 Salneval Albariño ($12) Minerally Albariños like this one are the mainstay of Spain’s Rias Baixas region. The other big industry there? Fishing, and shellfish farming—the locals raise mussels, oysters and scallops on long ropes that stretch down into the water from eucalyptus-wood platforms called bateas.
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© Courtesy of DVF Wines
2009 Bota Box Chardonnay.
Why look past the cheesy stigma this summer? Boxes are lighter (therefore greener) and easier to close than bottles. That portability makes them great if you're inclined to partake at beach picnics, and researchers in Spain recently suggested that wine could even protect against sunburn (though dehydration is still something to worry about when day-drinking). The biggest advantage is that whites will stay fresh in your fridge for weeks, making it easy to squeeze off a glass whenever a new heat wave rolls into town. Here, surprisingly good boxed wines to drink now.
© Leslie Tiano
Wine bottle tumblers from BottleHood.
The other day at the beach, I came across a supercool beer bottle neck that had been so polished down by the waves and sand that it could be worn as a ring. It got me thinking about the many other neat ways to repurpose wine and beer bottles that I've seen lately. Atlanta-based Kathleen Plate transforms recycled glass into jewelry with clean, sleek lines—her new pale-blue chandelier necklace looks like the summer sky to me. The fire escape gardener in me appreciates the compact Grow Bottle, an indoor herb planter crafted from reclaimed restaurant wine bottles. And colored wine bottles look great on the tabletop even long after the last drop has been poured: In San Diego, BottleHood recrafts wine, beer and spirit bottles into unique glassware, from frat-house-ready Red Stripe glasses to funky-elegant green glass tumblers. Its glassware would be perfect on a casual summer table—along with a chilled summer bottle that's still full, of course.
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.