I was on the Today show this morning (check out the clip here), recommending a few summer's-almost-over-don't-miss-them beers and wines to Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb. It was, as usual, a slightly crazy affair, but a lot of fun.
Beer-wise, I suggested people track down New Belgium's Skinny Dip, a light beer (114 calories) that doesn't taste like a light beer—i.e., doesn't taste like watery dreck. I'm not quite sure how the New Belgium brewers manage that, but if you're inclined toward light beers, you could do far, far worse. I also mentioned Hoegaarden, a classic Belgian witbier, faintly flavored with coriander and orange peel. The cloudiness (which is natural) seemed to worry KLG and Hoda, but in the end they seemed to like it; personally, I think the stuff's a no-brainer on a hot summer day.
In terms of wine, my recommendations included the 2008 Foxglove Chardonnay ($13, find this wine), an unoaked Central Coast Chardonnay with crisp tree-fruit notes and impressive intensity; the 2008 Crios de Susanna Balbo Malbec ($15, find this wine), which for the price provides a lot of smoky blackberry fruit and works well as either a summer-grilling or winter-warming wine; and 2008 Saracco Moscato d'Asti ($15, find this wine), which is perfect for summer desserts—lightly sparkling, low in alcohol, with pretty tangerine and floral notes.
I also got to walk down a set of stairs next to George Foreman, who was on the show, too, and looking mighty dapper in a striped, off-white suit. I have to say he drew more attention than I did.
Wines Under $20
There’s a reason I only visit Seattle in August—Dungeness crab season. (OK, sunny days don’t hurt, either.) My family sets its traps with crab catnip (a.k.a., turkey legs) and is usually rewarded with enough large males to boil up a feast. The crab was especially rich and sweet this year, thanks in part to its pairing with a local wine made with organically grown grapes from Lopez Island Vineyards and blended specifically to accompany Dungeness. Only 100 cases of Salish Sea White ($16, find this wine) were made, and a portion of the price goes to The SeaDoc Society, which studies the inland waters of the Pacific Northwest. The wine, composed of the obscure grapes Madeleine Angevine and Siegerrebe, reminded me of an off-dry Riesling due to its grapefruit and floral notes and nice acidity. Nothing fancy, but perfect to go with a simple meal of fresh crab dipped in melted butter. If you can't get Salish Sea, the 2008 Long Shadows Poet's Leap Riesling is also a good bet. ($20, find this wine)
Wines Under $20
We have hit prime Sauvignon Blanc season here in New York City, with 90-degree days and unbearable humidity. Lucky for me, the Food & Wine wine fridge happens to be loaded with Sauvignon Blanc, so I took the opportunity to taste through a dozen or so and turned up a few that would be great for the steamy weekend.
2008 Bogle California Sauvignon Blanc ($10, find this wine)
This affordable California bottling is made with grapes from both Monterey and the Russian River Valley. Not at all a complex wine, it's simply refreshing, with lemon-lime and tropical-fruit flavors.
2008 Robert Oatley Sauvignon Blanc ($18, find this wine)
From Western Australia, this Sauvignon has a spritzy pink-grapefruit flavor and cool sage-y notes.
2008 Valentin Bianchi Famiglia Bianchi Sauvignon Blanc ($16, find this wine)
This Argentine white from Mendoza is bright, crisp and fresh, with a pretty key-lime aroma.
Alberto Antonini is one of the world's most influential winemakers, consulting on wines everywhere from his native Italy to Uruguay, California and Portugal. I recently sat down with Alberto to taste through a selection of wines he's consulting on for Bodegas Nieto Senetiner in Argentina's Mendoza region. We had a fascinating conversation about the importance that he places on making each wine specific to the place it's from, rather than aiming for a broad international style. As winemakers become more international, this ongoing discussion of terroir will become increasingly interesting.
Philosophies aside, the Bodegas Nieto Senetiner wines are standouts, with gorgeous, concentrated flavors thanks to the grapes' growing conditions: very warm days and cool nights. Here's what we tasted.
2008 Reserva Torrontes ($11, find this wine) Argentina's top white, Torrontes, has inherent floral notes, but this bottling has a tremendous white-flower aroma of orange blossoms, jasmine and magnolia alongside bright citrus flavors. This is the perfect wine for these hot summer days. My mouth is watering right now just thinking about it.
2007 Reserva Bonarda ($30, find this wine) Alberto told me that Bonarda has a particularly long growing season and needs lots of sunlight. Extra time on the vine gives this soft, rustic red its spicy black fruit.
2007 Reserva Malbec ($11, find this wine) Alberto ferments this juicy, cherry-scented Malbec in concrete tanks, because he thinks it gives the wine fuller flavor.
2006 Don Nicanor Malbec ($17, find this wine) This deeply colored Malbec is loaded with black cherry and blackberry, plus a refreshing menthol note that keeps it from overloading the palate.
2005 Cadus Malbec ($45, find this wine) This single-vineyard Malbec is surprisingly fresh, even though it's also quite structured. It's long and elegant with pretty, spiced-cherry flavors.
Wines Under $20
I had a good time appearing on Today this morning, recommending wines for their "Made in America" Friday whip segment. (On the whip they run through four or so variations on a topic in a speedy way.) In this case "made in America" meant not made in California—which was a great chance to highlight some of the other great wine regions in the country. I brought along:
• The NV Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Blancs ($12), a nice, creamy and fairly full-bodied sparkler from Washington State
• The 2008 A to Z Wineworks Rosé ($12), a fragrant dry rosé from Oregon made with (oddly enough) Sangiovese grapes
• A terrific, crisp, Kabinett-style Riesling from the Finger Lakes, the 2007 Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard Dry Riesling ($17), which will also age beautifully if given the chance
• And one of my favorite Texan wines, the 2006 Flat Creek Estate SuperTexan ($19), a juicy, robust Sangiovese blend that I first ran into while touring around the Hill Country with my father, doing some barbecue research.
Plus, I got to see Al Roker sing part of "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" from on top of a crane, which was definitely the sort of experience you don't get every day.