The Wines of Summer
by Geoff Nicoll
There has been ample discussion over the years about which wines are best suited for summer. That age old question continues to dwell on the palate of the beholder, but there are a number of wines that certainly fit the bill as well as or even better than others, and a handful of them come to mind.
As temperatures soar, the natural inclination is to head to cooler climes, or at least lighter, brighter wines. A general rule of thumb: the more vibrant and refreshing, the better foil for summer temperatures and temperaments. Selections that deliver abundant acidity serve as not only an ideal aperitif to whet the appetite but also work well with the flavors of the season. The key is not to overpower the dish with a wine. While we tend to migrate to Chardonnay and Cabernet as fail-safes, they are not always the best or most intuitive options for your dining experience. Also, the brighter and livelier the wine, the better it promotes the delicate flavors of your creation. Alcohol content is another factor, albeit not as crucial, it does play a role in your dining experience.
Some recommended selections for summer entertaining:
Domaine Haut Marin Cotes de Gascone~ blended from Ugni Blanc and Colombard, this fresh light and lively white offers notes of citrus, green apple and blossom in the delicate refreshing finish. Ideal with seafood and poultry, and perfect as an aperitif.
Walter Hansel Russian River Sauvignon Blanc~ a supple, juicy, flavorful version with plenty of peach, pear and fig overtones. Subtle notes of fresh herbs enhance the varietal character without the aggressive vegetal tones. Plush and polished, a great match for game fish and chicken kabobs.
Martian Ranch Santa Ynez Grenache Blanc~ slightly off the beaten path, but worthy of the journey. Blended with a dollop of Viognier, the crisp white peach, green apple and nectarine flavors are framed with trace mineral. Pair with steamed mussels, grilled halibut or poached salmon.
Paco & Lola Albarino~ a departure from the sinewy lean mass produced versions, Paco & Lola’s Estate Bottled flagship from Rias Baixas is one of Spains newly discovered and fashionable wines. The flavors are redolent of pineapple, exotic tropical fruit, mineral and litchi. A natural with grilled tuna with mango salsa and citrus marinated grilled salmon.
I personally happen to like a dry rose, and judging by the ever increasing popularity of these, I am not alone. While this is a rather large and cumbersome category, there is a theme of vibrant fresh summer stone fruit and delicate berry flavors. The wines from the South of France, Provence and Bandol specifically, seem to be the best suited to warm weather gatherings.
Zaca Mesa Z Gris Sta Ynez Rose~ quite the antithesis to a typical California rose, the Z Gris is again fashioned after the great wines of the south of France. The crispness and crunchiness that is difficult to obtain in our warmer climate has been harnessed and carries the beautiful ripe Grenache fruit into the lingering finish. Pair with fowl, seafood, or mildly seasoned beef.
Cht Pampelonne Provence Rose~ crisp and lively with red berry and stone fruit driven flavors complimented by delicate spice and a lean, mineral finish. Well suited to red fleshed fish, grilled veggies, roasted poultry and grilled pork.
Cht Esclans Whispering Angel Provence Rose~ Bordeaux meets Provence, Sasha Lichine sold his Chateau in Margaux for this fabulous property and recruited former winemaker Patrick Leon from Cht. Mouton. These extraordinary talents combined to create some of the highest rated Provencal rose wines produced. Surprisingly complex, boasting raspberry, smoke some fresh herbs and spice in the lingering weighty finish.
Domaine Le Gallantin Bandol Rose~ a heavier dose of Mourvedre is mandated by law, the warmer soils are ideal for this slower ripening grape, preventing over-ripeness and raisiny character. The flavors are slightly more earthy but not rustic, the fruit purity leans toward strawberry and raspberry with some mineral, stones and fresh herb. Pair with salmon, red fleshed fish, mussels in red sauce and herbed poultry.
No list would be complete without incorporating a handful of reds. An “Old School” train of thought was to pair Zinfandel with ribs, Cabernet with steak, Pinot Noir with salmon etc. While these are reliable options, Summer in Southern California pushes the mercury to a point where these can become cumbersome. There are a plethora of alternatives that are interesting and downright delicious. Step outside the box and treat your tastebuds to something a little different.
Sexto Terra Alta Tinto~ Sexto, or 6th refers to the 6th varietal in the makeup of this fun and delicious red. The ususal suspects, Grenache, Carignan, Tempranillo etc are joined by an off the wall varietal, Lledoner Pelut Noir. What? Furry Grenache in laymans terms. The Southern Catalan gem brings gobs of sweet black fruits with refined spice and earth tones. Match with anything roasted or grilled.
Don Sancho de Londono Calma Rioja~ a blend of Tempranillo and Graciano, this old world meets new is a splendid marriage of opulent jammy fruit with the traditional earthy character established in the old vines. Black cherry, blackberry and cassis flavors are supported by a framework of leather, tobacco and delicate oak. Great with grilled meats and well seasoned dishes.
Palmina Sta Barbara County Barbera~ native to Italy’s Piemonte region, Barbera is one of the most food friendly and easy wines to enjoy. The vine thrives in the cooler region of Northern Italy, but is quite at home here in Santa Barbara. Its opulent and juicy fruit composition consists of black cherry, mulberry and cranberry with rubarb, leather and a tinge of toast in the finish. Extremely utilitarian in the fact that is gets along with just about everyone.
Beckmen Cuvee Le Beck Sta Ynez Red~ Beckmen has perfected the use of Rhone based varietals in the Central Coast. This blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Counoise combines terroir with fruit purity. It is chock full of red and black fruits, including cherries, pomegranate and cassis with a dose of Provencal herbs in the mix. It can easily tackle well seasoned steaks, game or even a grilled Portobello sandwich. (Is it lunchtime yet?)