Hot Topic: Crisp Summer Wines
by Sunny Brown
Updated August 9, 2010
Sauvignon Blanc is one of my favorite summer whites as the grape is naturally high in acidity and has a backbone of citrus fruit that is just wonderful on a hot summer day. Sancerres and Pouilly-Fumés from the Loire valley in northern France have a vein of minerals and fresh cut grass that can be quite refreshing versions of the Sauvignon Blanc, while the addition of Sémillon to White Bordeaux adds a round and lush note. Sauvignon Blanc has found a fashionable home in New Zealand where the wines are as dry as it gets, buoyed by the high-toned gooseberry aromas so common in these wines. Sauvignon Blancs from California are a little more ripe and round but still a fine wine when fish is the main course.
I wouldn’t be a very good wine writer if I didn’t mention the ubiquitous Pinot Grigio, and as great as these wines may be by the pool don’t forget about other Italian goodies such as the delicious Fiano di Avellino with its honey and almond flavors strutting over a vibrant core. Or try Soave from Verona for a lemony treat. My personal favorite is Moscato d’Asti, a light and fruity wine with touches of sparkle and sweetness made from the perfumed Muscat grape. Nothing is better than hanging out with friends on a warm summer evening with a glass of Moscato and a bowl of fresh fruit. You won’t be disappointed.
Speaking of fruit, there isn't a more sexy and sumptuous summer grape than Riesling. This versatile and expressive grape runs the gauntlet from painfully dry to startlingly sweet and from rocks and gravel to fruit bomb. Which is right for you? That depends on the mood and the occasion. German Rieslings will always have a core of peaches and minerals but can range from bone dry to packed with flavors and residual sugar. The underlying core of acidity will help ensure a balanced and tasty wine. Neighboring Austria also boasts excellent Rieslings though they tend to be a touch more dry than their German cousins. Cooler regions in Australia such as Clare valley are producing wonderful Rieslings with a streak of lime and minerals, always on the dry side. Great for fusion cuisine.
Austria’s greatest grape, the Grüner-Veltliner is also not one to be missed this summer. Hot in the international market right now, Grüner’s most alluring attribute is a layer of refreshing grapefruit and pepper over a light and crisp frame. Wonderful for all seafood dishes or just as a sipper out by the pool, Grüner-Veltliner will continue to carve out a niche in the U.S. market.
Spain is also a home for excellent summertime whites. Ruedas from Castilla y Leon in central Spain offer wonderful natural acidity and delicious flavors from Sauvignon Blanc and the native Verdejo grape. In the Rías Baixas (pronounce Ree-us By-shuss) region just above Portugal phenomenal wines are made from the Albariño varietal. This is the coolest part of Spain and the fogs that roll in from the Atlantic provide both relief from the summer heat but also a certain saline character to the wines. Add to this delicious peach flavors and a sometimes tingly acidity and the result is lovely wine, light in body but long on flavor. Just across the border in Portugal the Albariño is a part of the delicious and cheap Vinho Verde, always a great wine and a great bargain for summer.
Don’t forget your sparklers. Champagne from France, Prosecco from Spain, Franciacorta from Italy and all manners of sparkling wines from across the globe are great in the summer for their natural acidity and refreshing bubbles. Not just for celebrations, sparkling wines are excellent additions to the dinner table and work well with many types of seafood.
Look for Rosés to complete you summer lineup. Dry, crisp and full of flavor those pink wines from the south of France are most-definitely not White Zinfandel. Bandol from Provence, Costières de Nimes from the Languedoc and Tavel from the southern Rhône as well as many others can all be excellent if you want a wine with just a little more backbone than your average white. Spain, Italy and California also produce excellent dry Rosés.
This is by no means an exhaustive list! Many other great summertime wines exist such as Muscadet and Vouvray from the Loire valley, Pinot Gris from Oregon and Gewürztraminer from Alsace. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box such as giving lighter red wines a slight chill or trying tawny port over ice with just a little soda water as is fashionable in the town of Oporto in the summer. The ultimate guideline as to the best summertime wine will be your own. If you feel refreshed after a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon then by all means- have at it! I think I will stay with a glass each of all the wines listed before. That may sound like a lot, but it’s a long summer.
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