From Oenophile Tom Black
Sitting on my back porch with Chef Mario Batali (Molto Mario), his two sous chefs and Marcy Mynatt from the American Red Cross last week, we began a discussion of the best summer wines. Mario loves white wine and so here's where the discussion centered.
And what better wines than white to have on warm, summer days. As Mario said, "Now that summer is here, white wines aren't just for breakfast anymore!"
Solomon, in the Bible, or was it Bob Dylan said, "To everything there is a season" and so our attention should turn to whites. And, oh boy, are there some great ones for summer!
Any discussion of summer wine should begin with champagne. By the way, the 25th Anniversary of the Nashville Wine Auction is this summer on Saturday, June 19th and we're honoring champagne — specifically Taittinger (check it out at www.nashvillewineauction.com). So champagne is perfect in the summer because it is served ice cold and is so crisp and mouth awakening.
The whole idea of champagne conjures images of summer weddings and celebrations. A toast on the 4th of July is best served with champagne. So you serve champagne when you want to wash out your mouth. That means strong flavored foods, foods with lots of salt, fat or persistent flavors. Champagne is also good with citrus or highly acidic dishes like tomatoes, oranges, etc. You can also serve champagne without food to stimulate your hunger and cleanse your palate.
Now, Italy is full of great new whites. They are relatively inexpensive and full of lots of complex flavors. They are using grapes we've never heard of and creating a great alternative to starting with a sparkling wine.
Two whites that are getting good reviews are Vespa and Argentato. I don't like to recommend a label but I'll make an exception. Vespa is a blend of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and picolit. It is crisp with ripe melons and peaches and perfect with poolside snacks. This wine can cut the salt and also blend with soft white cheeses. The other Italian I like is Argentato. It is a blend of sauvignon blanc and traminer. It is fruitier and has more acid than the Vespa, but it has a complex taste of both fruit and nuts (like grapenuts cereal). I am not suggesting a food and wine pairing here!
Finally, in Italy the most famous white grape is Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio is the same). Traditionally it is served by itself without much thought to food pairings. However, it works with dishes that don't need too much acid or that don't pair well with a fruitier, softer wine. Cold dishes and pastas without meat would be good guesses. By the way, although we think of Pinot Gris as an Italian wine, the finest in the world is made in Alsace and can be over $200 per bottle.
If you're serving stir-fry or Chinese dishes, the general consensus is Riesling. It's also good with an avocado salad or most vegetables (green asparagus excluded). When you think Riesling think peaches, apricots, and honey with a touch of tobacco or wood smoke and minerals. Although there are lots of styles, this grape can be a serious wine. It is made both dry and sweet so get your retailer to help you pick the right one for the occasion.
Two other white suggestions for summer and then you're on your own. Sauvignon Blanc is probably the easiest wine to recognize in the glass. If you haven't tried Sancerre, please do so. It's my favorite Sauvignon Blanc. It is from France and has less grassy elements and more mineral flavors than most. It is from the Loire region of France. It's great as a starter, by itself, or fantastic with grilled fish or most tomato dishes. You can also drink this wine with Asian food. Try Thai! On the other end of this grape is New Zealand. The wine rarely has flinty notes or much minerality. They have traditionally lots of grassy and herb flavors.
Finally there's (not chardonnay) Viognier. This Rhone varietal is gaining wide popularity. It's always floral and full of grapefruit. The two principal areas it comes from are California and Condrieu in France. The full-blown wine with lime, peaches and minerals is only made in France, but American Viognier's are delicious and very fruity as well. Try this with some crab or lobster or a truffle omelet. This is a breakfast or brunch wine. How about that Mario!
Now what if you like red wine only? Then forget about these wines. Remember, after Summer comes Fall. And as always, in closing, I'd like to share in Andy Thompson's (a well regarded chef) thoughts, "Having a cocktail before a meal is like poking the chef in the eye with a ladle." Have fun with wine this summer, but be safe.