A couple of weeks ago, when our deck was finally free of whatever that substance is that snow eventually turns into, I toyed with toting the deck furniture up from the garage. I’m glad I didn’t, of course, but now I don’t care. It’s coming out, and like the rest of us will have to deal with whatever Mother Nature throws at it.
In other words, it is patio season, no matter the clime, and a fitting time to partake of one of my favorite counterintuitive treats: red wines suited for spring and summer.
These “patio reds” are lighter-bodied, generally earthier and lower in alcohol. No Barolos, but some barberas and dolcettos from the same region. No syrah, but some Rhône blends that might have a bit of syrah in the mix. None of those pinot noirs that taste like syrah, but some earthier offerings plus a bit of Burgundy’s other grape, gamay.
And a surprise entry: lambrusco. A far cry from the plonk of the past, today’s lambruscos are fresh and refreshing and just plain fun to drink. Look for the Medici Ermete (sweetish), Saetti (dryish) or Mionetto (in between-ish).
Drier delights emanate from a bit farther north in Italy. The “lesser” red grapes of Piedmont are ideal for spring or summer al fresco quaffing. The Sandrone Dolcetto d’Alba is mouth-watering and rife with red-berry flavors. And I have enjoyed an astounding range of great barberas of late.
The Rosa Fiore Barbera D’Asti is a wonderful way to get acquainted with this grape, smooth and vibrant, with surprising depth and length for a $10 to $12 wine. For a couple dollars more the Pertinace Barbera d’Alba is a soft, dry quaffer.
Some of the “bigger” barberas have been creeping past the $20 mark but still provide superb quality for the price. Among them: the cherry-laden Vietti Barbera d’Asti, the minerally Vigin “My Ruby” Barbera D’Alba, the elegant Andrea Oberto “Giada” Barbera d’Alba and the supple barbera-nebbiolo blend Malvira San Guglielmo Langhe “Rosso.”
Those willing to shell out a little more money (mid-$30s) can expect profound experiences from the Roberto Voerzio Barbera d’Alba and the Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba.
Vive la France
Perhaps no region provides more consistent quality at low prices than the Rhône. The under-$10 La Vieille Ferme Côtes du Ventoux and Paul Jaboulet Aine Parallele 45 are perennial favorites, not only at home but as a hostess gift for summer outings, as is the layered, longish Chateau Pesquie Terasses Ventoux at just a tick over a 10-spot.
And my better half and I were bowled over last week by the $18 Domaine De L’Espigouette Bernard Latour Vieilles Vignes Côtes du Rhone, rich and rustic with both herb and spice flavors, a rare combo.
Just to the north of that region lies much-maligned Beaujolais. Forget the Nouveau stuff (especially at this time of year) and look for better iterations of gamay: the round, floral offerings from subregions Brouilly (Joseph Drouhin) and Fleurie (Chignard), firmer stuff from Morgon (Marcel Lapierre) and earthier juice from Moulin à Vent (Potel-Aviron).
A few U.S. West Coast vintners also make tasty gamays; leading the way is Duxoup, where Anoka native Andy Cutter’s Gamay Noir is a peerless pairing for grilled hamburgers.
Beaujolais is part of Burgundy, where the world’s finest pinot noirs are priced accordingly. Thankfully, there are some affordable domestic renditions that positively rock in the great outdoors. The Montoya Monterey and Parducci Mendocino Small Lot Blend will set you back $15 or less, or for just over $20 head to Oregon for the Anne Amie Cuvee A or the Ponzi Willamette Valley “Tavola.”
Now excuse me while I step outside, armed with Riedels and mittens.