Summer’s here, and the time is right for sippin’ near the streets.
OK, the solstice hasn’t officially arrived, and that’s a pretty lame variation of a great song. But for those of us accustomed to a chill in the air, it’s already the season for summer sippers.
That’s especially true for picnics, grilling parties and just your basic al fresco dining and/or imbibing of our favorite beverages.
This year, the options should go well beyond the usual suspects. Sure, rosés are better than ever, and finally have gained a firm foothold here. Yes, vinho verdes provide superior refreshment at this time of year, and of course zinfandels remain sturdy staples when barbecuing with zesty sauces.
Still, consider a few other noteworthy emerging categories that can fill the bill as daylight saving time waxes and wanes.
Reach for cava
Ever popular proseccos tend to be sweeter, but the jump and bite that these Spanish sparklers provide are a perfect midyear tonic. Not to mention just right for matrimonial (and patrimonial) occasions.
Perhaps the most reliable readily available brand is Segura Viudas, from its under-$10 Brut Reserva cava to its $20-ish Heredad cava. Another nice introduction: the white and pink versions from Cristalino and Mont-Marcel.
I’m a huge fan of a couple of other bottles that won’t break the bank: the zingy, verve-acious Pere Mata cava and the tingly, tasty Avinyo Penedes cava. Bubble up!
This seaside subregion of France’s Loire Valley has long been known for its bone-dry whites, made from the melon de bourgogne grape in a chalky, bracing style that reflected their favored food pairing, oysters.
More recently, though, the vignerons have started to let the fruit shine a bit more, to wonderful effect. Besides being flavorful and affordable, these wines are now versatile at the table (think fowl as well as fish) and still eminently quaffable (usually around 12 percent alcohol).
Absolutely delicious, vivacious renditions abound: Domaine de la Grenaudiere, Chevalier Cotes de Grand Lieu, Stephane and Vincent Perraud, La Haudiniere, Chateau de L’Aiguillette and the über-clean, uber-long and uber-vibrant Domaine de la Pepiere.
Oregon white blends
Pinot noir is still king in the Beaver State, with chardonnay and riesling coming on strong. But for more affordable and still yummy swigging, it’s hard to beat Oregon’s white blends.
These concoctions come in many forms, from the straightforward Alsatian-inspired pinot gris-gewürztraminer Evesham Wood Blanc du Puits Sec to the multiculti Airlie “7” and Sokol Blosser “Evolution No. 9” (those numerals connote the grape count). What they share is a fascinating dance between lush and lean, plus a veritable fruit cocktail of fresh flavors.
Other favorites of mine include the Anne Amie Cuvee A “Amrita,” Brooks “Amycas,” Teutonic “Sprockets” and the newcomer of the year, Big Table Farm Edelzwicker. For a bit of a splurge, look for Soter Vineyards’ intensely layered North Valley Compass Cuvee.
The names are hard to spell and harder to pronounce, but the red wines from the Hellenic Republic are now officially a thing. They range in style from light enough for fried chicken in what Yogi Bear would call a “pic-a-nic basket” to bold enough for the zestiest barbecue slathering sauces.
In the former category and despite its name, the Tetramythos Black of Kalavryta is all about the red fruit, with bright cherry/berry flavors, while the Skouras Zoe Red lives up to its title with a similar profile. The Dafnios Liatiko from Crete is another lighter delight.
On the darker side, the Domaine Skouras “Megas Oenos” (translation: “big wine”) and the Alpha Estate Xinomavro “Hedgehog” are bold and spicy enough for some rib action. For a splurge, seek out the Lafkiotis Agionimo (mid-$20s) or the Barolo-like Megapanos “Nemea” St. George (mid-$40s).
South African reds
Thanks to the efforts of stalwart local importers and retailers, Minnesotans now have access to more world-class wines from South Africa than ever. Along with stunning chenin blancs and sauvignon blancs, the offerings include some reds that will make anyone forget all those wretched experiences with pinotage. (Actually, some good pinotages such as Lion’s Drift have been making their way here.)
I recently tasted through some phenomenal reds with vintners Karl Lambour from Grande Provence and James McKenzie from Nabygelegen; go get ’em. More recently, I fairly swooned over an earthy, spicy Kanonkop Kadette, now vying with the Landskroon Bush Camp “Our Daily Red” as my favorite South African red blend.
The South Africans love to grill — the process/gathering is called a braii (pronounced “bry”) — and the velvety offerings from Overgaauw, the grippy cabs from Val du Charron and the stunning higher end blends from Rust en Vrede are supreme complements for smoky, charred meats.
Or for any dreamy midsummer night.
Bill Ward writes at decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.