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Summer wines and the livin’ is easy

"A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine."
Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste (1825)

Good wine is one of the greatest pleasures in life, one that accentuates the dining experience as well as highlights the flavors created by the culinarian.  It’s true that the science of wine is a complicated and intricate art, one which takes years to master, but the education promises a most palatable journey.  With the countless number of wines available in the market today, it’s like traveling around the globe in a bottle.  Discovering wine is like studying poetry, as similarly, it is composed with the utmost intensity and passion for the subject while being utterly selective of the elements of composition.

Wine is enjoyable during all seasons.  To maximize the experience of both consumption and the understanding of the personality of the respective wine, the characteristics of the wine selected should be suitable for the weather and dishes of the season.

Before we begin our journey into the most suitable summer wines, let’s first refresh some wine basics:

 

Fermentation and the dry count:

Fermentation is the process by which the grape juice turns into wine.  The simple formula is:  Sugar + Yeast = Alcohol + Carbon Dioxide (CO2).  “Dry” wine is a result of the level of sugar remaining after this fermentation process.  So the more sugar left after this process, the less dry the wine.  “0” dry count means a fully dry wine, as usually indicated on the shelf labels of wines in stores.  The higher the number of the count, the sweeter or less dry is the wine.  “Brut” for Champagne stands for extra-dry where “Sec” stands for dry.  Dry wine is crisp and pleasantly bitter in the finish, where a less dry wine results in a sweeter taste on the palate.

All wines fit into at least one of the three major types of wine categories, as follows:

­          Table wine:  approximately 8-15 percent alcohol.

­          Sparking wine:  approximately 8-12 percent alcohol + CO2.

­          Fortified wine:  17-22 percent alcohol.

The Grapes:

­          Red wines are produced from dark skinned grapes.

­          White wines are produced from light skinned grapes or from dark skinned grapes whose skins have been removed prior to processing.

­          Rosé or blush wines are made from leaving the skins on dark grapes during processing in order to add the red tint, then removing them.

­          Sparkling wines or champagnes are made as a regular wine and then put through a second fermentation process.

­          Dessert wines are made the same as the other wines, but contain higher sugar content.

­          Fruit wines are produced from fruits other than grapes.

­          Nonalcoholic wines are made like other wines, and then go through additional processing to remove almost all of the alcohol.

There are more than 60 wine producing countries in the world, producing over 25 billion bottles a year.  The top wine regions worldwide are:

­          Australia

­          Chile

­          France

­          Germany

­          Greece

­          Italy

­          New Zealand

­          Portugal

­          South Africa

­          Spain

­          USA (California, Oregon, Washington)

 

Temperatures for serving wine: (Keeping in mind that the average temperature of a refrigerator is 38-45 degrees F.)

­          Whites like Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling are best served chilled at 45-55 degrees F.  Chardonnays are best served at warmer temperatures of 55 to 60 degrees F.

­          Reds like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot about 60 to 65 degrees F; Younger and lighter reds like Gamay, Pinot Noir, and Sangiovese benefit from chilling at 55 to 60 degrees F.

­          Champagnes and sparkling wines should be thoroughly chilled at 45 degrees F.

­          Dessert wines can be chilled or served at room temperature.

 

Top health benefits of wine:

If wine is in your daily repertoire, then it is important to keep in mind that the key to enjoying the benefits of wine is consumption in moderation.  As confirmed by the Mayo Clinic, “a drink is defined as 12 oz. of beer, 5 oz. of wine or 1.5 oz. of 80-proof distilled spirits.”   For men, it’s no more than 2 drinks per day and for women, no more than 1 drink daily.  As further attested by Joy Bauer, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., the author of “Food Cures”, “Thanks to its alcohol content and non-alcoholic phytochemicals (natural occurring plant compounds), wine has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, certain cancers and slow the progression of neurological degenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease.”

Flavor profile of summer wines

During the sizzling summer months when the humidex hits temperatures over 90, and humidity lingers like a fog, the lure of a cold drink is tempting.  A nice cold beer always hits the spot, but a perfectly chilled glass of a rosé, a light red Beaujolais or a white Sauvignon Blanc will be equally satisfying.

The key to selecting wines in the summer is to balance the wine with the sultry temperatures and complement the quintessential “beat the heat” summer fares of outdoor barbeques, fresh seafood, salads, mezes/tapas, and fresh berries.  Summertime calls for wines which must be younger and lighter in body, lower in alcohol content and be suitable for chilling.  The taste should be crisp and effervescent with aromatic tones and enough fruit and spice to match grilled foods and simple salads.  It’s all about the acidity with the summer wines, to keep it light and clean on the palate.  So whether reaching for a red or a white, grab the younger and more recent vintages for a fresher, fruitier wine and avoid the full-bodied, heavier wines with strong tannins that make your tongue pucker like a Bordeaux, or a Merlot which are far more suitable with heartier fall or winter fares.

The traits of the grape variety ultimately determine the wine’s character like, the white Gewürztraminer, for example, is known for its pungent fragrance. The Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of red grapes, with a pedigree originating in Médoc, in the heart of Bordeaux.  Pinot Noir is a difficult variety to nurture and grow, but producers across the world are attracted to this grape as it yields fruity reds of great class and its variety is equally invaluable in the production of sparkling wine.  Merlot is usually blended with other reds of Bordeaux and is famous for its partnership with Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Grenache is a vital component to spice up famous wines like the Spanish Rioja and the French Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

There are countless summer wine varieties to explore.  Here are just a few that are classics for summer sipping and a good kick start to your journey into global vineyards:

 

For White Wine Grapes yielding a fruitier, crispier experience:

­          Riesling is considered by many connoisseurs to be one of the world’s greatest whites.  Unlike the German variety, the French Riesling is dry.   A beautiful white to serve as an aperitif or with seafood.

­          Sauvignon Blanc is best recognized for its pleasant grassiness or green herbaceousness and naturally tart characters which complement vegetarian dishes, in particular.  Varieties are available from the Loire Valley and Bordeaux regions of France, New Zealand, Chile as well as the young Californian Fumé Blanc.

­          Chardonnay is one of the world’s most popular varietals, more complex than Pinot Blanc, and because of its ripe fruit flavors, it marries well with fish and fruit dishes. Varieties are available from Burgundy and Champagne, France, California and Australia.  Chilean Chardonnays offer a smoky, herbal and full of rich lemon-curd flavors making it a great summer white.

­          Pinot Gris or Grigio (as its known in Italy) is the best known “white” variety of Pinot Noir.  Boasting a varied flavor profile of apples, pears, peaches, melon, and banana with the occasional nutty, oaky and vanilla overtones, varieties are available to us from Italy, France, Australia and Oregon.  Some varieties also impart smoky and oaky overtones, making them a great match with grilled dishes.

­          Sparkling whites also make for festive summer cocktails.  Italy’s Piedmont region produces a fabulous variety of Muscat to serve alongside prosciutto and melon.  Australia and France both make a sparkling with a blend of Chardonnay/Pinot Noir.

 

Summer Red Wine Grapes should yield low tannins and light texture.  A good visual clue to have is the lighter the color of red, the higher the acidity of the wine so the better for chilling and sipping during the hot summer months.

­          Gamay from France being synonymous with Beaujolais is a light, fresh, and fruity red, best enjoyed young which can be perfectly chilled to highlight its slight fruit acidity to complement white meats and citrusy dishes.  The French Beaujolais-Villages also offers wonderful summer reds, tender and fruity with the aromas of fresh grapes.

­          Pinot Noir from Burgundy, France, California and Oregon is an ideal pair to grilled meats.

­          Sangiovese from Tuscany, Italy made from the Chianti and Cabernet Sauvignon blend is high in acidity best served with foods like pizza and tomato based pasta dishes.

­          A young French Syrah known from the region of northern Rhône in France, is popularly guised as Shiraz, in Australia, and remains to be one of the most noble wine varieties with peppery and oaky overtones which works well with grilled red and white meats, as well as seafood dishes. .

Rosé or Blush Wines were shunned by wine snobs years ago, have since earned their way into the repertoire of wine lovers.  Aside from being a very enjoyable wine, most rosés are versatile enough to easily pair with many dishes and can be relished year-round.

­          French Côtes de Provençe varieties are a must try.  With dry and fruity overtones, it’s meant to be drunk young.  This appellation yields a rosé with aromas of pink grapefruit and red fruits that can be easily paired with salads and salty cheeses.

­          Other varieties of rosé are available like the Californian white Zinfandel, the French Grenache, Cabernet Franc and Gamay.

 

Dessert Wines

­          Start satisfying your sweet tooth from the grapes of the French Muscat, and Australia’s Sémillon to Portugal’s various ports.

­          As an alternative to wines, try dry cider, or otherwise known as hard apple cider, to serve alongside crepes laced with Nutella or fresh fruit.  Numerous other cider varieties are available from all over the world including France, Australia, Belgium, and the U.K.

 

Matching Wine with Food:

The first thing to keep in mind when it comes to matching wine with food is to use your instincts.  The old adage of whites with seafood and poultry, and red wines with red meats is exactly that, old.  It’s all about the individual palate and the body of the wine.  Lighter fares will call for lighter wines, and more rustic, heartier fares will call for fuller bodied wines.  This characteristic in body of the wine can be found in both reds and whites.  For example, certain varieties of reds like a slightly chilled Portuguese or even a young Spanish Rioja pairs well with grilled steaks and can also be served alongside white meats and dishes of fish or seafood.  The only rule there is here, is to enjoy the discovery of the world of wine and not to shy away from experimenting with combinations.  This promises to make the exploration a most delectable journey.

 

Bon appétit et bonne vie!

 

 

 

Recipes

I’d like to think of Sangria as the fruit punch for adults!  Fruity, refreshing, cool – the perfect summer drink to serve alongside tapas while lounging in the backyard with friends waiting to spike up the Q!  Enjoy the leftover fruit slices for dessert.

 

 

Sangria Roja

Serves 6, best made and chilled a day ahead

This is the “red” sangria made with red wine.  It doesn’t get easier then this!  To Explore further:  For endless variations, add, to taste, Grand Mariner, Cognac, Vodka, Grenadine, cranberry juice, apple juice and frankly anything that your palate is up for!

1 bottle Rioja or other young red wine of choice
¼ cup of fresh lime juice
2 shots Bacardi

2 oranges, sliced with skin

2 peaches, sliced with skin

2 nectarines, sliced with skin

Mix all ingredients together and chill overnight.  The next day, add in ice cubes and serve.  Cheers!


Sangria Bianco

Serves 6, best made and chilled a day ahead

This is the “white” sangria made with white wine.

1 bottle Sauvignon Blanc or other white wine of choice

¼ cup Cointreau

½ cup tequila

¼ cup bottled water

2 oranges, sliced with skin

2 lemons, sliced with skin

3 slices of pineapple

1 peach, sliced with skin

Mix all ingredients together and chill overnight.  The next day, add in ice cubes and serve.  Cheers!

 

Did you know? (can place these in sidebars around the article, if room available)

­          86% of a bottle of wine is water.

­          There are more acres of grapes planted in the world than any other fruit crop!

­          A wine doesn’t usually produce grapes suitable for winemaking until the third year.

­          It takes an average of 100 days between a vine’s flowering and the harvest.

­          If you can see through a red wine, generally it’s ready to drink.

­          As white wines age, they gain color.  Red wined, however, loses color with age.

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