What to drink this summer?
Like most serious wine guys, I poo poo “red in winter, white summer” to the exact same extent that I poo poo “red with beef, white with fish.” Like most things, it is a matter of context. There is nothing intrinsic to our path around the sun or even the temperature that demands one wine over others. Rather, there are contexts partially intrinsic to our equinoctial and solstitial relationships that inform and delimit our wine choices. I present here for your drinking pleasure three of those common to summer, with concomitant recommendations:
At a Barbecue: Icardi Barbera d’Asti, 2011
Jay McInerney famously recommends Barbera for pizza, which while I can’t get behind it demonstrates a certain largeness of thinking. (I don’t see what’s wrong with Chianti, as college seniors have been proven over two straw-thatched generations.) His reasoning is that the acidity of the tomato sauce presents a singular problem in combination with the cheese and (god willing) sausage. The first demands a hero acid to stand up in kind to the bully, a Riesling or a Sauvignon Blanc, both of which are inadequate to the fatty umami of the other components. Thus the dilemma.
Enter the logic of Barbera. Unusual for a red, its structure is supplied by high acid and wispy tannins. McInerney’s logic of pizza therefore applies equally to the barbecue, where like as not we are presented with meats drenched in tomato bases of varying sweetness and vinegar. Barbera is to a summer barbecue to what Beaujolais is to Thanksgiving, and complements without complication. The 2011 Icardi Barbera d’Asti I consumed recently was red almost to purple and yeasty on the nose with sharp berries. It required no decant and displayed a generosity I find mostly absent from Italian reds, which tend toward the emotional flintiness of those who came of age in the 1930s. Mouth-watering acid in the mid-palate with practically no tannins, the wine changed not at all in the glass save for a fruity broadening to encompass a more crowd-pleasing strawberry. The barbecue was half over, but the whole bottle was gone. Imported by Vinifera Imports. Price: $16. (Rating: Very Good)
In the Pool or at the Beach: Grüner Veltliner
In the U.S. wine market the Austrians are cursed. Aside from Riesling, which is more associated with Germany, their two great wines are Gewürztraminer and Grüner Veltliner. (The Teutons aren’t much for reds as we know them; try a German Pinot sometime and you’ll see what I mean.) Despite the Germanic origins of English, both present significant pronunciative difficulties for Americans. With it strange spiciness Gewürztraminer is difficult on the palate, too, and tends to induce love-hate reactions. Not so Grüner Veltliner, an elegant wine which is exported almost exclusively from Austria and deserves a wider audience.
Don’t make the mistake I did with a recent bottle of 2011 Lust & Laune, which was to chill it to 43 degrees. (If you don’t have a wine chiller–and it’s a wine toy worth having if there’s any wish to rise above dilettante–this is all day in a refrigerator.) It weakened the acid and brought out some unpleasant petroleum notes; 49 would have been more appropriate. As the wine warmed in the glass, however, it took on the restrained qualities of a Hapsburg at court, neither overly acidic nor sweet, refined grass aromatics and mild spice in an admirably unitary package. A paradigmatic Grüner is perhaps a bit weightier, but this was still an excellent everyday summer white, especially with the waves lapping in the background. Imported by: Magellan Wine Imports. Price: $13. (Rating: Good)
6:37pm On a Tuesday, After Work on the Porch, Top Two Buttons Undone, and a Slight Sweat: NV Casal Garcia Vinho Verde
My shorthand recommendation for Vinho Verde is “wine soda,” and to drink it is to indulge the pleasureful id, frustrate language, and forestall analysis. I have never known a person who tried Vinho Verde and was not delighted. As the reputation of Prosecco rightfully ascends, do not forget the Portuguese entry in the carbonation sweepstakes. It will never find an easy home at a fancy banquet, but thank the maker we spend little of our lives at fancy banquets. And it is cheap.
Literally “green wine,” Vinho Verde is the name of the region in the far north of Portugal, not the grape, and “green” refers to its age rather than its color for the wine is meant to be drunk young. In color, it is generally white or rose–the reds are hard to find (I have never had one). The NV Casal Garcia I consumed recently was a rose, the finest example of the species I have encountered and widely available. The nose is of light strawberry, the kind of soft smell that carries a long way on a slight breeze. At first taste there is a slight pungency from the skins that produce the beautiful deep pink, but this gives way to the acid that is as Newt Gingrich claims that government should be, limited but strong. (A white Vinho Verde is likely to be more LBJ-ish in its acid.) The appeal of the wine in the mouth is not in its flavor but in the feeling it inspires, the very definition of cliches of crispness and refreshment. At 10.5% ABV it is everything in moderation, but not the Brahmin moderation of a Grüner. Rather, it is the uncomplicated lounging of the slacker, a loose restraint that is never tight and always a good time, at least in moderation. Imported by: Maverick Wine Co. Price: $8. (Rating: Excellent)