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Wines of Summer

 At the onset of Augusta’s hot, steamy summer months my palette turns from red to the whites of summer. Crisp and icy, there’s nothing more refreshing at the end of the day than a glass or two of your favorite white wine. But the good news is there’s no need for the dedicated red wine drinker, to be left out. There are plenty of lighter red wine choices to enjoy during the summertime.

Summer wines should be cool and crisp, full of fruit and generally low in alcohol. Too much oak and too much alcohol can spoil the summer fun. Sassy whites, light fruity reds, thirst-quenching dry Roses all have their place in the sun. And don’t forget the bubbles.

White wines are ideal for summer because they’re generally lighter and more refreshing than reds. Almost any well-chilled white wine is welcome on a hot day, but some of the best options are Sauvignon Blanc, Vinho Verde, Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Moscato, Prosecco, Albarino, Torrontes, Gruner Veltliner and blends. And crisp Chardonnays are a better choice than their more heavily-oaked, buttery counterparts.

For the diehard red wine drinker, or anyone looking for a wine to serve with grilled lamb or beef, a Sauvignon Blanc probably won’t appeal no matter how hot the day is. But you might consider a Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Grenache, Beaujolais or Valpolicella and save that Cabernet for the winter months.

The best summer reds will have less tannin and more fruit and acidity. And it’s also a good idea to chill them in the refrigerator for 30 to 40 minutes. The wine warms up quickly in the glass and hot red wine is not very palatable. Another good idea for keeping your wine cool is to drop a couple of frozen grapes in the glass. Do not add ice to wine.

On the other hand be careful not to over chill white wines. If you keep your white wine refrigerated or on ice, allow a couple of minutes for it to warm up in the glass before sipping. Over chilled wines lose their bouquet and flavor.

Two other special summer treats are Sangria and Champagne cocktails. If you’re making Sangria you need a good wine, but nothing fancy, and your favorite fruit. You can make it with either red or white wine.

Sangria goes well with grilled foods, and adding fruit and other liquids to the wine cuts down on the alcohol content and amount of wine you serve. It is a refreshing barbecue alternative to the standard beer or Margarita. You can adjust the flavor by changing the liquid and fruit, or by adding sugar for a sweeter taste.
When serving Champagne or any sparkling wine add fruit or fruit juice for instant refreshment. Some of my favorites are a Mimosa (Champagne and orange juice), Champagne and Chambord (raspberry liqueur), Champagne and peach nectar for a quick Bellini or Kir Royale (Champagne and creme de cassis).  When mixing Champagne with fruit juice I generally mix equal parts of both liquids. When adding a liqueur, the mix is four or five parts Champagne to one part liqueur.

Summer food pairings can be tricky, so here are some of my suggestions as well as descriptions of some less-familiar wines. If you have questions you may contact me or consult your favorite wine retailer.

One of the hardest things to choose a wine for is the salad course. The biggest challenge is vinegar-based dressings. But you’ll find that a Rose or grassy Sauvignon Blanc complements vinaigrettes as well as cream-based dressings. Prosecco is also a good choice, as is Pinot Grigio. With fruit salad I prefer a sweeter Riesling. And of course sparkling wine goes well with everything, including salad.

Vinho Verde is a perfect summer wine that isn’t as well known. It has just a little spritz, about nine to 10 percent alcohol, and costs around $10 a bottle. I have found several good ones, including Gazela and Avaleda. Check with your wine shop to see what they are offering this year.

Gruner-Veltliner is Austria’s star grape, producing crisp wine that often has tastes of grapefruit and spice. It’s especially good with seafood or spicy Asian food.
Albarino from Spain is a bit more complex than most summer wines, but it has great fruit flavors and aromas such as citrus, peach and apple and goes well with seafood.

When selecting a sparkling wine you can’t go wrong with real Champagne, but don’t overlook budget-friendly Cava from Spain or sparklers from Gruet Winery in New Mexico and the Biltmore Estate in Asheville.

Following are some of my favorite recipes for the perfect summer party.

Sandeman Rosehip Sangria

1 bottle Sandeman Founders Reserve Porto
18 ounces rosehip tea
16 ounces ginger ale
15 cherries halved
Rose petals (optional)

Slice cherries in half and set aside. Brew rosehip tea. Mix Sandeman Founders Reserve Porto, tea and ginger ale in pitcher. Add cherries and let sit for eight to 12 hours  or overnight. Add rose petals before serving for garnish.

Basic Spanish Sangria

1 bottle dry red wine
1 tablespoon sugar
Juice of 1 large orange
Juice of 1 large lemon
1 large orange, thinly sliced crosswise
1 large lemon, thinly sliced crosswise
2 medium peaches, peeled,
   pitted and cut into chunks
1 cup (8 ounces) club soda
Combine all ingredients except club soda in a large punch bowl or serving pitcher, mixing well. Refrigerate overnight. Immediately before serving, mix in the club soda for added fizz. Serve over ice.

Shrimp Pasta

1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 bunch parsley, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 14-ounce cans Italian seasoned diced
Fresh or dried basil to taste, chopped up
 or crumbled
Olive oil and butter
Angel hair pasta, cooked
Parmesan cheese, grated
Saute shrimp, parsley and garlic in olive oil with a little butter until shrimp just turns pink. Add canned tomatoes and basil. Cook for a few minutes until bubbly. Serve over angel hair pasta and top with Parmesan cheese.

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