Warm Weather Reds
WITH WELCOME WARM WEATHER UPON US, most wine and food enthusiasts think about light wines to pair with the season's light foods. And when we think light, most often we think white. Makes sense—fresh greens and veggies from the garden, and fish and chicken hot off the outdoor grill all cry out for white wines, right?
No doubt, whites like Sauvignon Blanc, dry Riesling and Viognier strut their stuff when paired with lighter dishes. Likewise, Vinho Verde from Portugal, Albariño from Spain, Vermentino and Falanghina from Italy, Muscadet from France and Moschofilero from Greece are wonderful accompaniments to the low-intensity/high-energy foods we like to eat outdoors in the sunshine, or indoors during the moderate cool of the evening. If there is one white wine-and-food pairing that probably should be the gustatory signature of the Hudson Valley, it's our local sweet corn with local Chardonnay—wow, what a treat.
Admittedly, I, like most of us, think of whites as my go-to wines in warm weather, but in the back of my mind, I'm "thinking red." Here's why: There is a plethora of lighter red wines that can successfully, even excitingly, cross over into the territory usually reserved for whites. These wines are lighter and simpler, fruit-driven, with only moderate tannins but with plenty of thirst-quenching acidity. And for the really good part: These wines tend to be so inexpensive that they can’t help but under-promise and over-deliver. In other words, you get true bang for your buck and at the same time you get a memorable food-and-wine experience.
Where to start? How about with roses—dry but bursting with red berry fruit accents. True rose is true red wine, made only from red grapes with minimal skin contact during fermentation (the skin is where all the color is). I say "true" rose, because outside of the wine-producing nations of Europe, it's legal to make rose from a blend of white and red wine, so I suggest sticking with European rose or with a New World producer known for the quality of its rose, or, easily enough, a New World rose that you like. If you're grilling kebabs, poultry or fish (especially salmon), rose is a great match. A backyard burger is a real crowd pleaser with rose, as is a sandwich of grilled vegetables and mozzarella, turkey with a sweet/savory cranberry relish or roast beef served with local potato salad.
There's absolutely no reason to pay more than about $15 for the best of them—in fact, you'll probably be able to find some gems for less than $10.
If you've never tried cool, crisp rose with foods you love to eat when the weather turns warm, you're in for a surprise and a treat. If you already have experience with this style of wine and therefore crave rose with this kind of food, you have some great choices available. My advice is to focus on wine regions of the world that are known not only for the quality of their wines, but specifically for the quality of their rose.
First up would be Provence, France, where rose rules. Next are wines from Navarra, Spain. There are fine rose wines from other parts of the world, but if you're looking for a wine redolent of strawberry, raspberry and cranberry all wrapped up in a dry, refreshing package, look no further than Provence or Navarra. This time of year, there should be a terrific selection of these wines available in good wine shops, and there's absolutely no reason to pay more than about $15 for the best of them—in fact, you'll probably be able to find some gems for less than $10.
What about "real reds"—wines that look dark in the glass, but are light on the palate? We have such a tremendous selection of warm-weather reds to choose from that the only hard work is having to choose one (or two, or three). Some of these wines will be recognizable, but never thought of as thirst-quenching, warm-weather wines; others may not be so familiar. Believe me, though, they're worth trying. For those old hands at pairing lighter reds with lighter foods, there may be a couple of new wines to consider.
What do these wines bring to the party? Well, first of all, they are great guests—they don't fade into the background, they're spicy and zesty, they bring fun and excitement but they're not self-centered or too loud. These reds remind us that wine is food—it just happens to be in a glass. As if by magic, these wines create another sauce, another spice, and undiscovered flavors so dramatic that it becomes hard to imagine the food without the wine, the wine without the food.
Here are some ideas for great red wines that will accompany/pair/rendezvous/consummate/marry/honor the wonderful aromas, flavors and textures of the food we love when it's hot outside. Any of these wines will add a thrilling dimension to foods prepared and served al fresco—fish, poultry, leaner cuts of red meat served with seasonal greens, veggies, potatoes and our extraordinary local tomatoes (botanically a fruit, despite what the Supreme Court decided in Nix v. Hedden, 1893).
But first, a service note: chill. Seriously—chill these reds for about a half-hour or so before pouring to bring out the wine's red-fruit freshness. Certainly, chilling is not mandatory, but it is highly recommended in warm weather.
And a buying tip: Do not spend a lot of money on these wines. It may seem counterintuitive, but you are not looking for the most complex examples of these wines—quite the opposite, in fact. Look for good, drinkable, simpler versions of these wines. This is where popular varietals and national brands—especially California's versions (Woodbridge, Smoking Loon, Fetzer, Pepperwood, etc.)—perform a highly useful service. Same goes for Chile (Concha y Toro, Santa Rita, etc.)
The next time you're getting ready to fire up the grill and you start to think about the wine you'd like to drink with the flavors of summer, try to think red. Pair good company with good food and good warm-weather red wines bought at a good price and you've got a balanced equation for both your wallet and your senses.
Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel and Syrah from California are the go-to choices. Pinot Noir and lighter versions of Merlot work wonders with both fish and meat dishes; reserve the Zin and Syrah for white and red meats, and roasted or grilled veggies. With these wines, observing the buying tip (above) will serve you well. You'll create a winning wine-and-food pairing with simpler versions of these reds and save some serious money in the bargain. Look for light, simple Pinot Noir from value-driven producers such as Pepperwood, Woodbridge, Mirassou, Smoking Loon, Fetzer; Zinfandel produced by Bogle, Edmeades, Rancho Zabaco, Dancing Bull, Ravenswood Vintner's Blend, Rosenblum Vintners Cuvée, Seghesio, Renwood. For a good, local/regional alternate choice, look for Hudson Valley Pinot Noir produced by Millbrook, Robibero, Oak Summit, Bashakill; Chelois produced by Hudson-Chatham, Genoa produced by Cereghino Smith.
Beaujolais-Villages, made from 100 percent Gamay grapes, is driven by the aromas and flavors of red berries, with moderately high acidity. Look for Beaujolais-Villages or any of the "Cru" Beaujolais (Morgon, Fleurie, Julienas, Moulin-A-Vent, etc.) from Georges Duboeuf, Sylvain Fessy, Michel Tete, Jean-Paul Brun, or Louis Jadot. For a good Hudson Valley—produced alternative, look for Gamay Noir from Whitecliff Vineyard. Bourgogne is made from Pinot Noir, or maybe a Pinot Noir/Gamay blend. Either way, this is a lighter, simpler version of the best Burgundy has to offer. Look for Bourgogne, Côte de Beaune-Villages, Côte de Nuits-Villages, Hautes Côtes de Beaune or Hautes Côtes de Nuits from Jadot, Drouhin, Bouchard, Bachelet, Mortot, Rion, Michel Gros, Thevenot Le Brun & Fils. Côte du Rhône, a blended wine anchored by Grenache, will perform perfectly with simply prepared white and red meats. Look for Jean-Luc Colombo, Guigal, Jaboulet "Parallele 45", Perrin Reserve, or La Vielle Ferme.
Valpolicella is a Corvina-focused red blend that adds a saucy, spicy flair to summer meals, as does its geographical neighbor in Veneto, Bardolino. Look for Allegrini, Masi, Tomassi, Zenato, Bertani, Boscaini, Accordini, Guerrieri Rizzardi, Le Fraghe, Ronca and Bolla.
Chianti, an elegant expression of Tuscany's Sangiovese grape, turns earthy when paired with simple foods. For summer pairings, no need to seek out the more complex and more expensive Classico or Riserva versions—keep it simple. Look for Malenchini, Coltibuono, Banfi, Antinori, Castellare, Gabbiano, and Melini.
Dolcetto d'Alba and Barbera d'Asti from the Piedmont region are ideal choices for meat-based dishes. Look for Dolcetto and Barbera produced by Marcarini, Pio Cesare, Chionetti, Einaudi, Vietti, Vigne Regali, Renato Ratti. Those who love those luscious Hudson Valley tomatoes take note: Barbera's high acidity resonates perfectly with this summer fruit (er, vegetable). Look for Barbera produced by Boeri, Cascina Castlet, Chiarlo, Borgogno, Icardi, Braida, Marchesi di Gresy.
Rioja can take on many guises depending on age and style. For uncomplicated summer dishes, look for the simpler Cosecha, Crianza or Roble versions—young wines with a spicy attitude and more than a little bit of soul. Look for Rioja Crianza produced by Vivanco, Montecillo, Conde de Valdemar, CVNE, La Rioja Alta, Marqués de Cáceres, Marqués de Riscal, Faustino, Bogegas Lan, Marqués de Arienzo, Muga, Marqués de Murrieta, Viña Izadi.
Carmenère is a juicy, straightforward red with pungent berry overtones, and an easy match with the fresh flavors of summer. Look for Emiliana, Arboleda, Casa Julia, Casillero del Diablo, Errazuriz, Carmen, MontGras and Santa Rita. In a pinch, lighter, inexpensive versions of Chilean Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon will work, but Carmenère, which is now widely available, is the more exciting choice.
Malbec is synonymous with beef in any and all of its manifestations. Look for young, lighter, inexpensive versions produced by Luigi Bosca, Norton, O. Fournier, Trumpeter, Alamos, Yellow+Blue, Finca El Portillo, and the widely available Trapiche "Oak Cask."
While we're at it, here is a list of a few rosés that are sure to please.
For domestic rosé from Long Island, look for Channing Daughters or Wölffer Estate; from California, look for Bonny Doon Vin Gris, Gundlach Bundschu, Hendry, Amador Foothills, Fritz, Tablas Creek, Quivira, Foppiano, Bonterra, "Sofia" by Francis Ford Coppola.
From France (Provence), look for Mas de Gourgonnier, Mas de la Dame, Commanderie de Peyrassol, Château du Rouet, Corail, Cape Bleue, Château Routas; from Tavel in the Rhône Valley, try Château d'Aqueria, Domaine Lafond, Chateau de Trinquevedel.
From Rioja, in Spain, look for Muga, El Coto, Marques de Caceres, Marques de Riscal, CVNE, Faustino; from Navarra, look for Chivite "Gran Fuedo," Vega Sindoa, Ochoa.
And for Italian rosés, look for Bardolino Chiaretto Cavalchina or Tre Colline from Veneto; Planeta or Regaleali from Sicily; Mastroberardino from Campania; and Banfi "Centine" or Coltibuono "Cetamura" from Tuscany.