Sweet & Sublime: Summer Wine

By Jim Cooley

With summer heat in full swing and outdoor party season rocking under the cover of a starry sky, I went looking for some new and interesting wines to make the dog days a bit more bearable. First up … quizzing local wine experts to learn what wines they like to chill out with during hot weather. These seasoned aficionados suggested a range of classic styles in addition to some very interesting, off-the-beaten-path wines.

Lighter wines with lower alcohol often work best on blistering days. As a wine warms, its alcohol becomes more evident, and what seems enjoyably full-bodied in cold weather (or air-conditioning) can seem ponderous and downright unpleasant when temperatures rise. This can make Chardonnay a controversial choice for summer, but Avenues Bistro Wine Director Tim O’Neal thinks he has found the right balance between richness and freshness from legendary California winery Mount Eden.

“Most of Mount Eden’s releases are expensive,” O’Neal says. “The estate Chardonnay is one of California’s greatest wines. But their 2009 ‘Wolff Vineyard’ Chardonnay is totally worth considering because it is so entertaining. It’s full without going over-the-top, and perfect for summer.”

Two of the retailers on my jaunt around town were big on South American whites for this summer. Royals Liquors Wine Manager Alan Hagedorn took me to the Argentine section at the Watts Mill location where he pointed out the Colomé 2011 Torrontes from Mendoza.

“I like Torrontes a lot for summer,” Hagedorn says. “Colomé produces one of my favorites. It’s fresh, floral and just a touch sweet. The wine’s acidity really helps with hot weather.”

Torrontes is a descendant of the Muscat grape, which gives it a distinctly floral aroma. Torrontes also plays a supporting role in wine specialist Dennis Schaefer’s pick at Lukas Liquors on 135th Street. He suggests La Posta’s 2010 Cocina Blanco, a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Torrontes.

“In the heat of the summer,” says Schaefer, “this is a ‘sit up and take notice’ kind of white wine that you can drink as an aperitif for its lush and refreshing qualities but it’s also bold enough to handle duty at the picnic table as well.”

If retailers are excited about South America, restaurateurs are equally excited by one of the Old World’s best kept wine secrets: Austrian whites. Furmint is most famous as the major grape of Hungary’s Tokaji dessert wines, but along the Austrian and Hungarian border more wineries are experimenting with modern-styled dry whites. Room 39 Manager Kathi Rohfling loves introducing Austrian white wine to her guests.

“We pour Heidi Schrock’s Furmint by the glass,” says Rohlfing. “It’s a nice patio wine that’s crisp and citrusy like Sauvignon Blanc. Furmint makes epic dessert wine, but it’s lovely dry, too. We pair this with scallops.”

I dropped into La Bodega on Southwest Boulevard for some tapas and a glass of white wine, and discovered several excellent summer choices from Spain. The warm Mediterranean climate calls for refreshing wine, and manager Brooke Silvey poured me a couple of her favorite Albarinos. This grape is grown in the West of Spain and is perfect for summertime.

“I love the wines from Marques de Caceres and Burgans,” says Silvey. “We have both by the glass. They’re both nice and citrusy, but they also have some body. I find Albarino much more complex and interesting than Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc.”

What can red wine lovers do when the sun is beating down on their heads? Reach for a dry rosé. Consumers are finally overcoming their sugary White-Zin-fuelled resistance to these summer wines for those who like red wine flavors. Spain and France have produced dry pink wines for many years, and their qualities are finally resonating with American wineries and wine drinkers.

Greg Gerike, the wine manager at Lukas Liquors on 119th Street, walked me straight over to his rosé section when I asked for summer recommendations. His favorite is A to Z’s 2011 Oregon Rosé.

“I drink much more red wine than white,” says Gerike. “This is a unique wine—100 percent Sangiovese from Oregon. This has enough weight in the mouth to satisfy my craving for a wine to have some body, but it’s got enough freshness for a summer day.”

Whether the sun is shining or the steamy summer day is said and done, a glass of vintage perfection offers a soothing way to refresh parched senses.

Enjoy the journey discovering your own summer selections of heat-friendly wines.

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