The Summer Sommelier: Reds, Whites and Rosés to Complement the Season’s Fare
When I think of summer’s gastronomical delights, I think first of barbecued and grilled foods. I can still taste the ribs, steak, chicken, burgers and hot dogs of summers past, and I dream of the portobello mushrooms, ribs, duck, pizza and hot dogs of summers to come. Then my mind wanders to the lobsters, softshell crabs, clams and other delicious seafood that I can never seem to get enough of. I think too of picnics: sandwiches, roast and fried chicken, pasta salads, potato salads, well, all kinds of salads.
Summer offers up a wide bounty of food, which calls for a wide bounty of wines. Fortunately, there are plenty of wines that shout, “It’s summer! Drink me!” Here are a bunch of them.
Red wines that accompany barbecued and grilled foods should as a rule be flavorful and fruity so they won’t be overwhelmed by the strong flavors of the food. Among the reds that fit the bill are Beaujolais, Syrahs and Shiraz, Zinfandels, Merlots, Pinot Noirs, Chiantis and other Sangioveses, and Barberas. To “summerize” them, it’s a good idea to served them chilled. (The optimum temperature to serve red wines at is 55 to 65 degrees.) Even then, however, red wines aren’t nearly as refreshing as sparkling wines, rosés and whites — the true wines of summer — because they’re not the crisp, cool and reviving wines that summer demands.
Sparkling wines, on the other hand, are infinitely refreshing. Many are delightful as aperitifs as well as wonderful with food (though I’d look elsewhere for wine to accompany red meat). Prosecco — Italy’s fruity, light-bodied, light-in-alcohol bubbly — is an ideal summer wine. It comes frizzante, or slightly sparkling, and spumante, fully sparkling, in dry, off-dry and sweet styles (see recommended producers below). Spain’s versatile Cavas are made using the same method Champagne makers use. The grapes, however — Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo — are another story. In addition to Champagne, France produces many splendid sparkling wines (that are unfortunately hard to find here). And, of course, the U.S. too produces many eminently quaffable bubblies.
Champagne, the king of sparkling wines, is good as an aperitif and surprisingly good with most foods — even barbecue. Danny Meyer, owner of several beloved and top-rated restaurants in New York City, including the barbecue joint Blue Smoke, says, “I love Champagne with barbecue for precisely the same reasons I love beer: the crisp, refreshing bubbles cleanse my palate from the spice and heat of the barbecue and set me up for another taste.” (Sparkling wines perform the same palate-cleansing duties with fried foods.) At the recent Big Apple Barbecue Block Party in New York City, Meyer held a “Wine for Swine” seminar, and Pol Roger Brut Reserve was on his list.
With barbecued food, Meyer also recommends Rosés that have some sweetness. “Sweet is a perfect foil for smoke,” he says. “Rosés work well for people who tend to enjoy cherry Coke or Dr Pepper.” (Rosé Champagne with barbecue would make Meyer a very happy man indeed.) Mark Tarbell, chef-owner of Tarbell’s in Phoenix, Arizona, prefers his barbecue Rosés dry. Both agree with Jeff Morgan, author of Rosé: A Guide to the World’s Most Versatile Wine and co-owner of SoloRosa, a Rosé-only winery in the Napa Valley, who believes that “rosé and barbecue is a match made in heaven.”
Rosés are peachy keen with grilled foods too. “They have the brightness to handle grilled fish,” says Morgan. “They’ve got the chilled, fruit-driven freshness to match up well with warm summer days and nights, and — because they’re technically red wines — they’ve got the moxie to handle burgers, steaks and all manner of kebabs.”
Indeed, a great quality of Rosés is their versatility. In the food-and-wine pairing course Morgan teaches at the Culinary Institute of America in the Napa Valley, “invariably,” he says, “the consensus is that Rosé tastes best with the most items. Maybe that’s because Rosé has some of the qualities of red wines [the body and the forwardness] and some of whites [the acidity]. Rosé,” he adds, “has a little more pizzazz than many whites. It’s the wine that when in doubt wins out.” It’s also the quintessential picnic wine, ideal with sandwiches, salads, cold cuts, roast chicken – even hot dogs! Because Rosés, like most white wines, should usually be drunk young (and chilled), 2004 and 2003 are the vintages to look for. Keep in mind that styles vary (dry, fruity, light, sweet, rich, sparkling) and that New World Rosés tend to be fuller and richer than European bottlings.