More acidity, minerality and freshness were the ‘mores’ I had in mind. Less alcohol and richness completed my mental image of the perfect wine for summertime highs, and a nice lunch of shrimp tacos, or even better, dinner of scallops, sea bass, and a nice greek salad, fava beans optional. So what exactly did I have in mind when I passed through my wine shop’s doors? Five wines to be exact, each of which would have been a vacation in a bottle. Five glorious wines to make summer’s heat more bearable, and summer’s menus come alive!
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Bone dry, mineral tinged and full of zesty citrus flavors, it’s no secret that I love Australian Riesling, and when the weather turns warm you should as well. Many of the best bottles come from the Clare and Eden Valleys where a moderately high elevation of about 1,200-1,500 feet above sea level produces warm daytime temperatures that fall dramatically in the evening. That diurnal shift is what gives Australian Rieslings their zesty acidity while letting them ripen in all their citrus glory.
These wines have a small, cult-like following but they are still flying under the radar, making them great values. Expect to pay around $20 a bottle for a gorgeous example of dry Riesling and don’t be afraid to buy them by the case. They are so delicious that they may not last, but if they do they age exceptionally well for a decade or more!
Two to try:
The Standard Bearer: Grosset Riesling Clare Valley Polish Hill ($40)
The Value Play: Pewsey Vale Vineyard Riesling Eden Valley ($17)
Pretty much limited to the island of Santorini in Greece, Assyrtiko is the quintessential summer wine. Much like Australian Riesling, at their best they are mineral and filled with refreshing citrus flavors, but with a compelling slap of saltiness on the finish. Grown from ancient vines in a harsh, unforgiving environment, Assyrtiko blooms from the volcanic soil full of tension and laser-like focus. This is one of the world’s best seafood wines, as long as you keep the preparations simple. While not as age worthy as the aforementioned Rieslings, these wines have a few years of life in them, but I would catch them on the young side to maximize their ripping tension. Another great value with wines priced at $30 or under.
Two to try:
The New Wave: Gaia Estate Assyrtiko Wild Ferment
Classic Beauty: Argyros Assyrtiko Santorini
Since we’re talking about seafood wines we have to mention the all time classic: Muscadet. Produced from the Melon de Bourgogne grape near the city of Nantes where the Loire Valley meets the Atlantic Ocean, the soils here are poor and well-draining, and the climate decidedly temperate, influenced by the proximity of the ocean. The resulting wines, and there are a lot of them since Muscadet and the related appellations are the single largest block of wine produced in the Loire Valley, tend to be light, fresh, and full of notes of oyster shells, lemons and sea breezes, though not the kind with vodka in them.
Great Muscadet, of which there are quite a few, age effortless for years, gaining richness and weight with time in the bottle, but they are also great right out of the bottle, and like the previous wines are great values.
The One to Buy: Pepiere Clos des Briords Muscadet Premier ($17)
The One to Try: Luneau-Papin Muscadet Sevre et Maine le "L" d'Or ($35)
OK, this is the last reference to seafood, promise. Albarino is another top notch summer refresher, packed with the citrus elements that all of these wines share, but at the same time you can find nuances of tropical fruits along with the zesty acidity that makes all of the wines so satisfying on a hot summer’s day. Coming from coastal Spain, specifically the Rias Baixas appellation that skirts the Atlantic coast just north of Portugal, the wines of Albarino are marked by the cool coastal climate and kissed by the spray of the sea. At their best they have a soft richness to them, but they never lose their crisp focus.
Two to try:
The Benchmark: Pazo de Señorans Seleccion de Añada ($60)
The One to Try: Santiago Ruiz Albariño Rías Baixas ($20)
And finally we have my dear neglected Pinot Bianco. I don’t know why, but Pinot Bianco doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves. Crisp, mineral-laced and rich with ripe fruits, Pinot Bianco is like the Swiss army knife of white wines. It’s multi-purposed and always ready; a trusty friend ready to offer snappy green apples, citrus fruit and a touch of herb at a moments notice. My favorite examples come from the Alto Adige, where hot days and cool nights allow vines deeply rooted in mineral rich soils to express their varietal character in such a transparent way that even some of the least expensive examples can’t help but scream of their terroir. I love Pinot Bianco and am going to make sure that I have a bottle in the fridge for my next sweltering Saturday, and Sunday too!
Two to try:
For the Power: St. Michael Eppan Pinot Bianco Linea Selezione Schulthauser ($24)
And the Elegance: Terlano Pinot Bianco ($17)