Despite its quirky arrival and departure times, summer has always had a special meaning for wine drinkers. For a few brief months, the big, hefty wines that dominate most store shelves and restaurant lists take a back seat to a broad category of wines offering instant gratification and are in tune with the the rush to the patio.
At this time of the year as the weather warms up, it’s fresh, aromatic flavours that we reach for. Both red and white wines fit the bill, as long as their structure is just a little leaner than all the rich, tannic bottles we use to wash away winter.
We begin our summer selections in France where the Grassa family, famous for their Armagnac offerings, has garnered more than a little success making a delicious Domaine du Tariquet Sauvignon ($18). Expect an exuberant, fresh ripe passion fruit nose with bits of lemons, limes and a hint of asparagus on the palate. The acidity is mild, making it easy sipping. A versatile oyster or clam wine, you can also serve it with chicken curries and sushi. Think patio parties.
A go-to barbecue red you can sip solo is the Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) from Puente Alto, Chile. Concha y Toro makes a number of value-priced wines, but the “Marques” range is always a step up. Look for a round, warm, supple red with glossy textures and light tannins. The palate is awash in cassis jam, chocolate and saddle leather flavours flecked with bay leaf and vanilla notes. Steaks and lamb chops love this wine.
I’ve always been a fan of the Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay Vintner’s Reserve ($21), made with fruit from three California coastal counties. It has an attractive spicy, melon, floral, butter nose, with bits of mango and lychee. The palate is juicy, with more melon, honey, lychee and vanilla flavours with a creamy finish. It’s a bright, tropical-style chardonnay that offers fine intensity and balance. Perfect for lobster.
If Australia is going to return to its glory, it might be in the glass. Despite its gimmicky name, The Black Chook Shiraz Viognier ($20) hits all the marks with its round, full palate and ample blueberry, plum jam, floral, ginger, peppery, licorice root flavours. There’s good fruit and balance here, with a touch of sweetness in the finish that can stand up to spicy foods.
If you don’t spend a lot of money on wine, then the only white you should drink all summer is the Santa Carolina Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2010 ($12), from Chile’s Leyda Valley. The nose is so fresh and inviting, with grapefruit, lemon and light lees notes. The palate is juicy and round, with ripe guava, melon and light smoky jalapeno flavours and fine intensity for the price. It’s another excellent effort from Santa Carolina, delivering a modern, important, single-appellation wine at great value.
The monastrell grape is a big part of the Spanish wine story, including the tale of Castao Hcula 2008 ($16), from Yecla, Spain. Winemaker Daniel Castao has a special touch with monastrell, coaxing a softness and richness from its peppery, meaty, black cherry, savoury, liquorice flavours. Hamburgers, grilled chicken and/or flank steak will be more interesting if you serve this warm, fresh, solid red.
Rodney Strong Chardonnay ($21) is on autopilot after almost 40 years, with winemaker Rick Sayre allowing the cool Pacific Ocean to govern its style: namely, New Age Sonoma. Cool nights and warm afternoons produce a vibrant chardonnay that is now a 40/60 blend of barrel and stainless steel-fermented fruit grown in the Russian River, Alexander Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations. Look for a bright, citrus nose with hazelnuts and baked apple and peachy fruit flavours in the finish. Halibut with a fruit salsa would be a delicious pairing.
Amalaya Tinta de Altura 2009 ($20) is made with fruit from some of the highest-altitude vineyards in the world. Its blend, malbec, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and tannat, offers a rich palate of sweet, dark cherry fruit and white pepper, with flecks of mineral and spice. The finish is long fresh and spicy, with silky textures that do not quit. Farmed biodynamically, Amalaya (the name means “waiting for a miracle”) is a winner. Grilled meats and hard cheeses are a fine match. It’s especially well-suited to supping while waiting for the weekly 6/49 draw; you know, when you are waiting for a miracle.
You can’t go through summer without riesling, especially elegant, racy, fresh, juicy Dr. L Riesling ($17), from Germany’s Mosel Valley. Dr. L comes off steep slopes covered in slate which defines its racy, juicy style. The 2009 is a touch drier than previous years, but that only adds to its drinkability, not to mention its crunchy ripe red apple fruit flavours.
If you need a spaghetti or pizza wine in your summer mix, make it the Ruffino Il Ducale 2007 ($17) from Tuscany. Il Ducale’s 60/20/20 mix of sangiovese, merlot and syrah defines the modern rock over clay Ruffino estate vineyards. It perfectly balances dry, supple palate, with dark chocolate, leather, roasted meats and blackberry fruit. Try this with beef kebobs or a beef hot pot.
Winemaker John Simes continues to fine-tune his lineup of chardonnays, and the latest is Mission Hill Chardonnay Reserve 2009 ($19). Fresh and juicy with grapefruit, honey, vanilla, baked green apple, light lees and nectarine flavours, it finishes crisp with fine fruit and vibrancy.
The fruit behind the M. Chapoutier Belleruche Ctes-du-Rhne Grenache Syrah 2009 ($19) comes from four departments in the Rhne: Drme, Vaucluse, Gard and Ardche. The palate is supple, the acidity well-managed and the flavours a mix of black cherry, plum, orange, pepper, dried herbs and dark chocolate. Many insiders rate the 2009 Rhne harvest as better than the excellent 2007, but we will leave that judgment up to you.