Wine Observed: Summer Wines
by Marty Ramsburg
Summer is but a fleeting moment in Vermont, or so it seems. Those of us who live here year-round relish each day that we can be outside without putting on layers.
From mid-June through foliage in late October, Vermont is bliss —cool nights, warm days, walks along the tree-covered river road that is cool despite the ambient temperature in town, the Farmers’ Market, flowering pots, ubiquitous green. It is like being on vacation at home.
Wine helps us celebrate our “staycation.” There are certain wines that I associate with summer, and when we pour a glass of these and sit on our front porch overlooking the valley, we know that there is no place we would rather be. Wines that say summer are refreshing, with higher acidity to accentuate that freshness; they are clean and
usually chilled. Below are several on which we rely to enhance our quiet evenings as we watch the shadows fall from east to west across the meadow, or when we have friends over with whom we share an evening on the screened porch.
Nothing says vacation like Rosé, particularly since rosés are so strongly associated with the Cote d’Azur, an area of beach, sun and therefore, leisure. Classic French rosé is always dry, not to be confused with US “blush” wines like White Zinfandel. Our favorite summer sippers always include a Cotes du Provence rosé. These tend to be Cinsault-based, light-bodied, minerally, sightly floral (lavender), with a hint of something herbal like rosemary or thyme. A beautiful pale pink, with one of these in our respective glasses, it never fails to place us squarely in vacation mode. Other areas that make thirst-quenching rosés include Costieres de Nimes, with more Grenache and Syrah, Cotes du Ventoux, and Loire Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir or Gamay rosés from Chinon, Saumur, Bourgueil, or Anjou.
Vin de Savoie, Jacqueres
A couple of summers ago, we discovered the Jacqueres grape from Savoie and fell in love. The Savoie region is Alpine, tucked up against Switzerland at Lake Geneva. Two-thirds of the grapes grown in the region are white varietals and Jacquere just reminds us of the area from which it comes— mountain meadows, alpine lakes, cool, clean brooks. Sounds kind of like Vermont, doesn’t it?
A citrusy, high acid (picquepoul means “lipstinger”) white from Lanquedoc, it offers flavors of grapefruit, green apple, and lime zest. The acidity lifts the wine on the finish, giving it an energetic zing that is delicious on a hot summer day out on the water, or in the early evening before the sun disappears below the mountains.
Vinho Verde means green wine, its name derived from when the grapes are picked. Harvested just before ripeness, the acidity level is high and, because the grapes are not yet mature, the sugar level is low which means that the wine is low alcohol, usually in the 9%-10.5% range, making it the perfect afternoon wine so that you are not asleep by early evening. It also has a little spritz of carbon dioxide that gives it a slight fizziness on entry. With its citrusy lemon flavors, its spritz and the clean, fresh finish, it is the perfect accompaniment to sailing, tubing, swimming or picnicking on a hot afternoon or, for that matter, for rewarding yourself after a hot afternoon of gardening.
Sometimes a red wine is the appropriate accompaniment to the summer grill. Even so, because our foods tend to be lighter in the summer, so should be the wines that partner with them. Below are two reds that we serve in the summer. Because neither is tannic, they can both be served slightly chilled, around 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Good Beaujolais, from one of its ten cru villages, is a real treat. A Beaujolais cru will likely run $18-$25 per bottle, so it is not to be confused with the simple, fruity Beaujolais Nouveau released as the first wine of the vintage on the third Thursday in November. Both are made from the Gamay grape, but cru Beaujolais boasts aromatics of cherry, raspberry, dried leaves and mushrooms. It is light-bodied for red, usually 12-13% alcohol, low in tannin, higher in acidity and therefore works nicely with a bit of a chill.
Another Loire Valley wine that has little tannin and some acidity, we enjoy a glass chilled in the late evening when we grill Portobello mushrooms or eggplant. Cab Franc has flavors of red fruits, herbs and a nice spiciness on the finish. When it is sufficiently ripe, it also has a compelling hint of something floral like violets. It’s a lovely wine to prolong your summer evening, perhaps adding a layer while waiting to stargaze into our magnificent night skies free of superfluous ambient light.
Marty Ramsburg is co-owner with Frank Larkin of Windham Wines, one of Vermont’s premier wine and beer retailers. Next door is their Wine Gallery, a unique venue for special events and guided wine and beer tastings. 802 246-6400 Tues-Sat, 11-7p, 30-36 Main Street, Brattleboro, Windhamwines.com.