Having recently read good
advice from another wine
geek in this column about
picnic and barbecue wines, I
thought I’d contribute my 2 cents’
worth to the topic of summer sipping.
Everything is lighter in summer:
the food, the wardrobes, the
drink. Picnic fare becomes standard
fare, and we eagerly seek out
chilled dishes, the zip and crunch
of summer vegetables and vinegars,
and ripe, sweet tomatoes.
The serious demeanor of colder
months is set aside for a few warm
moments, and our palates demand
freshness and zing. These are the
primary colors of the season’s flavors
and, as such, demand a counterbalance
of freshness and brightness in
our wines of choice.
I counsel countless
wait-staffers and restaurateurs
alike on wineand-
food pairing rules.
More often than not,
it begins with, “Do no
harm.” The only absolute
I can really think of is
that one should avoid
wines with spicy-hot
food; the result is akin
to pouring gasoline on
open fire. Alcohol exacerbates
heat and kills the
flavor of both the food and the wine. Even
so, there are many who gladly eat and
drink such combinations by the bucket. So
be it; it’s really a personal thing. It’s summer,
so experiment. Play.
My favorite starting point—for those bound and determined to make food-and-wine pairing complicated during this least-complicated of culinary seasons—is to do some homework. All food originates from someplace. Some of the world’s finest goat cheeses are found in Pouilly Fume, Sancerre and Castilla y Leon—regions that are also famous for razor-sharp, dry white wines. Three guesses if goat cheese (from anywhere) pairs well with razor-sharp, high-acid white wines (from anywhere). In other words, if it grows together, it goes together.
So, what does make a great
summer wine—an ideal picnic
quaffer? First, as stated above, it
can’t be overly alcoholic. Wines
with excessive alcohol generate
“heat” towards the back of the
throat, and the unctuousness
from glycerol (sugar alcohol)
comes across as oppressive.
Second, I prefer a wine with
more acidity. Acidity is that element
in wine that tingles the sides of the
mouth. That tingle stimulates saliva production
and that saliva, in turn, has an
enzyme that stimulates digestion. (Ever
wonder why you get the wine munchies?)
Acidity is likely to be higher in wines from
cooler climates or in varietals that don’t
require lots of heat, such as Sauvignon
Blanc. And please, please, please don’t be
afraid of pink wines. Too much sugardimmed
white Zinfandel may have deterred
drinkers for years, but the tide has finally
turned, and an ocean of delicious bone-dry,
high-acid pink wines now pepper the
shelves from all corners of the wine globe.
Best of all, great picnic wines are typically
cheap. When grapes are picked early,
when no oak is used and when second fermentations
are avoided, the flavor profile
of the original fresh fruit comes one step
closer to your glass and to your picnic basket
for fewer dollars.