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Summer Wines  (June 1, 2006)

Summertime, and the drinking is easy... Or it should be if you select wines that go best with sunshine. Don't get too esoteric in your choices, because when you're drinking wine outdoors its bouquet has to compete with the myriad aromas of the great outdoors.

This is the season when cool-climate wines, especially from Europe, come into their own. You really don't want to chew on an Australian Shiraz or a California Zinfandel in blazing sunshine – or a heavily-oaked Chardonnay, for that matter. You want light-bodied wines with racy acidity to quench your thirst. Just as you don't crave heavy meat dishes in summer, your palate desires wines that are lower in alcohol and less concentrated in flavour.

If you visit an LCBO store at this time of year, it can't escape your notice that there is a bunch of rosés on the shelf. Rosés, the hermaphrodite of wines, usually get a bad rap. They are neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring. They look like red wines but taste like whites. At least the dry ones do, although if you are my vintage, you probably remember that the very first wine you enjoyed was a slightly fizzy, slightly sweet pink wine that came in a bottle shaped like a goat's scrotum. I refer, of course, to Mateus Rosé, Portugal's prototype Baby Duck, the wine that launched a million lampshades. But the Portuguese have also given us the quintessential summer white wine – Vinho Verde, the country's largest demarcated wine region and the oldest, with documented references dating back to the first century BC. Vinho Verde (literally "green wine") speaks to the verdant nature of the landscape in this northern region of Portugal and to the mouth-freshening quality of the wine produced here (which can be both white, red or rosé). What makes Vinho Verde such a delightful summer wine is its low alcohol, fresh, minerally-citrus flavour and the slight spritziness that makes it seem to dance on the palate. And the price is right too. Aliança Vinho Verde is $8.05 on the general list and Aveleda Vinho Verde is 10 cents cheaper.

Then there are Germany's Rieslings, of which there is a shameful lack on the LCBO's general list. Best to go shopping in Vintages for these wines, whose fruity acidity and low alcohol makes for ideal summer drinking. Mönchhof Robert Eymael Erdener Treppchen Riesling Spätlese 2003 is a real mouthful in both senses of the term. Don't be hung up on pronunciation. Just ask for Vintages #670646 and you'll get a wine that is pale straw in colour with a nose of petrol and lime and a light and lively honeyed lime flavour ($17.95). Also from Vintages, try the fuller-bodied, off-dry Kloster Eberbach Steinberger Riesling 2004 ($15.95, #681536). Moving up market, try Toni Jost Riesling Bacharacher Hahn Riesling Kabinett 2004 – lovely apricot, peach and honeyed flavours ($21.95, Vintages May 13th release #682336) and my particular favourite of German wines of that May 13th release, Selbacher-Oster Riesling Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Auslese 2003, as light a wine as you'll ever drink, with wonderfully expressive mineral, lime and honey flavours ($28.95, Vintages #684365).

Then there is that other quintessential summer wine – because it looks so good in the glass on an outdoor table – rosé. One of the best is from Ontario: Malivoire "Lady Bug" Rosé 2004, available at the winery or through Vintages ($15, #559088). Deep pink in colour with a nose of strawberries and damp earth, Lady Bug has a flavour of strawberry jam nicely balanced with lively acidity. Cave Spring, another Ontario winery, also does a good job with its dry rosé ($11.65 on the LCBO's general list, #295006).

When it comes to red wines for summer drinking, think in terms of those that are not too high in alcohol, are made with little or no recourse to oak and are chillable. This means Beaujolais first and foremost. There are lots to chose from, but keep in mind that Beaujolais-Villages is a step up in quality and concentration of flavour from simple Beaujolais, and the named villages of Beaujolais are better still. There are ten of these crus (growths) – Brouilly, Cotes de Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Régnié and St. Amour. Their dry, fruity, cherry-strawberry-plum flavours are light and easy drinking as well as being versatile food wines. Other chillable reds include Valpolicella and Pinot Noir from cool climates such as Burgundy and Ontario.

Don't let your red wine warm up in direct sunshine. The alcohol will start to evaporate and the wine will lose its structure and begin to taste soupy. Keep it in the shade in an ice bucket.

Sparkling wines are refreshing summer drinks, but remember to serve them in tall flute glasses so the wine remains chilled. Spanish cava, because of its wallet-friendly pricing, comes into its own at this time of year. From the general list, Segura Viudas ($13.95) and Cordoníu Brut Clásico ($10.95) are my choices. Prosecco from Italy's Veneto region is also a good, dry option: Bottega Vino dei Poeti Prosecco ($13.05) or Valdobbiadene Prosecco ($13.20) are both well worth trying. These products are stonily dry, but if you like some sweet grapey flavours in your bubbly, go for Martini & Rossi Asti Spumante ($12.50).

In conclusion, since summer is a relaxing time, don't fuss about the quality of your stemware when it comes to serving your guests around the pool, deck, dock or patio. The wines I am recommending will taste just fine out of clear plastic as long as they are nicely chilled. Just enjoy.




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