Best New Summer Releases for Under $20 (June 29, 2006)
We drink wine differently in the summertime than we do in either of our other two seasons. (You can forget about spring because it lasts for one day of mud between the last winter storm and the sudden blazing heat of summer.) I guess it's because we spend so much more time out of doors that we tend to be more forgiving in our wine choices and we'll even buy wine in tetrapaks for picnics and hikes.
Well, give yourself a shake and brace up, because there is to be no lowering of critical standards just because you expose parts of the body you've kept hidden for the rest of the year.
In this column I offer you the best newly released wines under $20. The majority of them are only available at Vintages outlets. Those designated LCBO should be readily available, but if you want to know the nearest store to you that carries the product, call the LCBO Infoline 416-365-5900 and quote the product number.
Basically, summer wines fall into two categories: those you drink as thirst quenchers between meals on the deck, dock, patio or poolside; and those you sip alongside barbecued fare. Aperitif wines should be light and refreshing and above all chillable. This means, for the most part, whites, sparklers and rosés, although Beaujolais or Ontario Gamay are chillable. (A good bet would be Henry of Pelham Gamay 2005, light and fruity with a dry, peppery cherry flavour, $13.95 from Vintages stores (#291112).)
You don't want high alcohol wines if you're in the sun. The lowest you'll find are Moscato d'Asti, a gently sparkling wine from Piedmont at 4.5% to 5.5% alcohol with a grapey, orange blossom flavour that's irresistible. Try Fontanafredda "Moncucco" Moscato d'Asti ($19.95, Vintages #673277) and, released on July 9th at Vintages, Rivetti La Spinetta Moscato d'Asti 2004 ($19.95, #999367).
Riesling is another ideal summer wine, especially German Riesling of Kabinett quality, which tends to be lower in alcohol than its Ontario counterpart. Try Balthasar Ress Riesling Kabinett 2004 from the Rheingau ($15.95, Vintages #735241), lovely lime and grapefruit flavours with a honeyed note. Very similar in style is Cave Spring Riesling Off Dry 2005 from Ontario ($13.95, LCBO #234583).
Rosé is another perfect summer wine because, when vinified dry, it's very refreshing and it looks so good in the glass. The region I tend to gravitate towards for rosé is Tavel in southern France. Tavel wines have more substance and flavour than other rosés that are made by bleeding off juice during the fermenting process to concentrate the colour and flavour of red wines. My choice would be Château d'Aqueria Rosé 2005 dry, wild strawberry flavour ($18.95, Vintages #319368). For the home-grown version, your best buy is Malivoire Lady Bug Rosé 2004 ($15, Vintages #559088). If, on the other hand, you prefer a little residual sweetness in your rosé as in white Zinfandel then you'll go for the Australian take on this fruity, easy drinking wine White Shiraz. Banrock Station has a White Shiraz 2005 that's pink with a bluish tint; it shows minty red berries on the nose; on the palate, it's off-dry, medium-bodied, with simple fruit flavours but a refreshing summer wine when chilled. It's an ideal wine to serve with hot, spicy dishes like Thai, Mexican or light curries ($10.95, LCBO #386433).
If you've read this far and said to yourself, "Why hasn't he mentioned Chardonnay," well, here it comes. You'll want to look for an unoaked Chardonnay (that's the style you'll want to drink on a hot summer day), and you can't do better than Peninsula Ridge Beal Vineyard Chardonnay Reserve Inox 2005. The wine shows lovely orange and apple flavours, very elegant and wonderfully balanced in Chablis style. It's only available at the winery for $19.95 a bottle (905-563-0900 or email email@example.com, or you can order it to your door through www.winerytohome.com).
The second category of summer wines relates to those that are served with food, which invariably means meat that has been marinated with a host of spices and then incinerated over hot coals. This combination of spices, smoke and charcoal calls for big red wines with loads of flavour. Think Zinfandel, Shiraz and Cabernet blends made in New World style. There's a wine from the Spanish region of Jumilla that has the longest name I've ever come across: Bodegas y Vinedos de Murcia Mad Dogs & Englishmen "Posh" Monastrell Cabernet Sauvignon Tempranillo 2002. This homage to the Noel Coward song is dense purple-black in colour with a nose of blackberries, sage leaf and vanilla oak; it's full-bodied and chunky on the palate with flavours of sweet blueberries, rose petals and dark chocolate ($17.95, Vintages #673616).
Chilean reds are generally BBQ-friendly because of their bold fruit expression. Recently, I tasted Escudo Rojo 2002. Escudo Rojo translates from the Spanish as Red Shield, which in German is Rothschild. The connection, of course, is that it's the Rothschild family, of Mouton-Rothschild fame, who own the brand. With that kind of provenance you'd expect something good, and it is. This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère and Cabernet Franc is dense ruby in colour with a smoky, vanilla, chocolate and black fruit nose. It's medium-bodied, chunky on the palate with earthy, blackcurrant and black cherry flavours ($16.90, LCBO #613224).
If, on the other hand, you're barbecuing salmon, tuna or lobster, my pick would be E.&J. Gallo Sonoma County Chardonnay 2003, a richly extracted wine with flavours of pineapple, mango and toasty oak ($16.95, LCBO #354282). But just remember: alcohol and sunshine can be a dangerous combination.