Dreaming of Summer (May 6, 2004)
Yes, Virginia, there is a summer. Sometimes it comes later than expected
and when it does arrive it makes you forget that our climate allows us
to produce more icewine than the rest of the world combined. But ultimately
the season of surrender does arrive.
Summer means living outdoors, and the logical assumption is that we
will consume wine in the open air, whether it is on the deck, the dock,
or the poolside patio.
Summer wine is different from the wines we gravitate towards in winter;
we don't look to it for central heating. In the sunshine we are less critical,
but we expect two things of wine: first, to be light, refreshing and thirst-quenching;
and second, to go with all the barbecued offerings that the male of the
species presides over. (Irrelevant thought: barbecuing is the only occasion
when most men can be persuaded to wear an apron.)
Now these notions of what we expect in summer wines are basically antithetical
because a light, refreshing wine has a snowball's chance of standing up
to incinerated (read barbecued) meat that has been marinated in spicy,
hot sauces and infused with the smell of smoke and charcoal.
So I'm going to deal with summer wines in two different categories:
pre-BBQ wines and wines to accompany BBQ food.
Pre-BBQ wines are those afternoon sippers that are chilled to
cool you down. They invariably spend far too long in the ice bucket, so
any delicate nuances are lost.
For summer drinking as you laze by the water or picnic in the backyard,
I would recommend low-alcohol wines that have lively acidity and distinctive
fruit character. This leads me to German and Ontario Rieslings in both
dry and off-dry style. Some of those German Rieslings you can find at
A great buy is Dr. L Riesling 2002 from Weingut Dr. Loosen in
the Mosel ($12.95, CSPC #599274). The wine has a lovely nose of honey
and spring flowers with an off-dry peach and citrus flavour. Even better
is Dr. Loosen's Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Kabinett 2002, a beautifully
extracted wine with honeyed peach and lime flavours and the characteristic
minerally note from slate soils ($19.95, #927756). For something different,
try a wine from Franconia, Weingut Hans Wirsching Silvaner Trocken
2002, a light-bodied wine with a nose of apple blossom, and a clean,
dry and elegant flavour with a fine green apple taste. It comes in a Bochsbeutel
- the traditional flask-shaped bottle that, legend has it, was modelled
on a goat's scrotum ($15.95, #27806).
The three wines mentioned above are all Vintages products and you can
locate them in the store nearest to you by calling the LCBO infoline (416-365-5900)
and quoting the product number if you're shy about pronouncing German
On the LCBO's general list, these are the wines I would choose for pre-BBQ
Nobilo Fall Harvest Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand (fresh;
passion fruit and grapefruit flavours, $15.10, #554444); from Argentina,
Etchart Cafayate Torrontes ($9.95, #283754,) a dry, aromatic wine
that smells and tastes like dry Muscat carnation and cardamom with
grapefruit flavours. In a similar style is Hawthorne Mountain Gewurztraminer
from British Columbia, a delicate rose petal and lychee profile at a bargain
price ($10.95, #440685).
If you like a little sweetness, try Balbach Riverside Riesling
from Rhinehessen sweet grapefruit, lime and honey flavours ($9.95,
#499814). But if your taste is for zippy, cheek-sucking dry wines, Vintages
has a classic Sauvignon de Haut Poitou from the Cave du Haut-Poitou
intense gooseberry and nettle nose with a cut-grass and Granny
Smith flavour ($10.95, #119222), or from the general list, from Chile,
Caliterra Sauvignon Blanc, all grapefruit and grass with lively
acidity ($9.40, #275909).
If you can find any Moscato d'Asti hanging around your local
Vintages outlet, snap it up. It's a perfect patio wine. The next best
thing is Asti Spumante that tastes like a mouthful of Muscat grapes. Try
Martini & Rossi Asti ($11.85, #1875), but chill it well.
If you like sipping reds, opt for a light-bodied fruity wine like Beaujolais
(anything from the Gamay grape) or Valpolicella wines that can
be lightly chilled. And, of course, dry rosés that look very appealing
in the sunshine.
When it comes to wines to accompany BBQ food, choose bold, full-bodied
wines that have lots of fruit and soft tannins. This points to New World
wines from warm growing regions such as California, Chile, and Australia.
Don't waste your fine chateau-bottled Bordeaux or Domaine-bottled Burgundy;
the outdoor smells and the heat won't do them any favours.
My first choice for BBQ'd steak and ribs is Australian Shiraz, which
has enough body and flavour to stand up to any burnt offering. Annie's
Lane Shiraz ($19.95, #602391), Peter Lehmann Barossa Shiraz
($19.95, #572875) and Rosemount Diamond Shiraz ($19.95, #572875)
all fit into this category, with up-front blackberry fruit, soft tannins
and a smoky, tarry note. Merlot from Chile also works well try
Carmen Merlot ($10.95, #248625). From California: Trinchero Family
Selection Merlot ($18.95, #550566) or Turning Leaf Zinfandel
($14.95, #409821). I also like the Simonsig Pinotage from South
Africa ($13.15, #362673), with its smoky, blackberry and iodine flavours,
and the jammy Bellingham Shiraz ($12.65, #554360).
If you want to buy Canadian, opt for Mission Hill Private Reserve
Merlot ($14.95, #496109) from British Columbia or Henry of Pelham
Cabernet Merlot Meritage ($14.95, #504241).
Finally, a word about drinking wine in the sun. Keep red wines cool.
If they heat up above 20°C, the alcohol begins to evaporate; the wine
will lose its structure and taste soupy. You can refresh it by sticking
it in an ice bucket filled with water and ice cubes for ten minutes or