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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 Vintages.

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 names.

On the LCBO's general list, these are the wines I would choose for pre-BBQ consumption:

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 so.




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