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Bliss in a bottle
The wines of summer


by Gregory Foley

Summer is short and sweet in Central Idaho. Cool mornings precede balmy afternoons, which in turn give way to calm, temperate evenings perfect for casual outdoor dining and entertaining.

The warm weather typically curbs appetites for heavy foods and, for many of us, the weighty wines that go with them.

So, when the mercury climbs above 80 degrees and the porch becomes the dining room, what wines should one serve?

The obvious thing is, you’d start to go after cold wines, because it’s hot out,” says Craig Spiller, manager of Sun Valley Wine Company in Ketchum. “But, that does not preclude drinking red wines.”

Spiller says many wines can be appropriate for summer, from a slightly chilled pinot noir to a crisp, grassy sauvignon blanc.

With so many varieties of fine wines available today, the burly, tannic cabernet sauvignons, merlots and Bordeaux blends should generally be left in the cellar, he says. Brought out in their place should be younger, more acidic wines that match up with seafood, salads and lighter, grilled fare.

The ultimate summer wines, Spiller holds, are dry, sparkling white wines, particularly those from the French region of Champagne.

“You can’t beat Champagne,” Spiller says. “It’s so clean and crisp, it can go with any summer food. And it’s the perfect way to finish an evening. It just piques the palate and refreshes everything.”

For summer sipping, Spiller also recommends rosé Champagnes—which offer more forward fruit flavors than their white-wine counterparts—as well as French still rosé wines.

Tom Pyle, manager of Atkinsons’ food and wine market in Ketchum, says he believes dry rosé wines—which are often overlooked by Americans as something akin to sweet white zinfandels—are the perfect choice for most summer occasions.

“Rosé would be my pick,” Pyle says. “The great rosés are some of the finest wines going.”

Rosé wines, which are made from pressed red grapes but left to interact with the skins for less time than red wines, can pair up magically with grilled fish, cold poultry and smoked meats.

“French rosés bring impressions of sitting outside eating olives and looking out over the Mediterranean,” Spiller says. “In the south of France, they drink rosés all the time.”

Light white wines, which should generally be served chilled but not icy cold, can be poured as an afternoon apéritif or as a complement to a variety of summer meals.

Crisp, fruit-endowed dry Rieslings and chenin blancs, like rosés, pair well with fish dishes and picnic foods. Gewürztraminer—when finished dry as is done in the French region of Alsace—is often served with spicy foods, but also marries well with oysters and exotic mixed greens. A pinot grigio—pinot gris to the French—or a light sauvignon blanc can be the perfect choice to accompany appetizers, cheeses and summer salads.

“Sauvignon blanc always fits in because it’s fresh and clean and bright,” Spiller says.

Classic citrus- and mineral-scented sauvignon blancs from New Zealand or France’s Loire Valley also make an ideal match for herbed chicken and many shellfish dishes.

Chardonnays, which range from lighter-style wines from the French region of Chablis to buttery, heavily oaked boutique wines from California, pair exquisitely with rich seafood dishes, such as salmon steaks or lobster.

Summer also offers fresh opportunities to experiment with red wines.

Light-bodied reds, including gamay-based Beaujolais wines and many pinot noirs, can be served slightly chilled with pork and poultry. For grilled meats, Pyle says the best match will come with a cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, merlot or syrah.

“Zinfandel can be great with a big steak,” he says.

Despite the tendency of oenophiles and chefs to seek the perfect pairings of wines and foods, Spiller says the most important factor in choosing a wine, for any season, is personal taste.

“A delicate food should be served with a delicate wine. Outside of that, don’t be too concerned,” he says. “I often say, ‘A great bottle of wine is the one that’s open in front of you that you like.’”

 

Wine with a twist?

Looking for a new, eclectic apéritif to serve on warm summer evenings?

Craig Spiller, manager of the Sun Valley Wine Company, recommends a glass of Quady Electra Orange Muscat, a low-alcohol, sweet dessert wine made from a rare variety of the muscat grape family. To rev up the taste buds in the pre-dinner hour, serve it over ice with a twist of lemon. •


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