By Ed Korry, CHE, CSS, CWE, president of SWE and department chair at Johnson & Wales University
Hopefully, the sun is out and the dog days of the summer are upon us as you read this article. I don’t know about you, but from a psychological and gustatory perspective, I do prefer lighter and more refreshing wines during the summer. If I am not sipping whites and rosés at this time of year, the summer is not only gloomy, it’s in recession. It’s a time that many more of us are relaxed and willing to be more adventurous. Americans are also more willing to try unfamiliar white wines than reds. This article will hopefully gear you to a better ability to have your staffs suggest and sell unfamiliar or daring choices of this style of wine to your customers, potentially offering them a new great experience.
Familiar to Unfamiliar
Not enough of us enjoy what is arguably the noblest of white wine varietals – Riesling – and it may have to do with the reputation that it stems from long ago experiences with Blue Nun, Black Tower, Black Cat, etc. Rieslings, with bracing acidity, from Mosel, Rheingau, Nahe and the Pfalz produced by many German wineries, have the capacity to give you an electrifying experience, waking you from your summer slumber and making those crab cakes or fish tacos pop in your mouth. But Rieslings from Germany aren’t the only ones to cause such a reaction. Try a Riesling from Kamptal or Kremstal in Austria, and you’ll see what I am referring to. They also have that wonderful minerally character that seems to pair so well with shellfish.
For an encore, try a Riesling from the Clare Valley or Eden Valley from South Australia. They have a lime-flavored acidity that accompanies all kinds of foods, including shrimp cooked on the “barbie.” They’re great accompaniments to Indian spices, Chinese and Middle Eastern cuisines and vegetarian dishes. And don’t think Americans aren’t in the game. Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery from the Finger Lakes AVA in New York has won three international wine competitions in the past six months as Best of Show for their semi-dry Riesling. There are many producers having great success, including Chateau Ste Michelle from Washington State and Elk Cove from Oregon.
From the more familiar, let us go to a less familiar varietal, Furmint, which comes from Hungary. Furmint is the base varietal to the world-renowned sweet Tokaji wines, but leading producers are now making delicious dry, juicy, full-bodied, bright apricot and pear and nut-scented dry wines. For those who enjoy Chardonnay and Viognier, these wines will be most appreciated. Many producers vinify Furnint like Chardonnay, with lees treatment and oak aging. Producers such Royal Tokaji and Oremus, owned by Vega Sicilia, are well worth seeking out.
Heading further south in Italy, we are witness to a strikingly apparent white wine revolution that has transformed dry whites from being rather insipid, with little or no oxidized flavors, to vibrant, aromatic and balanced whites. Who but wine geeks knows about Kerner? While created in Germany as a cross between Trollinger and Riesling, and at one time one of the three most planted varietals in Germany due to its frost resistance, it never quite reached the apogee of quality that the Alto Adige in northern Italy provides. These wines are stunning with bracing mouth-wateringly acidity, lovely floral and tropical mango, peach and grapefruit undertones with more weight and depth than Rieslings. Abbazia di Novacella is a producer that delivers such a wine and it’s a great accompaniment to cuisines listed above and cold pasta salads.
Examples of today’s innovative and delicious Italian white wines are too numerous to mention, but must include a Soave Classico renaissance made from the Garganega variety, which offers tangy acidity with nutty and floral elderflower notes. Producers such as Inama or Pieropan are worth seeking out. One recent discovery includes a variety known as Pecorino, a term most of us associated with the sheep cheeses of Tuscany and Sardinia. This varietal, from the Marche and Abbruzzo Adriatic coast regions, offers a contrast of richness and tartness, ripe aromas of fruit, almonds, ginger and white pepper, counterbalanced by minerality. Try a Podere Castorani Amorino Abruzzo Superiore or a Cataldi Madonna, who is pioneer in this varietal.
Travelling to the western coastline of Campania, we encounter some delicious white wines, particularly the Fiano di Avellino, which is inland in fairly high elevation nestled in volcanic soils. This white variety is made in different styles, from straightforward with lovely acidity to complex, richly textured, aromatic wines with underlying smoky and mineral notes. The famed Mastroberardino and the Feudi di San Gregorio are widely available. I recently enjoyed a long forgotten, 10-year old Terredora Fiano di Avellino from my cellar that was an extraordinary surprise with its youthful acidity, balanced complexity of ripe fruit and rich texture.
Greek Game Changers
The surge of interest in this country among sommeliers for Greek varietals is, in large measure, due to one person’s efforts, Sofia Perpera, the lead for the Greek Wine Bureau for the U.S. She introduced not only sommeliers but also wine writers and educators to these wonderful Greek offerings, including but not restricted to Assyrtiko, Malagouzia and Moschofilero. The Assyrtiko wines from the island of Santorini are the kind of wines that would appeal to Chablis lovers. They are bone dry in most cases, unless deliberately made in a dessert wine style, having very bright acidity and delicate floral and savory notes, with a persistent minerally character. Paris Sigalas, Gaia Estate among others are readily available in major markets.
The Malagouzia (also spelled as Malagousia) was rescued from extinction by Vangelis Gerovassiliou and provides a citrus, peach and beautiful floral and savoriness as a lovely summer food accompaniment. Producers such as Gerovassiliou and Alpha Estate are available in the U.S. Most prominent in the import market are the Moschofileros emanating particularly from Mantinea in the Peloponnese. They vary considerably in expression but my favorites have floral rose and violet notes, and spiciness reminiscent of some Gewurztraminers but with tangier acidity. This is a can be a stand-alone apéritif wine or, again due to its acidity, a great food wine. Boutari or Skouros are two of many fine producers of this varietal. Opa!
‘Tis the Season for Pink
Americans have finally woken up to the pleasures of dry rosé wines as delicious accompaniments to a wide range of foods, especially in the summer. The explosive growth of more than 40 percent annually of rosé wines in the U.S. may be due to the influence of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s purchase of Chateau Miraval in the Côtes de Provence, but more likely that the ancient tradition has persisted for a very good reason: They can be delicious.
There are two ways of making rosé wines, excluding blending of red and white wines – a practice forbidden in the EU except for rosé Champagne. One method is the direct press of red grapes such as Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Cinsault, all prominent in the south of France and Spain, which results in a very pale colored pink wine and is predominant in Provence rosé wines. The other method is called “saignée” (bleeding), in which the juice is macerated with the grape skins for several hours or more. This method provides more color and structure. They can have both depth and complexity, and most are marked by bright red and stone fruit with floral notes.
While I can particularly relate best to the rosés of Provence and the Southern Rhône, I remember decades ago trying a Heitz Cellar Napa Valley Grignalino rosé and being so delighted and impressed that I have been a fan ever since. Its crisp acidity with lovely red fruit and floral character is entrancing and a perfect accompaniment to summer offerings. The deeper colored rosé wines from Tavel in the southern Rhône, such those of Chateau d’Aqueria or those of Domaine du Joncier from neighboring Lirac, will convert any serious wine lover or novice to the pleasures of such wines.
The Navarra DO of Spain is well known for its rosados, which are made primarily from Grenache but may have Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Tempranillo as part of the blend. If you haven’t had the pleasure, find Campos de Enanzo Garnacha Rosado, Julian Chivite’s Gran Feudo Rosado or Vega Sindoa’s Rosado, for under $10 retail. Another advantage of rosé wines is that they can be enjoyed by a several guests at a table who are having very different meals. It relieves the host from the pressures of ordering “the right wine” for everyone – not that there is such a thing, but these come very close! Do your guests a favor this summer: Offer them daring and adventurous wines to enjoy, and the payback will be all the greater because it will help make for a memorable experience.