Wines for Summer

Some things bear repeating – “Don’t forget to brush your teeth!” “Look both ways!” “Buckle your seatbelt!”  We’re never too old, or too young, to be reminded. Okay, it may be a stretch, but I want to remind you “Don’t wait to enjoy the wines of summer!”  And I promise this isn’t a lecture, just a gentle nudge to motivate your Sips.

For me the wines of summer occupy a special place in the Sips universe – the whites are fresh and zippy; the reds are punchy and ready for cookouts and al fresco dining; and then there is rose’.  Vive la Rose’ I say!  Just yesterday we sat on the deck with a couple of friends sharing a gorgeous salad with all kinds of mixed greens and goodies like grilled chicken breast and sipped on chilled rose’ from the Cotes du Provence, savoring the warm sunshine and gentle breeze.  How good is that!

So since some things bear repeating I want to get a few earlier posts back on your radar so that you can make the most of summer sipping.

Zippy Summer Whites will give you a good overview of some lighter and refreshing wines from around the world that are picture perfect for summertime.

Then we paid particular attention when It’s It’s Time for Sauvignon Blanc – the sassy Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand to Sancerre to California USA.

And when we wrote about Keeping Your (Wine) Cool we didn’t ignore the lighter styled reds either – wines like Barbera, Chianti and young Rioja that are ideal for the the way we eat during the summer.

But we also went right to the Weber when we Q’d the Zin! and got the fire under some dry-rubbed, slow cooked, sweet and smokey baby back ribs and the jammy yet peppery flavors of Zinfandel.

And before we leave the backyard, don’t forget Burgers and Bordeaux.

My favorite summer wine thing, however, is to be the Preacher in the House and convert you to Rose’.  I love Rose’. Did you get that? I said I LOVE ROSE’!  To quote me “Rose’ is everything that is crisp, lively, summery and tantalizing about wine.”

The beauty and magic of wine is that is brings us a never-ending variety of tasty experiences that can match the meal, the season or the mood.  Frankly, that is the reason I like to write about wine and spread the word about what it can add to our life experiences… even if it means repeating things some times!

If you would like to wander though some of the wines of summer, or any other time of year, then just be a regular visitor to our Sips pages for Every Day, Guest and Splurge choices.

Every Day Sips – Wines Under $25

Guest Sips – Wines to Give or Get from $25

Splurge Sips – Wines Over $50

The Wines of Alsace

As spring turns to summer I begin thinking more about white wines and the pleasure of a chilled glass in my hand. So let’s dial in to the wines of Alsace. It’s a wine region that seems a little out of place in the whole scheme of French wine country. It’s unique because there is a distinct geographic, cultural and wine making connection to Germany, which lies just across the Rhine River.

Alsace is narrow wine region running north to south from near Strasbourg for about 60 miles and is plunked right between the Vosges Mountains on the west and the Rhine on the east. Like its German wine neighbors it is a cold climate region, but the mountains ensure that it is also a dry and sunny one, which helps the grapes reach maturity before the chill sets in. That’s why Alsace is a terrific place to find refreshing, fruit forward, dry Gewurtztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Muscat.  And the good news is that Alsace, unlike other French wine regions, labels the bottle with the grape variety.  At the store you’ll see those tall green bottles that look German, with German domaine names too, but the wine will be pure French and easy to identify.

What’s the Alsatian style?  Well I mentioned fruit forward and that’s for sure, but the other thing to know is that they really don’t use any oak and generally what is says on the label is 100% in the bottle so you get a full expression of that grape.

  • The Riesling will have the classic flavors of stone fruits like peaches and won’t be as sweet or acidic like most of its German counterparts (read more about Riesling here). It’s a delightful sipping wine, especially to begin an evening or a meal since it’s traditionally lighter in alcohol.
  • The Gewurtztraminer is a favorite of mine. Gewrurtz may seem sweet when you take the first sip but that’s its profound fruity character. Usually tropical flavors of lychee, jasmine, pineapple and honeysuckle lead the way with spiciness underneath. These are floral and aromatic wines.  Gewurtztraminer is awesome with Asian foods and just plain terrific with smokey ones. And this is my wine choice with Indian food – Vindaloo chicken anyone?
  • Pinot Blanc is like a more delicate version of Pinot Gris (FYI –  I think the Alsace Pinot Gris is richer in style than Italian Pinot Grigio) and they’re both easy drinking. I like them best simply to sip or to share with some seafood.
  • Then there is Muscat. Muscat is an ancient grape found in many wine regions where it is often made into sweet dessert wines, but in Alsace this is a dry and lively wine with notes of orange blossom.

The grape types I mentioned above are known as the “noble” grapes of Alsace (except Pinot Blanc) and the local rules permit some blending of them. In a blend when at least half of the wine is from these grapes you will see the word “Gentil” on the label. I have to say, this is a pleasant and typically inexpensive white wine to have around for simple sipping times.

There is also sparkling wine made in the Alsace region.  It’s called Cremant d’Alsace which is made in the traditional Champagne method and may even contain a little chardonnay.  It is a lively sparkler that features delicate bubbles, some toasty flavor and lighter alcohol that makes it fun and simple if you have a taste for a little tingle.

In case you’re keeping track (like I am!) this post is part of the continuing fulfillment of my New Year Resolution!  For those of you playing along at home: “April – makes me think of the song “April in Paris” so let’s head to France. Hmmm, how about some of the lovely whites of Alsace?”

So now that we know a bit about those lovely white wines I think it’s time to sip!

Every Day Sip
2015 Hugel Gentil $12

2014 Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Blanc Les Princes Abbes $15

2014 Emile Beyer Gewurztraminer Tradition $18

Lucien Albrecht Blancs de Blanc Cremant d’Alsace $18

2012 Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve $22

2013 Trimbach Riesling $20

Guest Sip
2013 Zind Humbrecht Muscat $25

2014 Domaine Weinbach Gewurztraminer Cuvee Theo $30

2013 Ostertag Riesling Clos Mathis $40

Splurge Sip
2012 Zind Humbrecht Gewurztraminer Herrenweg de Turckheim $50

Getting Serious about Riesling

For one of the world’s most noble grapes, Riesling is pretty much unappreciated, misunderstood and under consumed by much of the world’s wine drinkers – especially in the USA.  And that means we are really missing some special sips!  We are a land long dominated by Chardonnay and infatuated with Sauvignon Blanc, so I think it’s time we got serious about Riesling. Many people carry the misconception that Riesling is a cheap sweet wine that comes in a tall blue bottle when it is really a wine that offers incredible stylistic variety, great age worthiness and terrific versatility with food.

Native to Germany, where it is celebrated as a national treasure, Riesling is a colder climate varietal that does well there and in other areas with shorter growing seasons like Austria, the Alsace Region of France, Canada’s Niagara Peninsula, the Finger Lakes Region of New York and, increasingly, Washington State.

As I wrote in German Wine 101, “Riesling has a wonderful balance of acidity and sugars, yielding wines that smack of ripe peaches along with spiciness, tanginess and mineralty.”

Be sure to visit that post because it is a great overview of the German approach to this wine.

What makes it so drinkable?  The main thing that makes Riesling so drinkable and versatile is its naturally occurring high level of acidity. Much of the Riesling on the shelves has been produced with some residual sugar, and the balance between the acidity and some degree of residual sugar makes the wine drinkable with many different kinds of foods.

When it comes to Riesling my mantra is that “a little heat needs a little sweet.” In fact, Riesling seems ideally suited for just about any dish that has some spiciness so it’s one of my default wines with Asian dishes or Mexican flavors. I love Red Snapper Veracruz – grilled or baked fresh snapper filet covered in a salsa of onions, pepper, olives, tomatoes and capers paired up with a well chilled class of Riesling.  But it’s also a perfect fit for seafoods and other fish dishes like clams casino, shrimp cocktail, a filet of sole or some seared scallops.  And don’t forget the chicken stir fry or, given its heritage just about any sausage you like – along with the ideal (to me) German dish, Schnitzel with Spaetzle!

So let’s recap: what can you expect when you pour some Riesling in a glass?

  • Aromas of peaches, apricots or honeysuckle and maybe a bit of lime but also a telltale note of petrol. Yes I said petrol. It sounds bad but when you sniff it you’ll know its not!
  • Tastes of that ripe stone fruit along with a lush texture and that bit of sweet/tart balance of the sugar and acid all wrapped together with a slate – like mineralty that adds to the freshness in your mouth.

Time to Sip!

Ever Day Sip

2014 Chateau Ste Michelle Riesling Eroica, Columbia Valley $20

2015 Chateau Montelena Riesling $24

2014 Chateau Ste Michelle Cold Creek Vineyard Riesling $14

August Kesseler R Riesling Kabinett 2014 $16
Unscrew it an enjoy.

2014 Dr Loosen Estate Blue Slate Riesling Kabinett $20
Great producer. Classic Kabinett profile.

2013 Georg Albrecht Schneider Niersteiner Hipping Riesling Spatlese $15
Nice off-dry Spatlese for your brat!

Guest Sip
2014 Dr Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese $30
Lovely balance of acidity and sugar. Delightful to sip at the dinner table.

2013 J J Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese $50
Elegant wine – terrific producer.

Splurge Sip
Dr. Loosen Riesling Eiswein 2012 $80 375ml bottle

Twelve Wines for Holiday Times

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring… except me – the wine cellar mouse! Yes it’s that time of year and I thought I’d share some thoughts for a Christmas case of wine with some rhyme. So here is my own version of the twelve days of Christmas!

Try one from the Left Bank meant to rest and to age (1)
and one from the West with notes of berry and sage (2).

Then pick a wine from new lands (3)
and one from the boot of old (4);
While making another choice from the hands of Oz (5)
and a bright green bottle from out of the cold (6).

Now you need some sparkle that glints, shines and dances in the light (7)
and a glass filled with ruby red to savor late into the night (8).

No holiday is complete unless there is fame (9) and a jaunty sipper to enjoy with the game (10).
And we’ll end with a bottle of artful delight (11) and one to celebrate the gift of this night (12).

This is a case for all to enjoy any day of the year
but especially now at this time of friends and good cheer!

Merry Christmas to all and Happy Hanukkah too – these are my sips of best wishes for you!
And if you’re still following here are some wines to fill your wishes too.

1 – 2010 Chateau d’Issan Margaux $80 “A complete, medium to full-bodied, exquisite Margaux from this medieval, moat-encircled, compellingly beautiful estate in the southern Medoc, D’Issan’s 2010 is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot – a dense, purple-colored wine with beautiful aromatics of spring flowers, blueberries and black raspberries as well as hints of cassis, tar and charcoal. The wine is gorgeously pure, well-balanced, and soft enough to be approached in 4-5 years or cellared for 25-30.” -Robert Parker Reviewed by: The Wine Advocate – 95 pts

2 – 2012 Chateau Ste Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon Canoe Ridge $28 “This wine is aromatically reserved with notes of milk chocolate, char, berry, barrel spices and high-toned herbs. It’s silky and polished in feel, with richness and elegance to the coffee flavors.” – Sean Sullivan, 11/1/2015  Reviewed by: The Wine Enthusiast – 90 pts

3 – 2012 Norton Malbec Reserva $16 “Offers a fruity aroma, with red and dark fruit flavors that are complex and woven together with fine tannins. Minerally midpalate, presenting some inviting peppery notes. Finishes with a flush of spice and brambly details. Drink now through 2018.” – Kim Marcus, Dec 31, 2014 Reviewed by: Wine Spectator – 90 pts

4 – 2012 San Felice Chianti Classico Riserva il Grigio $22 “A cool, sleek style of Il Grigio with mint, lavender and black-cherry aromas and flavors. Sweet tobacco as well. Full body with firm, fine tannins and a long, fresh finish. A wine with lovely texture and tension. Drink now.” – October 29th, 2015 Reviewed by: James Suckling – 92 pts

5 – 2014 Two Hands Shiraz Angel’s Share $30 “While there are no half measures with the weight or shape of this wine, it has a touch of elegance running alongside its blackberry, blood plum and dark chocolate fruit; the tannins wait until the last moment to join forces with the oak to speak clearly of the long future ahead. Great value.” -James Halliday – 94 pts

6 – 2012 J J Prum Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett $28 “Prum wines are among the most exciting and delicious Rieslings of the middle Mosel. Slow-to-develop and long-lived, these wines are full of pure stone fruits with a slate-mineral driven finish.”

7 – 2012 Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs $35 “The 2012 Blanc de Noirs expresses generous aromas of yellow peach, fresh orange zest, cantaloupe, and citrus blossom, which gradually layers with fragrances of warm apple dumpling and creme anglaise. Lush flavors coat the palate with tangerine, Santa Rosa plum, candied ginger and a hint of French flan. This sparkling wine delivers a clean, lingering finish with crisp mouthwatering.”

8 – 2009 Graham’s Late Bottled Vintage Port $24 “This is a smooth and rich wine, with generous fruit alongside spice and ripe, black plum fruit accents. Ready to drink, it shows surprising balance between a perfumed character and an unctuous palate.” – Roger Voss, 8/1/2015  Reviewed by: The Wine Enthusiast – 90 pts

9 – 2012 Opus One $235 “Glorious purity of fruit here with black currants, blueberries, dark chocolate, fresh herbs and forest floor. Hints of mint too, plus hazelnut and chocolate. Full body with seamless tannins and balance. Tight and compacted tannins with beautiful fruit and great length. Goes on for minutes. One of the best Opus’ in years. Hard not to drink now but better in 2018. October 2015 release. This is 79% cabernet sauvignon, 7% cabernet franc, 6% merlot, 6% petit verdot and 2% malbec.” – July 28th, 2015  Reviewed by: James Suckling – 97 pts

10 – 2013 Klinker Brick Zinfandel Old Vine $16 “2013 Old Vine Zinfandel is a blend of 16 different vineyard blocks of old vine zinfandel vineyards with an average age of 85 years. With berries and spice on the nose, dark, sweet fruit fills the palate with just a hint of black pepper. This wine has a long, lingering finish.”

11 – 2012 Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon $50 “With 20% Malbec, this wine is layered in refined complexity, swaying from juicy blueberry to herbaceous cherry and currant. Restrained in oak, with the slightest notion of vanilla on the palate, it finishes in mouthwatering dark chocolate, the tannins firm and structured.” – Virginie Boone, 9/1/2015  Reviewed by: The Wine Enthusiast – 93 pts

12 – 2014 St. Rose Pinot Noir Nunes Vineyard 777 $48 “Perfumed aromatics of youthful cherry and dusty tannins mingle with traces of lavender and white  floral notes. A bright entry offers a blend of red fruit— raspberry, cranberry, dark cherry and rhubarb—that is integrated with softening tannins and hints of oak. A ripe blackberry and vanilla essence appears near the  finish, adding another dimension as the  flavors linger on the palate.

German Wine 101

There is one major wine region in the world that is generally misunderstood by lots of people, especially in the US.  Germany.

We were spoiled by “Blue Nun;” the bottles are green or blue and tall and skinny; and the words on the label are tongue twisters for most of us.  So German wines aren’t the most user-friendly.  But they sure are sipper friendly!

Most of the German wines imported to the US are white, not surprising when you think of the cold climate and the need to ripen in a short growing season.  They’re aromatic and flavorful, led by Riesling, which is an amazing wine once you get to know it. Riesling has a wonderful balance of acidity and sugars, yielding wines that smack of ripe peaches along with spiciness, tanginess and mineralty. You may also see Muller-Thurgau and Gewurtztraminer, as well as an occasional Pinot Gris.  There are red wines from Germany as well, but usually you have to be there, or in other parts of Europe, to find them.  Pinot Noir, called Spatburgunder, is the main red, but I really enjoyed discovering Blaufrankisch, another lighter styled red, on a trip last year.

But whites are where it’s at and Riesling is the star so let’s concentrate on that – and what a great time to jump into some as we head into summer.

Perhaps the most important thing to know about German Riesling is how they are classified by the ripeness levels of the grapes.  The German wine laws require a designation on the label for all the highest quality wines, the Qualitatswein Mit Pradikat.  Right up front you then know something about the wine in the bottle.  The ripeness designation isn’t specifically an indicator of dryness or sweetness, because the balance of alcohol and residual sugar impacts that, but it is generally a really good guide to it and a handy shortcut to understanding German Riesling.  It’s also a good guide to the flavor intensity.  Here’s your cheat sheet:

Kabinett: Lowest grape ripeness level and usually the driest wines.  Lighter to medium bodied with alcohol at 10% or below, some as low as 7%.  Riesling Kabinett are awesome summer sippers with flavors of ripe peach along with slate-like mineralty.  And with the low alcohol they are easy to enjoy when it’s warm outside, at a picnic or just sitting on the patio.

Spatlese: Riper.  More lush and full with some residual sugar, which means sweetness. Delightfully nuanced and flavorful. Spatlese wines are the perfect pairing for German sausages (can you say bratwurst!), smoked meats (smoked pork chops with suarkraut!) and spicy Asian foods.

Auslese: Picked later in the harvest when more sugar is concentrated in the grapes.  Better with desert like fruit tarts or tortes unless you have a real sweet tooth and let them stand on their own. Intense flavor and a nectar-like viscosity.

Beerenauslese: A true desert wine. Much like the botrytis (noble rot) wine of Sauternes.  Lush is the word with honey and apricot. Very sweet and rich, they can age for decades.  You might also see the word Edelfaule on the label or in a description.

Eiswein: Grapes are left to over-ripen and freeze. Individually picked frozen berries with highly concentrated sugars. High touch means high price but it’s fun to splurge.

Trockenbeerenauslese: A mouthful to say but what an incredible mouthful to sip! One of the world’s great desert wines.  Grapes are allowed to partially raisin-ate before crush, yielding an intensely sweet wine.  A little goes a long way.  Usually sold in half bottles and in excess of $200 each.  I’ve had one and it was amazing.

There’s a lot more to learn about Germany and its wines but this should get you started sipping and exploring.  Here’s sampling to try.

Ever Day Sip
August Kesseler R Riesling Kabinett 2014 $16
Unscrew it an enjoy.

2014 Dr Loosen Estate Blue Slate Riesling Kabinett $20
Great producer. Classic Kabinett profile.

2013 Georg Albrecht Schneider Niersteiner Hipping Riesling Spatlese $15
Nice off-dry Spatlese for your brat!

Guest Sip
2014 Dr Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese $30
Lovely balance of acidity and sugar. Delightful to sip at the dinner table.

2013 J J Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese $50
Elegant wine – terrific producer.

Splurge Sip
Dr. Loosen Riesling Eiswein 2012 $80 375ml bottle