A Short Primer for Summer Wine

While there are no official summer wines, certain types and varietals prove more apropos now.


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Sangria, the poster-boy of summer wines.

The year was 1966. Besides being the focus of this month’s Nosh Box, back then “Summer Wine” was a pop-song from singer-songwriter Lee Hazlewood that hit the charts a year later as a duet with Nancy Sinatra. While there are no official summer wines, certain types and varietals prove more apropos now.

Wine color derives from pigments in the grape skin. Red grapes can produce white wine if the juice is promptly separated from the skins after crushing. When the skins are left on a long time, red grapes produce red wine. Somewhere in between lies rosé.

Rosé—Like the Oldsmobile commercial of yore, today’s rosés are not your father’s Rosés. Older versions, like once popular white zin, were cloyingly sweet—even when chilled—and earned a thumbs-down as Californians’ wine tastes became more sophisticated and discerning.

Made from a single varietal or a multigrape blend, today’s rosés are fruity, but not sweet, with residuals sugars approaching the zero mark. But they still taste good chilled, whether paired with foods or just sipped.

Find a stunning example in Berkeley at Urbano Cellars: a 2016 vin rosé pressed from Clements Hills grenache grapes. Owner/winemaker Bob Rawson boasts it offers “fresh strawberry and citrus blossom aromas, along with a bit of pink grapefruit and a hint of spice.” This wine’s a tag-team winner when matched with succulent summer tomatoes. Think heirloom gazpacho.

Chilled Whites and Sparklers—Most chilled white wines and sparklers are apropos in summer months. Urbano is also a source for a classic, fruity 2015 chenin blanc from Clarksburg vineyards. Include it in your picnic basket with a salty goat cheese like feta or salt-cured meats like prosciutto.

If you prefer chilled East Bay summer bubbly, you need not travel far. With a Castro Valley address and a Livermore appellation, Westover Vineyards offers six sparklers, including Cuvée Close, peach, pomegranate, and rosé, all under $20.

Summer Reds—Think sangria, tempranillo, and blends.

Sangria—The poster-boy of summer wines, sangria is more a punch than a wine. Yet some vintners bottle and label it boldly. In red and white varieties, sangria is a refreshing mixture of wine, fruits, juices, sweeteners, botanicals, and sometimes distilled spirits or fruit cordials.

White sangria works well with chilled seafood, while red sangria pairs with Tex-Mex and Spanish dishes. Ironically, jugged red sangria, heated with a handful of Food Mill mulling spices, and some sliced citrus, provides a convenient hack for holiday-mulled wine.

Tempranillo—The namesake for this varietal is Spain’s leading grape. While suitable for pairing year-round with paella and lamb dishes, it also works well with summer tapas, so try that combination this month. Or take advantage of its fruity characteristics for poached dessert of summer stone fruits. Livermore Valley versions abound at Concannon Vineyard, Fenestra Winery, Garré Vineyard & Winery, Las Positas Vineyards, and Murrieta’s Well.

Elsewhere in Livermore, fifth-generation winemaker Karl D. Wente launched Double Decker, his latest wine brand that offers three red varietals, a red blend, pinot grigio, and zinfandel, two of which fit right in with summer events.

The red blend, combining cabernet sauvignon, petite sirah, and barbera, is designed for summer barbecues. Pinot grigio sports green-apple and citrus flavors aimed at picnics and summer outings. Both wines are soft on the palate—and easy on the budget—retailing for $9.99.

 

This report appears in the July edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.

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