As we celebrate the independence of our nation this weekend, many pull out the BBQ for the 'official' start of the summer season. Whether you need to dust off the old grill or whether it's already out in use for a while despite all the ducky weather we've been experiencing, let's hope for a more 'traditional' summer with hot and dry conditions.
So it's also the 'official' start for 'summer wines' to go along with high temperatures and outdoor cooking. My first choice for the really hot summer afternoons must be 'Vinho Verde' from Portugal. It's light and dry with low alcohol and so refreshing when served ice cold, as it usually even says on the label. The name literally means 'green wine', though it does not look green, and can even be a red or rosé, but refers to its youthfulness that often shows a slight green shine at the edge in the glass. It is intended to be drunk young to enjoy the freshness of this lightly effervescent wine. Not enough bubbles to be called sparkling, it shows a nice natural acidity with fruity or floral aromas. The best one out there is Casal Garcia, but there are others that are just as refreshing.
Another favorite is a nice and dry rosé from southern France or Italy. The French have usually a bit more of a dryness that relates better to light food, the Italian often have a little bit more fruitiness, making it a bit more easy to drink by itself. Technically, a rosé is 'unfinished' red wine, made from red grapes whose maceration is cut short. Maceration is the process in winemaking where the skins, seeds and stems leach the flavor and color compounds into the must (or freshly pressed grape juice that's supposed to turn into wine). Rosé's are a lot lighter than their red siblings, but have much of the same characteristics of the grape varietals.
Most are intended to be made into rosé's for it's refreshingly lighter and less alcoholic qualities.
Just like red and white wines, rosés can have different styles - sweet or dry, dark or light - the winemaker and grape variety (or varieties as rosés are often blended) make the difference. 'Pink' wines have delicious character and are perfect for food. For dryer styles of rosé, try those from Southern France and Spain, for the sweeter styles; look for White Zinfandel and some other California rosé makers. Most will show strawberry or raspberry notes that are just perfect for this time of year.
But for the serious burger or steak coming off the smoky grill, look for a smoky wine to really enhance the experience. For the summer outdoor meal I prefer something not quite so tannic and complex, kind of mild in acidity but rich in earthy and dark flavors. A mild red from South Africa comes to mind. Most famous is Pinotage, if you can stomach it. It can often be over the top 'earthy'. But there are blended wines from South Africa that come across pleasantly mild. Try the Graham Beck blend of shiraz and cabernet for example, with a rich plumy character with hints of exotic spices and attractive mocha and chocolate flavors to complement the smokiness.
Often a Carmenère from Chile will exhibit much of the same flavors and is worth a try for something different. With a pungent and leathery, yet lean freshness that isn't at all offensive look for the. Araucano Carmenère. It nicely shows the variety's sauciness. Snappy and tight!