One of the great joys of living in the Miswest is that we get a unique chance to enjoy each of the four seasons. Normally, St. Louisans get to experience damp, green Springs, sweltering Summers, crisp cool Autumns, and frosty Winters. Well, this year it seems like Mother Nature is playing a trick on us.
Where was our Spring?! Are we living in Texas?!
In an effort to cope with losing possibly my favorite of the four seasons this year, I started thinking about creative approaches to Summer wine. Most wine drinkers know that Summer is the season of crisp white wines like Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc (a/k/a "Patio Pounders") Even dry, steely Rose' is gaining more popularity among American wine drinkers who now know that not all Rose' is sweet, bubble-gum wine. But there are so many interesting Summer wine options that often go overlooked. For those of you who want to try something a little different this early Summer, here are a few options you may not have thought of.
Riesling is going to become my new crusade. Riesling is not just a cloying sweet wine in a skinny blue bottle! There are many dry Rieslings out there that are perfect for a 85 degree April day. Look for Kabinett Rieslings from Germany, Alsace or even the Finger Lakes of New York. My favorite dry Rieslings are often very floral on the nose with flavors of juicy green apple and stone fruit. I love the clean acidity that a good dry Riesling can provide, making me want to take another sip. The important thing to keep in mind with Riesling is that they can be very fruity without being sweet. A good dry Riesling can often remind me of biting into a tart, refreshing piece of fruit, as opposed to a sugary dessert. A great Riesling that has been a mainstay on our winelist is the Hermann Wiemer Dry Riesling.
Grown primarily in Austria and Eastern Europe, Grüner Veltliner (or Grüner for short), might just be the perfect alternative to Pinot Grigio. Grüner is typically very light and clean with an almost clear color. My favorite Grüners have a strong minerality that is accented by hints of pepper and spice. For me, nothing is better on a hot summer patio day that drinking a glass of Grüner. I'm still looking for a great Grüner to put on my wine list... Summer just snuck up on me too quickly!
Of all the wines in the post, Grignolino will be the hardest to find. I'm sorry... just keep looking, it is worth the hunt! Grignolino is one of the smallest production red wines in Italy, and is predominately grown in Piedmont, near the French border. These tiny grapes have very large bitter seeds which make Grignolino a very difficult wine to press. Too hard a press causes the seeds to break and release tannins that render the wine undrinkably bitter. To light a press doesn't yield enough juice to produce wine. The proper press is firm enough to release a small amount of the bitter character of the seeds and create a tart, slightly tannic red wine that is so light, it resembles a rose'. In Northern Italy, it is common to serve Grignolino chilled with charcuterie. The slightly sour cranberry notes are a perfect match for salty Summer foods. Next time you fire up the grill, have a glass or two of Grignolino while you wait for the meat to cook.
Spanish wines are by no means "under the radar" at this point. Probably the most well known Spanish wine in the United States is Rioja. The main variatal in Rioja is Tempranillo, which can be aged in different ways, depending on the style of Rioja you are looking to produce. In my opinion, one of the best everyday Summer reds is a good Crianza, which is the youngest, most approachable version of Rioja. Crianza often sees little or no oak, causing it to be very drinkable without needing any aging or decanting. The fruit notes in Crianza can range from green slightly unripe berries to rich clean red cherries. There are also often prominent spice and smoke flavors that pair extremely well with grilled or roasted meats. Again, put a little chill on a young Rioja and you are well on your way to a great Summer meal!