We have had our harbinger of hot. The highs may be comfortably back in the low 80s — or not — by the time you read this, but the long summer scorchers inevitably arrive and bring with them the question of what to drink.
On a 110-degree day, my best advice is to break out the iced cucumber water.
105? A light cold beer might work.
But for all our grousing, temperatures in that range are sporadic and fleeting. For most of the summer a nice bottle of chilled white wine will be the perfect accompaniment to our summer bounty.
For variety, I might chill a Marr Cellars Grenache or pop the cork on a Capay Valley Sparkling Viognier. But I keep the refrigerator stocked with my latest still white finds.
My current collection includes several whites I’ve written about recently, like the Savoie Aprémont (France) and Il Poggio Trebbiano (Italy). I’ve also written before — but not recently — about the slightly sprtizy Tintero Grancia (Italy). This light and happy wine, a Kermit Lynch import, is made of favorita (a Piedmonte native) and chardonnay, which are fermented separately and then blended with unfermented Moscato. Alive with both fruit and flowers (think lychee and roses), it’s the perfect wine to sip on the patio while you watch the sun go down. I might even substitute this refreshing bottle for that beer on a 105 degree day. You can find all three of these zesty and delicious wines at Valley Wine Company for around $10.
To these persistent favorites I’ve added some new discoveries like the Banyan Gewürtztraminer, which I’ve been recommending to all my friends, so get a few bottles before they disappear. This is a quality wine at an affordable price (on sale at the Co-op for $10). Made by Kenny Likitprakong to go with the Thai food of his heritage, it pairs well with all sorts of summer vegetable-based dishes, too. And fish. Say “gewürz” and most people think “sweet,” but dry gewürz, common in Germany, Italy and France, has taken hold here as well.
(Beware. Even a dry gewürz like this one, can trick the palate into thinking “sweet” because of its low acidity and intense floral and sweet fruit aromas. I’ve seen sweet-hating tasters reject it after just one sip. But please don’t. As you drink — and as you add a bite of bread and brie or a few toasted almonds — that sweet sensation gradually lessens.)
The grapes for the Banyan come from the Arroyo Seco area in Monterey County, and for wine at this price, the result is surprisingly complex. Some friends were so impressed by their first taste that they opened a bottle of Navarro dry gewürz to do a comparison. Halfway through the experiment (that is, after several well-paced alternate sips and some appetizers), I thought the Navarro finish was a bit lusher and more persistent, but the Banyan held its own — quite an accomplishment against a wine twice its price.
Kenny Likitprakong has a reputation in wine circles for his quirky inventiveness. A passionate skateboarder and snowboarder, he doesn’t take himself or his unconventional winemaking too seriously. And he tries hard to produce wine that “even a hobo can afford” (hence his Hobo and Folk Machine labels). If you like the Banyan, try some of Kenny’s other wines, more expensive than the Banyan (around $20, which I wouldn’t necessarily place within “hobo” range) but less expensive than such carefully made, small production, risk-taking wines would usually cost.
I’m also collecting bottles of a Spanish white called Ercavio (Valley Wine Company $10). The winery, Mas Que Vinos, is the project of three winemakers and friends — Alexandra Schmedes, Margarita Madrigal and Gonzalo Rodriguez — who were intrigued by the vineyards near Gonzalo’s native Toledo. They renovated an old family winery that had been growing cencibel (tempranillo), garnacha and airèn, a grape native to the area and very widely planted but not very highly regarded because it produced a lot of cheap, bland white wine. But Ercavio, 100 percent airèn, is well and carefully made, the grapes handpicked and cold fermented in stainless steel.
The result is a lively, fruity-but-dry, fun wine that tastes unlike anything else and pairs easily will all sorts of food, including cheeses, chicken, fish and summer vegetable-based dishes. I served it with a beet-lemon-beet green pasta, and both food and wine were the happier for the pairing.
You’ll no doubt notice that my summer wine collection is filled with unusual and/or commonly dismissed grapes—jacquère (the Savoie Aprémont), trebbiano, favorita, gewürztraminer and airèn. As I’ve said many times, it’s here that you’ll find the best bargains. Sure, there are plenty of easy-to-drink chardonnays and sauvignon blancs and pinot grigios on the shelves, but the inexpensive ones tend toward blandness and monotony. And even some of the most expensive have little interesting to recommend them.
So do experiment with new (which are actually old) white grape varieties while you enjoy the warm evenings, spring onions, bountiful basil, luscious figs, fleshy apricots, juicy peaches and all the other pleasures of the hot season.
— Reach Susan Leonardi at firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com