Perfect wines for summer sipping, vacation season


Any regular wine column should include occasional education and certainly advice. Summer is a big time for cooking out, family outings and friends sharing good times.

The first rule of wine is drink what you like when you want it with whatever food you enjoy. With that said, there are some pairings and ideas that work well during summer.

Summer is a time for barbecue of all sorts. While a big cabernet will always work with red meat, there are other choices for big flavor without the huge finish or bitterness of strong tannins.

If you are doing beef or pork on the grill, perhaps with a bold rub or red sauce, try a zinfandel or Syrah. These wines are perfect for summer grilling and just might be old favorites you haven’t tried for a while.

Zinfandel is particularly great for grilled meats because of the usual fruit-forward characteristic of most California zins. The wines tend to be fruity, balanced and a perfect match to bold flavored or spicy meats.

And for an inexpensive and easy to find zin, try “Seven Deadly Zins” from the Michael David Winery folks of Calfifornia. The wine is great and usually under $15 and a good representation of quality zinfandel.

It’s also time for Amercians to give Syrah another chance. Syrah has become one of the most unfairly vilified grapes in American wine production, but that is changing. The wine fell out of favor a number of years back, in part, because there was a lot of bad Syrah on the market.

Syrah is getting new respect made more refined and, often, in a lighter and easier to drink style. Syrah should deliver a nice spicy fruit forward characteristic with a peppery-like finish. Syrah and pork pair perfectly for summer dishes.

“Lenore” Columbia Valley Syrah from Washington state is an incredible QPR wine — quality to price ratio. The wine is the second label for Owen Roe, one of Washington’s most respected winemakers. The Lenore can be found at many Midwestern wine shops for $14 to $16. It’s a great value. As a matter of fact, the Lenore rates as one of the top bottles I’ve found under $15 in several years.

Now how about those porch pounders? When friends gather on the patio or porch you want something delicious to offer your guests. There are so many great, and easy to find, options beyond the unoaked chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. I think riesling is a bit sweet for summer heat, but try a kabinett level and that might work for your friends who like a bit sweeter wines.

More traditional recommendations would be a South African or California chenin blanc. Upper state Michigan is producing some really incredible dry pinot blanc. If you’re in a wine shop, look for pinot blanc from France’s Alsace region.

But don’t be afraid to experiment. Spain and Italy offer several different white wine grapes that will delight and surprise you. These whites are quite inexpensive and tasty. And your guests will be surprised with something different.

If seafood is on the deck menu look for a albarino or “vinho verde” from Portugal. Good wine shops will have a bottle or two in their inventory. The wine is gaining popularity each year in the U.S. It’s dry, crisp with fairly bold acidity — a perfect seafood match. Who doesn’t like grilled shrimp and white wine?

All of these white wines can be found for under $20 a bottle and most under $15. Summer is a time to enjoy friends and good times.

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, writes about wine every other week for more than 20 newspapers. Reach Howard at: [email protected]

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