The calendar says fall, but... September 22 2015, 0 Comments

Wow! This has been a killer summer, weather-wise, and not in a good way, unless you’re lounging at the beach. Hot and muggy, with thunderstorms in July and again just last week. It was close to 90 degrees in Orange County with rain pouring down … we might as well have been in Florida! And now that summer is officially over, at least according to the calendar, there is no relief in sight. More heat, and more rain. 

 What to drink when you want something refreshing, something food-friendly, that won’t bog you down with alcohol? My recommendation is GO LIGHT. This means stepping away from the California shelf – those big, juicy wines, both white and red, are just too heavy in the heat. A quick perusal of our French and Italian selections revealed some terrific options. 

1.  Rosé! Big surprise, say those of you who know me, because my go-to recommendation for a refreshing summer sip is usually a crisp, dry rosé from the south of France. For a light refresher, it’s hard to beat the newly arrived 2014 rosé by Domaine de Fondrèche, from the Ventoux AOC in the southern Rhône Valley of France. Winemaker Sébastien Vencenti has once again crafted a beautifully pale and light wine that is a blend of Cinsault, Syrah and Grenache from his vineyards that look out upon Mont Ventoux itself. And when I say light, I mean it. While most of the rose from Provence weighs in around 13-13.5% abv (alcohol by volume), the Fondrèche comes in at just 12% and is $15.75.    

Sébastien has revolutionized winemaking in the Ventoux, his intelligence and passion evident everywhere you look on his 38-hectare estate located in Marzan. Following organic and biodynamic practices in the vineyard and energy-efficient techniques in the cellar, he is crafting wines of depth and purity while maintaining freshness. The 2014 rose has hints of savory herb and thyme, followed by a light core of strawberry and watermelon rind.

January frost on a Domaine de Fondréche vineyard, with Mont Ventoux beyond.

2.  From the well-known Grassa family in Gascony in the southwest of France, one of the most refreshing wines I’ve ever tasted is a blend of Ugni Blanc and Colombard. Bottled under the family’s Domaine de Pouy label, this wine is only 10.5% abv. Light, crisp and fresh, the wine has vibrant aromatics of floral green apple, captured by cold fermentation. The primary domain of the family, Domaine de Tarriquet, also produces a line of lovely, fresh and light white wines. My favorite is the Sauvignon, which is also quite light at 11.5% abv. The best part about these wines is their value – stunning examples of refreshing wines at under $11.   How do they achieve this incredible freshness? I discovered the secret during my visit there last year. It’s oxidation, of course, that robs a white wine of freshness. To prevent oxidation, the grapes are machine harvested and taken immediately to the vats in isothermal tanks protected by a layer of inert gas (see photo below). They are then poured into a 50-ton pneumatic temperature controlled press, followed by skin contact maceration at 15°C for 8 to 12 hours before being gently pressed. All stainless steel fermentation, after which the must is transferred to underground cold storage vats and kept there at 5°C for several days. Dry ice and refrigerated vats are used to slow fermentation and storage at -4°C year round to ensure freshness. The wine is bottled to order.

The grapes are pumped straight from the harvester into this isothermal tank, then transported to the cellar. Very limited exposure to oxygen is what makes these wines so uniquely fresh.

3.  Discover Gavi, a DOCG wine from Piemonte, in the northwest corner of Italy. The exceptional wines of Tenuta San Pietro are brought to us by our friends at The Organic Cellar. At San Pietro, all the vineyards are farmed organically and biodynamically, followed by the same rigorous standards in the cellar, including strict temperature controls and only natural yeasts for fermentation. The star varietal here is Cortese, a grape that some have accused of never being able to achieve top quality. I beg to differ, when it comes to the wine of San Pietro. And by the way, we’re talking 12% abv. Super light, made 100% in stainless steel, it offers a beautiful balance of crisp minerals, flowers and fresh stone fruits, carried with elegance to a lingering finish. It’s a perfect wine for hot days, for either an aperitif or with oysters, shellfish, sushi and lighter pasta dishes. And a great value at $18.

I had the pleasure to visit Tenuta San Pietro last summer during a heat wave of their own, but despite the scalding sun I enjoyed seeing the dedication of vineyard manager, Giusi, and witnessing first-hand her passion for the vines under her care. The property has a 1,000-year old history of grape growing, not unusual in that part of Italy but impressive nonetheless. In addition to the light and refreshing Gavi, there is a block of 100+ year old vines they call Gorrina, which is made into an exquisite wine that is barrel-aged for 2 years in new French oak. This wine is incredibly complex and elegant, and unlike its little sister, it’s a special occasion wine, and a splurge, at $75.

4.  Is it okay to chill a red wine? In fact, yes, it is … and in truth, most of us drink our red wine too warm anyway. The proper serving temperature for light-bodied red wines is about 55°F, which is a far cry from room temperature even in the middle of a southern California winter. Never mind the brain-melting days we’ve been experiencing recently. Unless you have solar power to burn, your air-conditioned house is probably still warmer than 72°F. Put your bottle of red wine in the fridge for 15 minutes and you will be refreshingly surprised.

Which reds work best with a slight chill? Definitely lighter bodied wines, for example Beaujolais, made from the Gamay grape, or Valpolicella, a northern Italian red blend of mostly Corvina. We have great examples of both at LCA Wine. For a simple Beaujolais, I’m partial to Domaine Dupueble, a Kermit Lynch import that tips the abv scale at only 12.5%. Quite remarkable for a red wine. The 2014 vintage is a lovely, fruity wine that is rich despite its light body, that works well with lighter summertime meals. It’s an easy buy, too, at $15. For something a bit more earthy, but equally light (12.5% abv), I recommend the 2013 Venturini Valpolicella Classico, also nicely priced at $13.50.

Questions about other warm-weather refreshers? Call us, or email nancy@lcawine.com with your wine-related questions. LCA Wine is Orange County’s authority on wine education and merchants of unique curated wines.

À votre santé!

Nancy