Chill the wine!
As St. Louis sinks into the summer doldrums, with fierce heat, bright sun and high humidity adding to our discomfort, relief is as close as the nearest refrigerator or cooler, because there should be some white or rose wine resting there, offering more chill than an oak tree’s shade. There are times when I feel almost awash in temptation because we are enjoying a plethora of tasty, refreshing, cooling wine this year – and a lot of it is extremely inexpensive.
Keeping cool and enjoying a bargain brings total pleasure to several facets of one’s mental processes. There’s even a benefit to writing about it, or even thinking about it, because I’m sure I just felt a hint of breeze come through the window of the room where I hunch over the computer.
New on the American wine scene this year is a 2007 Sauvignon Blanc from Round Pond Estate, in the Napa Valley community of Rutherford, where the soil is magnificent and the wines match. The MacDonnell family has been tending vineyards here for more than a generation, and brothers Miles and Ryan are the second generation. Like many growers, the MacDonnells grew into winemakers the way actors grow into being directors; their pride and ego are such that they want to do their own work and not take the advice or the buying power of others.
The MacDonnells have Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo in their portfolio; a couple of months ago they released their first Sauvignon Blanc, a 2007 vintage that is priced at about $26 a bottle, slightly above the price of most Sauvignons, but worth it. The wine is beautifully balanced, with a soft, mellow note that restrains the citrus flavors from the dominant position they often take. Round Pond is a round wine, with no rough edges, a smooth finish and a fine accompaniment to fish, or to chilled roast chicken, as I sampled it over dinner. No wood aging, no malolactic fermentation made for a bright, delicious wine.
That’s just one of the many summer quaffing wines that are around and about as the summer salad season begins. That’s a season which provides an opposite to the barbecue days when beer is usually the preferred beverage. Some big red wines will work, but the spice of the sauce, or its overuse of tomato, bothers most of them.
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Gallo, the Modesto giant, is leaning on the quality button with some of its lower-priced wines. But a looser attitude seems in place, and to make sure there are no mistakes in spotting it, the label shows a large footprint and the name Barefoot. Both bubbly and still wines are made by Jennifer Wall, the winemaker since 1995, and she knows exactly what she is doing.
I recently tasted three of her five sparkling wines, and I admit that I had to overcome considerable prejudice. I have a built-in resistance to sparkling wines made by the "charmat" method, which introduces artificial additives to a tank to create the bubble and the wine in a hurry, not in the natural style where the magic occurs in the bottle.
Her sparklers are non-vintage, cost $11, and shocked me at how tasty they were, even the – you should pardon the expression in my writing – White Zinfandel. It actually showed the presence of Zinfandel grapes, and while it was too sweet to be a regular drink, it was fine for a summer wedding or similar occasion calling for a toast. The Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay offerings were even better, properly dry, with a good bubble and pleasant flavor. I think I preferred the green apple notes on the former, and it was a little drier, but both were astonishing surprises.
Wall’s still wines, also non-vintage, are $7, and include a bone-dry Pinot Grigio that is blended with some Chenin Blanc, Muscat and a French hybrid called Symphony, and a sweet Moscato, primarily Muscat with a little Malvasia Bianca and Symphony. The Pinot Grigio, with a hint of bubble or "spritz," shows off peaches and apples and is a fine seafood or salad accompaniment. Moscato would be a winner with spicy Thai or Indonesian cuisine, or with fresh fruit for dessert. All five were startlingly good.
Meanwhile, a Gallo import from Starborough of New Zealand, a few bucks more expensive at $13, is a terrific Sauvignon Blanc from the country’s Marlborough area, home of a long line of splendid wines, all with exciting freshness, good citric notes and an overall impression of crispness, smoth lightness and wonderful flavor. This is one of the better ones.
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One of my favorite wine competitions (and this is a plea to be included as a judge some year) is a project of Taylor Shellfish Farms, from Shelton, WA. West Coast whites are tasted with Kumamoto oysters. In a preliminary round in Seattle, five judges consumed 1200 oysters while narrowing some 200 entrants to a semi-final round of 44. Eventually, a dozen wines were honored in the 14th annual Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition.
The winners represented California (7), Oregon (3) and Washington (2), and the winning wines included Sauvignon Blanc (9), Pinot Gris (2) and Pinot Blanc (1).
In alphabetical order, the winners were Amity Vineyards (OR) ‘06 Pinot Blanc; Chateau Ste. Michelle (WA) ‘06 Columbia Valley Sauvignon Blanc; Clayhouse Vineyard (CA) ‘06 Sauvignon Blanc; Clos du Bois Vineyard (CA) ‘06 Sauvignon Blanc; Covey Run Winery (WA) ‘06 Fume Blanc; Dry Creek Vineyard (CA) ‘06 Sonoma County Fume Blanc; Girard Winery (CA) 06 Sauvignon Blanc; Kathryn Kennedy Winery (CA) ‘07 Sauvignon Blanc; Robledo Family Winery (CA) ‘06 Sauvignon Blanc; Simi (CA) ‘06 Sauvignon Blanc; Van Duzer Vineyards (OR) ‘07 Pinot Gris; Willamette Valley Vineards (OR) ‘07 Pinot Gris.
By the way, Pinot Gris is the French name, Pinot Grigio the Italian name for the same grape. Also, wine labeled Fume Blanc is made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape, just labeled with a different name.