With warm weather finally returning to the area, it’s probably a good idea to re-think what we drink. Warm weather affects how we smell and taste our drinks, wines included. On a hot day, a higher alcohol wine will smell and taste out of balance, the heat bringing out the alcohol over other flavors of the wine. A wine with high tannin levels will taste more bitter (tannin comes from the wooden barrels the wine may have been aged in but also from certain grape varieties which contain more of it). If you like dry red wines, the best places to find warm weather reds are cool climate vineyards. Colder areas mean less solar energy. Less solar energy means less sugar in the grapes. Since it is the sugar which translates into alcohol during fermentation, the lower the sugar content of the grapes, the lower the potential alcohol in the wine. Therefore, wines from vineyards right on the Mediterranean Sea will usually have alcohol levels over 13% or more often 14% or more, whereas wines from cooler climes like the Loire Valley will give less alcohol. For several reasons –-the major one being lack of small barrel ageing—most of the wines described below run at $20 or less. Northerly areas in the northern hemisphere –the reverse being true in the southern hemisphere--or vineyards at higher elevations tend to produce less sugar in the grapes. In the Loire Valley, look for Cabernet franc based reds like Bourgeuil, Chinon and Saumur. They resemble red Bordeaux but are lighter in alcohol and have less tannin because they are not usually aged in small oak barrels. Beaujolais, a region of Burgundy in France, is a classic zone for warm weather wines. Not only is it a relatively cool area, but it is also made from a grape, Gamay, that is one of the least tannic varieties in existence. On top of that, most winemakers avoid oak influence, aging them instead in stainless steel or inert wood. Look for those labeled “Beaujolais-Villages” to get the best value. You might also find that you like it better after a little bit of bathing in an ice bucket: the wine, not you. Further north in Burgundy is its heartland where its most distinguished – and expensive – reds are produced. But the easiest way to spot a good warm weather quaffer is price and the word “Bourgogne”. Simple “Bourgogne” reds are Pinot noir-based wines, Pinot being low in tannin. They are also usually aged in stainless steel. Veneto in Italy’s northeast produces great quantities of warm weather wine, Valpolicella and Bardolino being the most well-known. Italian wine drinkers may look down on them as simple or not being made from Sangiovese, Nebbiolo or other so-called noble grapes. But for our purposes, they are perfect. Get the most recent vintage possible. Last note: had the 2013 Ruffino Chianti with a simple pizza last week. How many 2013 Chiantis can you find on the market, and better, for less than $10? But its freshness made for a dry red wine with a ton of fruit.
June 4, 2014