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Hot and Cool Summer Wines

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Sandals, painted toenails, a little less clothing and a lot more skin are all signs that summer has officially arrived. ‘Tis the season for backyard barbecues, weekends at the shore and long, languorous dinners al fresco.

Summertime is also the perfect time to let your guard down, blame the heat (and one glass too many) and enjoy the pleasures of a full-on fling. What starts as a kiss on a balmy night might just blossom when autumn comes, so open your eyes, loosen up your buttons and don’t be afraid to let things heat up. 

All of you white wine drinkers are in luck as summer seafood and lighter, salad-based fare definitely require something delicate and refreshing.  Grill shrimp, squid and even whole fish (stuffed with herbs and wrapped in tin foil) and serve alongside an Italian Vermentino or Sauvignon Blanc. White Bordeaux blends of Sauvignon and Semillon have a similar citrus-y character that won’t overpower the delicacy of simple grilled seafood or rice salads. For more elaborate dishes involving chicken, cheese, or creamy sauces, up the ante with buttery American Chardonnays and big, bold Sauvignon Blancs from Australia and New Zealand. For locavores on the East Coast, Long Island is the perfect compromise to accompany your Atlantic salmon and (CSA provided) grilled vegetables.

Rosé lovers are rejoicing in preparation for moules frites. Belgium’s culinary battle horse is a crowd pleaser if ever there were one. Delicately sautéed mussels in a white wine and tomato sauce, served alongside a heaping plate of French fries and a generous portion of ketchup. Mussels and rosé are a traditional pairing. One of the meatier sisters in the bivalve family, mussels have a distinctive and persistent flavor that requires a wine with bit more structure. Côtes du Rhône rosés are made with powerful red Rhone grapes like Syrah, Mourvedre, and Grenache. Despite their pale color (typical Côtes du Rhônes are so pale pink that they resemble a glass of white wine stained with a drop of red) the crisp, herbaceous flavor lasts and lasts, along with a sprightly acidity and sea-salty finish. Rosé is also the perfect solution for hearty seafood soups and other delicate, if tomato-based, sauces. Bouillabaisse and a fiery New World rosé from Argentina or Chile is a winning combination.

Red wine devotees, not to worry! Chilled red wine is hardly a passing trend. In fact, it’s practically the standard in warmer Mediterranean countries. Ice-cold Chianti on a scorching afternoon is quick to reach the optimal serving temperature of  66-77 degrees Fahrenheit, which is often mistakenly referred to as room temperature. Just think about it for a second: the temperature of a room depends on a whole host of factors including air conditioning and open windows. If you’re dining outside, there’s no “room” to contain the temperature.

Summer is the time for barbecuing, and there’s no denying the pleasure of a bloody red steak still steaming alongside a full-bodied Malbec. Now just imagine that pairing at a ninety-degree noon. Malbec, Chianti, or your favorite California Cabernet served at a refreshing temperature will slowly warm up  (and open up) in your glass. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Nero d’Avolo are both juicy and medium-bodied wines that express themselves just fine at a cooler temperature. The fruitiness and relatively relaxed acidity makes them good choices for a meal that includes both surf and turf. In fact, Sicilian culinary tradition serves Nero d’Avola with fresh tuna and swordfish steaks.

On the other end of the gourmet spectrum, hotdogs and hamburgers deserve a mention. Seeing as July 4th wouldn’t be the same without them they deserve a proper pairing. Silly as it might sound, hot dogs, bologna, and other such processed meat products take their inspiration from Italian Mortadella, a staple of the Emilian cuisine that is frequently served on foccaccia or rolled up in a tortilla-like piadina. The wine of choice is dry, red, sparkling Lambrusco (served ice cold). It’s no mystery that beer goes so will with thick and juicy burgers dripping with cheese. The bitter finish and bubbles keep your palate feeling clean after every bite. Lambrusco will have a similar affect.

Best of luck and remember to drink responsibly. Not too responsibly though! What would summer be without a few stolen kisses and that tingly feeling of knowing you did something perhaps you shouldn’t have? Some of history’s greatest love stories happened by mistake.

Annie Shapero is the Founder/CEO of DiVino wine events planning and wine consulting, currently operating in New York City.
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