A Strong Belief in “Live and Let Drink”
Summer is the season when even the most doctrinaire wine drinkers loosen up, which can lead to new ways to look at wine.
What is your reaction when you see someone dropping ice cubes into a glass of fine wine? It should be a question on a wine enthusiast personality test. In my experience, there are people with a sort of “wine police” attitude who, under those circumstances, will be unable to contain their scorn and indignation. Their distant cousins, wine purists, will not approve but will have the good grace to keep their feelings to themselves. And so on, down to the wine enthusiasts with solid credentials who will recognize the ramifications, but will not care one bit.
The pairing of wine and food is another subject that brings out rigid or laissez-faire attitudes. There are quite sophisticated people who believe in drinking what you like, no matter what’s being served, and others who arm themselves with a wine encyclopedia, pairings chart and slide rule to calculate what combination would be ideal. And there are the vast majority of us somewhere in between. While we recognize that certain wines enhance certain foods and vice-versa, we don’t feel bound to adhere to the rules. It’s an intellectual game, and a fun one, but sometimes we’re just not up to playing.
I was thinking about wine rigidity versus wine relativity as we put together this issue, which is all about summer-friendly wines. Summertime can turn even the most unbending purist into a creature more mellow and flexible. I chalk it up to the heat, the reduced pressures of work and especially vacation travel. In the unexpected situations that travel brings, we tend to make the most of whatever circumstances present—whether it’s a bizarre restaurant wine list or a host with an unconventional taste in the grape.
This issue is full of suggestions for wines best enjoyed in summer. Joe Czerwinski, Roger Voss, Steve Heimoff and Paul Gregutt recommend the kind of light, breezy wines that go best in the heat, with the foods you’re likely to encounter. As our tasters point out, one key to summer refreshment is acidity. It brings those fruit flavors forward, and makes the wine more readily food friendly. You’ll find the expected discussions of crisp Rieslings, Gewürtztraminers and Chenin Blancs, plus rosés, Chardonnays and Pinot Grigios—but the accent by our panelists is definitely on the unexpected.
For many more inspired white wine suggestions, Roger Voss looks to northeastern Italy. In the gorgeous regions of Friuli and Alto Adige, growers are allowing their terroirs to speak through their wines. Once you’ve read this story, you will know what names to look for on your retailer’s shelves and will find excellent, distinctive wines.
For summer-friendly red wines, there is nothing like Pinot Noir, and one of the premier regions in this country to find great Pinots is the Russian River Valley. In this issue, Steve Heimoff takes us on an insider’s tour of the Valley. It’s rich in scenic beauty with a bounty of great restaurants and friendly tasting rooms.
If, like me, your preference is for rich, complex red wines, no matter what time of year, you will enjoy reading Jeff Morgan’s account of the retrospective tasting he attended at Joseph Phelps. Phelps and Winemaker Craig Williams craft Insignia, a stunning Cabernet-based blend, and Le Mistral, among other fantastic wines. Interestingly, the first bottle produced by Phelps, way back in 1974, was a Riesling, because that was all the rage.
Also in this issue you’ll find a rum-based alternative for your relaxing, after-work sip. Gary Regan presents recipes for frozen rum drinks. And as if in worship of the Tuscan sun, olive oil steps to the front of the stage in summer, in salads, on grilled meats…heck, how about drizzled on watermelon and feta cheese? That recipe is part of the article in which award-winning writer Deborah Krasner explains the slippery business of olive oil: how to distinguish flavors in various olive oils, how to read a an olive oil label and much more.
Part of our philosophy at Wine Enthusiast has always been that when it comes to wine, be open-minded, explore varieties, regions and producers that are new to you, but never be afraid to drink what you like and never be defensive about your choices.