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Posted by Robert Whitley on June 25, 2015 at 12:53 PM

Al Fresco Wining

Having just celebrated the summer solstice, I now look forward to the pleasure of dining al fresco over the next few months. To many, that also means wining al fresco.

While there are no hard and fast rules for this sort of activity, there are a few tried and true suggestions to enhance the experience.

My fondest al fresco wining memories are from a trip many summers ago through the south of France. Lunch under an umbrella outside was almost a requirement. Few restaurants had air conditioning, so dining inside given the heat and humidity wasn't an appealing option.

One particularly sweltering afternoon in Grasse, I chose to visit the outdoor section at La Bastide Saint Antoine. Nearly every table was taken — it seemed the entire village was taking the afternoon off — and virtually every table was festooned with ice buckets and bottles of the local rose wine.

Americans have an irrational fear of rose, heightened, I suspect, by the belief that all pink wine is sweet and cloying, hardly a good match with most food. The truth, of course, is that most rose is either dry or slightly off-dry, and there is hardly a better match with summer picnic fare such as cold chicken, smoked salmon or cold pasta salads.

I have been a convert ever since. Rose purists will argue that dry rose wine is a year-round beverage, and they would be right. However, its greatest appeal is on a steamy day in the dead of summer. So my No. 1 suggestion is crisp, dry rose wine for delicious refreshment in the middle of a heat wave.

No. 2 is the tip that the ice bucket is your best friend. You already knew that, right? Except that I'm talking about putting your red wines on ice. Reds served warm often show their rough edges, with the tannin and the alcohol taking over from the fruit. That's a recipe for making your reds taste harsh and bitter.

Ice the bottles for 15 minutes on a warm day, and you will notice a dramatic difference in the level of pleasure your reds deliver.

Finally, focus on lighter whites and reds because they will refresh more than heavier, more complex wines that generally have more alcohol and/or tannin. This is the time to drink easy whites such as pinot grigio, muscadet and sauvignon blanc and less challenging reds such as beaujolais, rioja crianza and Rhone-style red blends. But when in doubt, do not fear the rose!

Clos du Val, Napa Valley (California) Merlot 2012 ($35)
Kristy Melton, who joined Clos du Val in 2010 as assistant winemaker and is now its winemaker, is aiming for a bolder style that reflects the California sunshine. Though there’s no question that this 2012 Merlot is richer and lusher than past vintages, she’s managed to retain the silky finesse that characterizes Clos du Val’s wines. This chewy Merlot exhibits an energetic balance of black fruit flavors and savory spice. It’s a great expression of Merlot in Napa Valley.
92 Michael Apstein

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This Issue's Reviews
 
Chinon: Burgundy in the Loire Valley
Michael Apstein

Chinon as Burgundy? At first glance, it is an unlikely comparison. Chinon growers use Cabernet Franc almost exclusively for their reds, while Burgundians use Pinot Noir. And Cabernet Franc is no winemaker's Holy Grail, unlike Pinot Noir. Few consumers are passionate about Cabernet Franc, nor do they search for it the way they clamor for Pinot Noir. Cabernet Franc's widely recognized downside is that it can convey an unpleasant vegetal character, reminiscent of cooked green beans or asparagus, when it doesn't ripen fully. Many California producers combat this tendency by harvesting it very ripe and producing a robust red wine that is usually oak-aged and focuses more on power than delicacy. By contrast, however, producers in Chinon have managed to produce graceful wines without a hint of under-ripeness while keeping alcohol levels in check.
A Long Time Coming: Artisanal American Vermouth
Marguerite Thomas

In view of the fact that sales of artisanal vermouth in the United States skyrocketed in 2014, making vermouth one of the fastest-growing categories in the US wine trade, the recent release of Adam Ford's book, Vermouth: The Revival Of The Spirit That Created America's Cocktail Culture is well timed. Adam Ford knows first hand what he's talking about: A lawyer by trade, he has created Atsby Vermouth, one of America's leading craft vermouths, which he produces on Long Island's North Fork. Nicely written and beautifully illustrated, the book moves chronologically from the beginnings of the world's oldest spirit (vermouth is at least 10,000 years old) through the history of vermouth in America, and on to contemporary American vermouth.
Wine With
WINE WITH…Susan's Crab Cakes


Crab cakes are to the mid-Atlantic region what gumbo is to Louisiana or lobster rolls are to Maine. Around here (we live in Baltimore) you can find crab cake sliders or burgers, crab cakes with curry sauce or Hollandaise, crab cakes doused in marinara sauce (mama mia!), and pretty much anything else you can imagine. Some of these preparations can be quite good, but for us, the best crab cake is usually the simplest one. To pull this off, the crabmeat must be pristinely fresh, the "filler" (bread or cracker crumbs) kept to a minimum, and the seasonings added with a very light hand. Our friend Susan, who is not only a University of Maryland law professor but who also makes the best crab cakes around, shared her recipe with us. "It's the classic mid-Atlantic crab cake recipe'" she says. "The key is to not weigh them down with a lot of different ingredients and to be sure and refrigerate them before you cook them." The beauty of this recipe is that chilling them helps the mixture stick together without having to use a lot of mayonnaise, egg, or other binder.
On My Table
A Fresh Take on Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
Mary Ewing-Mulligan

Sauvignon Blanc is one of those grapes that can be successful in a wide variety of wine styles, from far-flung parts of the wine world. I appreciate all its different manifestations, and yet I have a very specific preference for a particular style: The dry, lean, steely, compact wines with crisp acidity, herbal and mineral aromas and flavors, and concentration of fruit character. This wine is not in that style, but I admire it and enjoy it tremendously. J. Lohr is a winery best known for its Paso Robles vineyards and wines, particularly rich, deep reds, but the winery has vineyard properties in Napa Valley and Monterey as well. This wine is from Carol's Vineyard, a site in the St. Helena sub-district of Napa Valley, where the winery also grows Cabernet Sauvignon.