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Summer Sipping
By Robert Whitley
Jun 13, 2012
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As summer approaches and temperatures soar, the weekly wine-buying binge becomes more focused. Now is the time to reach for wines that are light and easy, because that's what's refreshing under the glare of the summer sun. My collection of heavy reds is safe for another season.

That's not to say I've abandoned red wine altogether until Labor Day, but the reds that interest me now will be fruity and lower in tannin and alcohol. Warm weather and tannic red wine don't mix very well. Summer heat seems to accentuate tannin and alcohol, making for a harsh, bitter, often ponderous wine. Those characteristics don't bode well for a refreshing tasting experience.

The same is true of heavily oaked white wines. The heat seems to bring out the flavors of the wood rather than those of the fruit, and that's especially true of whites with a higher degree of alcohol by volume (ABV), which tend to be heavy and ponderous when tasting conditions are too warm.

I am reminded of one visit to Beaune, France, in the middle of a blistering heat wave. There in the heart of Burgundy, I had some of the world's finest pinot noir and chardonnay at my fingertips. What did I drink? Beaujolais — with everything.

The reason is fairly simple. Beaujolais is produced from gamay, a fruity red grape that doesn't impart a good deal of tannin. And the ABV levels are usually around 12 percent, often lower. What's more, Beaujolais is quite tasty when chilled. Dining al fresco, an ice bucket was mandatory. You also can serve Beaujolais with meat or fish and not appear to be clueless about wine and food pairings.

Beaujolais is a truly versatile red wine, and it's affordable. During the recent Critics Challenge wine competition, I was impressed with the 2010 Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages ($9.99), which won a gold medal. But other Beaujolais producers did very well in this vintage. There has never been a better time to drink Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages. The vintage of 2010 may have been the greatest on record in Beaujolais, and no one I know in the region can remember a better year. There are plenty of hits and very few misses.

One of my favorite tricks to beat the summer heat is the ubiquitous glass of rose in my hand while I slave over the backyard barbecue. Much like Beaujolais, rose is versatile — and it tastes better when it's chilled. It's particularly good with savory tidbits from the grill as well as any fish that's been seared with a few grill marks and flavored with the smoke from your fire.

Grilled salmon, prawns, spicy Italian sausages, brats and herbed fresh veggies all pair well with a nice rose. Another gold medal winner that caught my eye at the Critics Challenge was the Banfi 2010 Centine Rose, Toscana IGT ($12). Another was the Toad Hollow 2011 'Eye of the Toad' Dry Rose of Pinot Noir, Sonoma County ($12.99). European wineries have a long tradition with dry rose, but domestic wineries, perhaps sensing an opportunity as more consumers embrace the subtlety and beauty of rose, are beginning to catch up.

If my mood trends toward white wine, my preference is for unoaked wines that are aromatic and refreshing, with a bit of mouth-watering acidity for spine. Nothing quite says this for me like the wines from the Rias Baixas district in the western Spanish province of Galicia. The primary white, and the one you are most likely to find, is albarino. My current favorite is the 2011 Paco & Lola Albarino, Rias Baixas ($20). It has plenty of spine as well as a generous mouth-feel. It's absolutely delicious with freshly shucked oysters or steamed shellfish.

Vintners in Central California and the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York are just now beginning to experiment with albarino plantings. The best of the early domestic albarinos is the Tangent Albarino from the Paragon Vineyard in the Edna Valley, just outside of the Central California city of San Luis Obispo. The 2010 Tangent Albarino ($17) was a gold-medal winner at the San Diego International Wine Competition in March.

Of course, the ultimate in light and easy white wine is pinot grigio. In fact, it is often too light, sometimes compared to water. It's a wine that is sometimes mass-produced, and little thought is given to the characteristics and qualities that have made this wine so popular over the years.

The best pinot grigio comes from Italy, where it thrives in the northern climes of Friuli and Alto Adige and also in some parts of Tuscany, in Central Italy. One of the best from Tuscany is the Castello Banfi 2010 'San Angelo' Pinot Grigio, Toscana, IGT ($17). One of my favorites from Alto Adige is the 2010 Terlan Pinot Grigio ($18). From Friuli, I am especially fond of the 2010 Pinot Grigio from Livio Felluga ($25), which is more expensive than most pinot grigio, but well worth the few dollars more.

Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru.