By Richard Household
Some Ideas for Summer Drinking
I’m back in London after a wonderful week in Bordeaux tasting the very promising 2018 vintage. It is an interesting and challenging process to taste very young wines (honestly it is!), trying to assess them on how they will develop and so on.
At this early stage the reds have huge tannins and bold fruit and the whites tend to have very high acidity. The result is sore teeth and spectacularly wine stained gums and teeth after a week of tasting over 250 wines. It’s not a good look. It is however, one of my favourite weeks of the year – plenty of exceptional wines, good food and meeting up with old friends. Anyway, I’ve come back to London to the most amazing spell of spring weather and it has made me think about wines to be enjoyed in the summer – on warm, sunny days with salads, barbeques and fish. So here are some thoughts on refreshing rosés and rewarding reds from regions you know and some from off the beaten track.
Let’s start with some reds. Summer reds are less about curling up into front of the fire with hugely structured and complex red but rather a red that is soft, bright with elegant tannins and a freshness to balance the fruit. We’ll look at grapes like Pinot Noir, Gamay and Cabernet Franc. Firstly, a wine lesson! Pay attention. There is often some confusion about colour in red wine.
That is if the colour in red wine is light then that must mean the wine will be less powerful. This is not always the case. That’s because colour in red wine always comes from the contact with the grape skins. White wine is made by pressing the grapes and fermenting the press juice which is clear. That’s how you can make white wine from red grapes. Still with me? If you press the black grapes then the juice is clear which results in white wine. The best example of this is Champagne. Two of the three grapes for Champagne production are red – Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. To make red wine, the black grapes are crushed and then left in contact with the skins to give the wine colour (as well as tannins). It’s a tricky process because if the grapes are left in contact with skins for too long then the wine will be over-extracted with bitter and harsh tannins and too much colour. This will act like a lead weight on the fruit and the wine will not recover. Funnily enough some of the Bordeaux wines I was tasting last week have this problem.
In the summer we want reds that have a good vibrant fruit, soft easy tannins and some freshness. Pinot Noir can give these characteristics in abundance. The obvious home for Pinot Noir is Burgundy but we will look at two examples a little further afield, Casablanca Valley in Chile and Otago in New Zealand. Casablanca Valley is a relatively new region, first planted in the 1980s but only really gained success in the last 10-15 years. It has a classic cool climate that Pinot Noir loves in order to gently, slowly ripen the grapes while protecting and promoting the delicate and elegant fruit flavours of strawberry and cherry. Then add a little ripeness to the body of the wine with some pepper, spice, soft tannins and a fresh finish and you have simply gorgeous wines.
Most producers, whether in the supermarkets or in independent wine shops, will have a selection of Chilean reds but look out for Casablanca Valley on the label and you won’t be disappointed. One of my favourite estates is Terra Noble. This winery won IWSC Chilean Wine Producer of the Year a couple of years ago and they make superb Pinot Noir. Funnily enough, I sell them so if you would like some then contact me!
Central Otago is another prime cool location for Pinot Noir. The vineyards are the most southerly in the world and therefore right on the limit of wine production. This does pose climatic headaches for producers- the risk of frost is a major concern. Pinot Noir, however, loves it. The wines tend to have length, complexity and ripe bramble fruit intensity that makes them hard to beat. I always enjoy the wines from Felton Road.
Another red grape that is too often overlooked these days in Gamay. This is the red grape used to make Beaujolais. Before you give me a hard time- there is much more to Beaujolais than Beaujolais Nouveau! Beaujolais sits to the south of Burgundy and as the soil changes from limestone/clay to more granite so does the grape varieties that are grown. Gamay is at home here, producing wines bursting with vibrant fruit, soft tannins and plenty of freshness with layers of minerality and depth. Honestly it’s true! Forget about cheap supermarket Beaujolais and look for Fleurie, Morgon, and Moulin á Vent etc… any good independent wine merchant will sell them at around £15-£20 per bottle and you will be amazed. These are some of my favourite summer wines. Yes, they are mostly for drinking young but don’t be afraid to cellar a good cru Beaujolais for 3-5 years. These wines are perfect summer reds.
These days summer drinking is more and more about Rosé. It is extraordinary how sales have rocketed in recent years, driven by wines like Pinot Grigio Blush (stop people-enough already!) and Provencal Rosés. Gone are the days when Rosé was only for those incapable of deciding whether they wanted white or red. It was often an afterthought for a winemaker. Now it is a key part of most producers’ ranges. Personally, I like Rosés that have elegance, delicacy, crisp pure fruit, plenty of acidity and a lighter colour – that classic salmon pink colour. Wines that can be well chilled and are enjoyed on a warm summer’s evening in the garden with some charcuterie and cheese!
Rosé is made in the same way as red but there are some key differences. Firstly, the wine is fermented at a lower temperature than red wine in order to protect and preserve the more delicate red fruit flavours like strawberry, cherry and floral flavours; secondly, there is much less skin contact. Red wines are normally in contact with the skins for a good three weeks to get plenty of colour but of course rosé needs much less, so skin contact will be anything from a few hours to a few days. Why the difference? Well you know the answer! Earlier I said that colour comes from contact with the skins. If a grape is thick-skinned then you have lots of colour but if a grape is thin-skinned (Pinot Noir) then you have less colour or you need more skin contact to get more colour.
Anyway, enough of the technical stuff, so the rosés I enjoy do tend to come from regions like Provence. Whispering Angel has become a huge hit and with reason. The wine is delicate, fragrant and wonderful to drink in the summer. It is expensive. Chateau La Gordonne is good alternative, especially the La Chapelle Cuvee. Saint Sidoine Rosé de Provence is another favourite – this one is quite widely available and shouldn’t cost more that £10. The Loire is also home to some of the very best Rosés. Sancerre Rosé is expensive but very good and always made from Pinot Noir. An alternative to Sancerre Rosé are wines made by David and Lynne Levin from Levin Wines. They have excellent organic vineyards in the Loire Valley, not far from Tours. Their Gamay Rosé is a delight and under £10 per bottle.
I hope this has given you some ideas for summer drinking. As ever – be brave, explore and happy tasting!