Aug 5, 201012:00 AM
All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans
Deal With It!
Big news flash: It’s hot!
No kidding; it really is. Of course, those of you surprised by this turn of events, high temperatures in New Orleans in August accompanied by high levels of humidity, must really be caught unaware every morning when the sun comes up over the Westbank.
C’mon, people, we know about this. We’ve been here before and the number of times depends on the length of time you have been a resident of this island right off the coast of America. Heat and sticky conditions, a whole string of bad hair days and that clammy sensation right in the middle of your back are the trade-offs we all make to avoid shoveling snow off the driveway for three months straight right after New Year’s Eve. Lucky for you, sunshine does not require any shoveling effort. In fact, quite the opposite is better. Simply don’t move, or move very slowly.
And when you encounter meteorological conditions like we have, allowances must be made. You know about lighter-weight clothing, light-colored cars, drinking plenty of liquids and avoiding physical exertion in the middle of the day. Still, there are other changes that are not only advised but also encouraged.
You’ve heard the old rule about not chilling your red wine? Reconsider. Don’t make the wine icebox-cold, but don’t drink it hot either. Even wine that has been stored in an air-conditioned space can taste heavy and uncomfortable at this time of year. If you have a pinot noir, put it into an ice bucket for about 10 minutes. Put a little chill on it.
The same can be said for other red wines. In fact, the heavier the wine –– cabernet sauvignon or zinfandel, for instance –– the more they will benefit from a bit of a chill –– just a chill, nothing over the top or anything that would even cause condensation on the glass. And don’t be afraid of what your snobby friends will say. Warm red wine is what everyone at the Third Circle (Gluttony) of Dante’s Inferno is forced to drink.
After putting a bit of a chill on the red wine, maybe you would still like it cooler. But those around you are already so horrified by red wine at a cool (reasonable) temperature that you dare not take the temperature of the bottle down even just a few degrees more. What you can do, with special dispensation during this hot season, is add a little ice to your wine.
Truth of the matter, some Europeans do this all the time. It’s OK. Tell people you learned to do it at a wine bar near the piazza in the Tuscan hill town of Montalcino. Unless, of course, they know you’ve never been out of area code 504. Then you will have some explaining to do.
The ice idea is not something I can relate to, and you are on your own here. Still, it’s your wine, and you should have it so that it makes you happy. That being said, if I were you, I’d pick my spots on this one. If it is a particularly fine wine, refrain from all additives, such as ice or sugar or whatever.
If someone offers you a glass from a red wine bottle that costs more than, say, $18, cooling it down with refrigeration may be an option, but nothing else is. Do not dilute or adulterate. If it is too high in alcohol or if it is too astringent, graciously smile and sip until it is gone, offer it to someone else who seems to be enjoying their glass very much or find the nearest ivy.
If wine temperature and air temperature do not seem to be working in your palate’s favor, why not pick a wine that is specifically made for a Big Chill? There are plenty of great wines, and not just chardonnay, that can provide excellent fruit and some new-to-you flavor profiles.
Try a few wines that can awaken your tastes and slake your thirst. Take that, Budweiser! Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige, Italy; viognier from the northern Rhone Valley, France; Albariño from Rias Baixas, Spain; sauvignon blanc from New Zealand or from Sancerre, France; Riesling from Washington state; cava sparkling wine from Penedes, Spain; and Grüner Veltliner from Austria.
Every one of these wines is demanding to be chilled to a low temperature that makes other wines very unhappy. Usually chilled wines tend to close down, the delicate aromas and tastes disappearing with each degree down toward 45. The suggestions noted above are not expensive. They are not shy. And they benefit from exposure to an icy environment.
OK, so now we have our let’s-not-move-except-to-pull-that-cork-out-of-that-bottle wines. (Feel free to substitute “unscrew-that-cap” for “pull-that-cork.”)
We have no desire to heat the house up with the stove and oven, and we head to the patio where the trusty grill awaits our command to light ’er up.
What do we do about wine to accompany a grilled slab of something or other? First of all, relax. Breathe. Big red meats and red wines are still a fine way to go –– not an ironclad rule, just a good suggestion.
Look to Argentina for some excellent, middle-weight Malbecs. Or maybe Washington state for lighter-style cabernets. Or Oregon, where pinot noir can pack a lot of fruit and red structure.
Bigger, you say. OK. Dry Creek in Sonoma, Calif., offers delicious black-cherry zinfandels. The northern Rhone region in France can send you singing into the night with Syrah-based wines, and the lighter-style Syrahs from the central coast of California are just ideal for outdoor-cooked meats and sauces.
Of course, many of you will continue, against all reason and logic, to drink those heavy, jammy, big-alcohol, highly-tannic red wines. I can’t figure it out, but maybe the heat is getting to me. Keep on keeping on with your cabernet sauvignon from Napa or your Grenache/Syrah blends from Chateauneuf du Pape. Hey, it’s your party, and you can drink what you want to.
With grilled fish, you have created a wonderful opportunity to go rosé. Sparkling rosés from California or Spain or still ones from Bandol in the south of France perfectly kiss the flavor of white fish or salmon, grilled with a bit of lemon and garlic sauce. Toss in a cool tomato and cucumber salad, and what time do you want me at your patio?
Summer does not have to be a time to sacrifice what is good just because we happen to live in a place with a temperature approaching the degree level of the surface of the sun.
Chill, baby, and deal with it.
The Wine Show with Tim McNally can be heard every Sunday from noon to 2 p.m. on WIST-AM 690.