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Not Just Yet, But It's Coming
When seasonal changes allow for new libations
Every horror movie has the scene where you just know something bad is going to happen. There are characters acting either off-guard or with eyes wide open in anticipation of “something.” The music gets spooky and weird. You sit up a little straighter and brace for whatever.
This time of year is a little like that. It’s not unpleasant with the temperature nor the humidity, but you know IT is coming. Even without a calendar, you feel the promise of the oppression of summertime conditions right on our doorstep.
What we should be doing here and now is changing our drinks selections. We should be moving from heavier to lighter styles of whatever we like to drink. Could be wines, maybe cocktails, but whatever worked in those freezing moments of late December and middle January needs to give way to something more appropriate to longer, sunny, not yet oppressive days.
Now, there are truly crossover wines and drinks. Champagnes and rosés are just too darn good to pass by at any time of year. Rosé, in particular, presents something of a challenge. Those from Province in southern France are almost always light and refreshing. They are also low in alcohol, about 12 – 13 percent.
There is a whole style from California and Washington State that are higher in alcohol and have more weight. These rosés are not the type I am suggesting. With these domestic wines you can tell their character immediately by noting the alcohol volume, often hitting at 14 percent, and you can check the color, which is deeper and veers far off the rosé traditional salmon-tint. You might as well buy the full-blown Syrah, zinfandel or pinot noir and go all the way with weight. Pay no attention to why you took this route in the first place, which was to enjoy something lighter.
Back to the sparkling question, just about any prosecco or cava from Italy and Spain, respectively, are going to do what you want by going lighter. These too are lower in alcohol. The other advantage, when compared to champagne, is that these are often a third or less of the cost as measured against champagne. Neither of these offers the delicacies or intricacies of champagne but there are offsetting advantages and price is the main one.
There are other wines which provide a low amount of the spritziness and are quite inexpensive. The wines labeled Vinho Verde from Portugal are, for the most part, perfect for now. Usually they contain grapes which you have never heard of, nor can you pronounce, but the carbonic (low levels of effervescence) is most interesting and refreshing. And they can be used quite creatively in cocktails.
Incidentally, Vinho Verde is a large region in northern Portugal and also a descriptor for a range of wines, some of which don’t have carbonic qualities at all. At the low prices for these wines, you can afford to try several side-by-side and make some determinations as to which ones appeal to you.
Under the heading “everything old is new again,” pét-nat wines are making a big comeback into the market. The translation to French is pétillant naturel, which literally means “naturally sparkling.”
These wines, made in a very old style, preceded champagne. The bubbles in these wines are at a low level. The fermentation continues to happen in the bottle because the wine is unfinished (all the sugars are not converted to alcohol) when it is bottled. The white and the red grapes are dancing together as the wine is sent to you.
This means the wine is fresh, not meant to be aged and is without pretension or complications. Straightforward stuff and ready to be chilled, even poured over ice. There may be significant variation from bottle to bottle. France is the natural home of pét-nat wines with Italy and Spain getting into the act.
Not many are in the market, but some retailers are ready to see what happens when the wine appears on the shelves. I suggest we make them happy.
Usually the bottles are sealed with bottle caps, like a bottle of soda pop or beer, and that can put off some consumers. Don’t let that get in your way. It is, after all, really wine.
The label designations can be pétillant naturel, méthode ancestrale, or col fondo, depending on the country of origin. Pricing should be in the teens or low $20’s.
Don’t let your friends tell you that Lambrusco from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region is a wimpy wine, lacking character. The good ones are terrific right now, particularly with our emerging season of fresh vegetables and fruits.
Then we can always rely on Albariño from Spain and Alvarhino from Portugal. These bright, fresh, always-youthful wines are best-served chilled and do not require a lot of thought. Twist off the cap and quaff. Geeky wine discussion is not necessary or even appropriate.
When the weather is this extraordinary, why not take a ride in the Wine Let’s-Try-Something-Different machine?
Read Happy Hour here on myneworleans.com every other Wednesday, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed and stored (podcast), at www.wgso.com. Also, check out Last Call, Tim’s photo-feature every month in New Orleans Magazine.