When I was growing up in my parent’s home, while self-expression was encouraged –– or maybe merely tolerated –– some things were beyond any input from the four boys. Among such required items were hair always combed, teeth brushed twice a day, attendance at Sunday Mass and everyone present for the 5:30 evening seating at the dinner table.
That last item was never a request but a command performance. You had to be there among the five other bodies and be prepared to deliver a Report on the Day, namely what you did, what you learned, what kind of trouble you got into and your suggestions for upcoming family outings.
Those dinners were served directly from the stove or oven by my mother, and only if we wanted more were we allowed to get up from the table and help ourselves. Otherwise we sat there until all the food was eaten, and it did not matter if we liked the meal or not: What was on the plate in front of you had to be gone before leaving the table. In those days, we did not have a dog watching our back, so finishing dinner sometimes meant being at the table for an extra hour while the now-cold items sat there on the plate challenging you to finish up or else spend the rest of your life at the table.
During the warmer months of the year, we all enjoyed iced tea with our meals. And during the winter months, for the boys, it was milk. We pretty much hated the moment of the switch from iced tea to milk, not because we did not like milk –– we all did –– but because that was the official signal that short days and cold temperatures were upon us, putting the final nail in the coffin of summer.
I tell this tale because I seem to have carried those liquid values into my adult life, believing that at certain times of the year, some beverages are better than others. While the South Louisiana weather is kinder than temperatures in most parts of North America, I still have the gnawing thought in the back of my mind that heavy, big tannin, overly ripe, alcohol-fruit-bomb cabernet sauvignons are better with temperatures in the 40s or 50s rather than when the temps are in the 90s and so is the humidity.
And now we find ourselves in our annual position of getting high. No, not that way. I mean the high 80s on the cool days, high 70s at night, all accompanied by strong influences of humidity from the Gulf. Those conditions call for something cool, refreshing, thirst-quenching and fun.
Obviously what will work is a drink made to be chilled as low as it can get. Because New Orleans is a community with a heavy addiction to snowballs, why would we want to go any other way on our adult beverage selections? But then, there is a “tired” factor at the fore here because some of those selections grow weary on our palates. Heavily oaked and big, buttery chardonnays do not carry the required refreshment quotient, otherwise known in scientific circles as the RRQ.
Your mouth and your brain are telling you to go lighter, easier and colder. Don’t complicate matters. Simple is the key, simple and refrigeration.
Try something quaffable from the wine world. Sit back, and slake the thirst. And be careful. That pesky Coors Light train does not seem to mind barging onto any scenario, going at breakneck speed, with little regard for pedestrians or property. Someone is going to get hurt, mark my words.
Instead, let’s talk about:
• Viognier –– a slinky, really incredible white grape that established a home in the Rhone Region of eastern France, where only 300 acres are planted. More than a thousand acres, however, are planted in California. It has a bit of a viscous, lanolin-like quality, with honeysuckle tones and tropical fruit characters. In its home, the grape is incredibly aromatic and has soft elegance. California, as it will, develops Viognier with much deeper fruit-driven characters and a bit more alcohol content.
Gary Eberle, Mill Road Vineyard, Paso Robles, California
Pride Mountain Vineyards, Sonoma County
Cline, North Coast
• Pinot Gris –– Whatever happened here is practically inexplicable. Suddenly, about 10 years ago, everyone read the results of the same study that said this likeable but not loveable grape was going to be the Next Big Thing. Plantings were made just about everywhere, even replacing some other grapes’ vines that were dong adequate work. There have been the predictable sloppy results, and the ubiquity of the wines has hurt the desired perception that this is serious juice. But it is, and the wines that come from northern Italy (Pinot Grigio), Alsace and Germany (where it is called grauburgunder or ruländer) are of different character than those that hail from Oregon and California. The European model is sophisticated, not in-your-face, reserved but spicy. This is true of all European areas except northern Italy, where overproduction has, in some cases, yielded a wine devoid of great character. In the U.S. Pinot Gris presents more pear qualities, with excellent acid content, all wrapped within a fresh-on-the-palate texture.
King Estate, Oregon
Bottega Vinaia, Trentino, Italy
• Pinot Blanc –– When matters have become way too complicated, it’s time to reach for the Pinot Blanc. These good but never outstanding wines are not demanding of your full attention and are happy just to be well-chilled and a part of your enjoyment. That’s not to say the grape, also known as Pinot Bianco, is not capable of great things. It’s only that it usually does not achieve the lofty heights of its cousin, pinot noir. Remember that not all occasions demand a head-turning wine. Sometimes, particularly in the summer heat, something cold and mild is as complicated as it needs to be. On the nose, the wine often presents a neutral sensation or even the lack of any bouquet. More likely you will find wisps of almonds, and on the palate, nice, crisp apples are a defining taste. The low prices, however, in and of themselves, are an endearing quality of Pinot Blanc.
Hugel et Fils, Alsace
The Wine Show with Tim McNally can be heard every Sunday from noon to 2 p.m. on WIST-AM 690.