The Boston Phoenix
June 8 - 15, 2000


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Summer wine adventures for less than $10

by David Marglin

As I write this, the temperature isn't really conducive to thinking about summer wines. But I've cranked up the heat to put myself in the right frame of mind to answer the question: what wines are best for hot summer nights and days?

One of the joys of summer is getting out and doing different things -- in other words, voyaging. And as I've talked about summer wines with various friends around town, it has occurred to me that summer is a season for adventures in wine, too: a great time to try something new.

Summer food, after all, is different. Summer means outdoor grilling, more spices, more salsas and peppers and corn and chutney. It means lots of emphasis on veggies and on seafood. We're beach creatures 'round these parts -- we go to the Islands and the North and South Shores; to Maine and New Hampshire and Little Compton and the Cape. We go to the restaurants on the waterfront. And by the water when the weather's really nice, we want wines that taste good a little cold. (Champagne is always appropriate, and in an upcoming column I'll check out some grand sparkling wines from various parts of the world, including Spain and Italy.) What we want in the summertime, in short, is to be refreshed, rejuvenated by wine.

This always works better when the wines and foods are well matched. The problem is, we don't want to work too hard at guessing whether we might like something. We buy wine in a store we know and then bring it with us to wherever we spend the weekend. We can't afford surprises. So we buy what we know, merlots and chards, or maybe go a little wild and grab a sauvignon blanc, or a cab franc, or a pinot noir. In summertime, we keep it straight and narrow, solid line drives. We play it safe.

And according to almost every wine person I talked to, we are making a big mistake. There are so many rewarding wines out there for the adventurous. Indeed, there are some pretty out-there values out there. And because you are visiting friends, or sharing, or traveling, chances are you are exploring plenty of different foods. You want your wines a tad out there.

So I've hunted down some unbelievable, kicking summer wines, all but one less than $10, for you to boldly go to the shore with, to drink when you feel the heat. They'll do equally well near a lake or by the ocean. (If you're truly trapped in the city, try turning on a garden hose.)

Note: don't try to pull these wines off with overly fancy foods. These are for pastas, for stir-fries, for grilled corn on the cob. They're for crab cakes and fried clams and wieners.

These wines are bargains you almost can't afford not to try, because if you like them, not only will you save yourself dollars and impress your friends, but you'll also enjoy exotic and enticing wine pairings. Meanwhile, you'll be getting into the spirit of summer in New England and having your own bona fide grand wine adventures. Some of these are unusual, but I found them all at the Wine Cask, in Somerville.

1998 Paul Lapandery & Fils Côte Roannaise ($6.99). A vivacious gamay (think Beaujolais) from a province to the west of Burgundy. Though it would be unlawful under strict French regulations for this wine to contain any pinot noir, it does have the complexity and aromas of something other than gamay. A light fruity wine that might like a bit of a chill on it. Great with seafood or burgers, and very bright on the palate.

1998 Chateau Villerambert Julien Minervois ($6.99). A sharp rosé, made from grenache and syrah. Lots of pep and verve, very deep fruit. Tastes of rhubarb and strawberry, along with some pepper and jasmine. Maybe even a hint of licorice. Sort of an all-purpose wine, one that would do as well with a white pizza as it would with fried clams or crab cakes. A kick.

1998 Clos des Briords Muscadet de Sèvre & Maine Sur Lie (Loire) ($8.99). A cheery wine, clean flavors, citrus zest, great with shellfish or chicken stir-fry with Oriental spices (teriyaki or soy). A very light wine, refreshing cold, with a really nice pop on the finish. Good buy.

1998 Domaine de Beaurenard Côtes du Rhône ($9.99). Soft and full, good balance, ample fruit. You can taste the pepper of the syrah, but the predominant flavors are cherries and blackberries. Appealing and eminently approachable wine, great with steaks or burgers.

1997 Chateau de Cruzeau (Pessac-Léognan) ($13.99). Wow! I know, this is more than $10. But you will taste the extra dollars. Unbelievable sauvignon blanc-sémillon blend (85 percent-15 percent). Lush and creamy, some vanilla, sumptuous fruit flavors. Just a honey. With salmon, fried clams, cod, or scrod. God, this wine is really good. Go for it!

David Marglin can be reached at wine[a]

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