No matter how you choose to celebrate Labor Day this year, be it at a pool party, a backyard BBQ, or a leisurely picnic in the park, cold libations will certainly be in order to help you beat the heat and toast your well-deserved day off from work. So set your favorite beers aside for Oktoberfest, and stock up on these quintessential warm weather wines.
Perky and Affordable Bubbles
While Champagne is undeniably the cream of the crop when it comes to sparkling wine, tons of regions around the world, France included, produce fresh and vibrant sparkling wine alternatives that are far less expensive than Champagne but still satisfy the urge for some high quality spritz when you’re lounging in the sun.
If you’re a die-hard francophile and absolutely must have some French bubbly, seek out sparkling wines from the regions of Alsace, the Loire Valley, Limoux, and Burgundy (Bourgogne) that bear the term “cremant” on the label.
For those of you willing to venture off to Spain for your Labor Day bubbles, grab a bottle of Cava from the Spanish region of Penedés. Cava is traditionally made from three indigenous Spanish grapes: Xarel-lo, Parellada, and Macabeo, and is produced using the esteemed méthode champenoise, which is the same labor-intensive winemaking process used by the wineries in Champagne.
Another great sparkling stand-by is Prosecco, which is both the style of wine as well as the name of the region in the Veneto where the wine is grown. Prosecco is made from an Italian grape called Glera (which is often referred to simply as Prosecco) and is typically produced using the charmat or tank method, wherein the wine undergoes its second fermentation in large tanks prior to being bottled. For the highest quality Proseccos, look for bottles that list the sub-regions of Valdobbiadene or Conegliano on the label.
In an earlier post, I dispelled the myth that all rosés are sweet, white Zinfandel type quaffs better reserved for grandma than for serious wine drinkers. Well there is no better occasion to sip bone-dry Provencal or California rosé than during beach or poolside celebrations.
Dry rosés can be made from a whole host of red grape varieties ranging from Grenache to Pinot Noir, and vary in hue from pale salmon and copper to bright shades of cranberry. Generally speaking, the lighter and paler the color of the rosé, the dryer it will be in style.
Because they straddle the flavor spectrum between whites and reds, dry rosés pair wonderfully with a broad range of foods coming off the grill including lighter fare such as grilled shrimp and chicken, to heartier foods like pork ribs and lamb chops. Dry rosés also provide the much-needed acid punch to complement salty hors d’oeuvres like cheese platters, cured meats, and anything fried.
Young, Unoaked Whites
Unoaked white wines that are within a few years of their vintage date are generally fresher and cleaner in style than their barrel-aged counterparts and work perfectly as thirst quenchers. With very few exceptions, acidity levels in young white wines are generally higher than in aged white wines. When temperatures rise and the heat begins to take its toll, nervy acidity in a wine is the perfect remedy.
Moreover, while barrel-aged whites are often richly textured and show warming notes of vanilla, caramel, or butterscotch, unoaked white wines tend to focus on pure fruit flavors and crisp minerality – exactly what you’ll want to temper the heat.
Look for 2009 and 2010 examples of Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or Chile, Assyrtiko from Greece, Grüner Veltliner from Austria, or Albariño from Spain.
While most red wines are traditionally drunk at room temperature, unoaked reds made from thin-skinned grapes tend to produce light bodied and slightly translucent wines that fare beautifully when served with a slight chill. These wines are perfect for outdoor sipping, bringing together the freshness of chilled whites and rosés with the juicy red berry flavors typically found in red wines.
Oak aging can often bring a textural richness or heaviness to a wine, so when choosing something red to chill down and sip in the heat, opt for a straightforward, unoaked wine that features lively fresh fruit.
Thin-skinned red grapes also tend to yield wines that are low in tannins since a large percentage of a wine’s tannins originate in the grapes’ skins. The thicker and darker the grape skins, the more inky and tannic the wine, and vice versa. Tannins in a wine can become accentuated when the wine is served chilled, so make sure to choose low tannin wines like Pinot Noir from Burgundy, Gamay from Beaujolais, Frappato from Sicily, or Schiava from Alto Adige in the north of Italy.
Photo by *clairity*