Lighten Up: Wines — Livermore Valley

Casual summer afternoons were made for wine, as nighttime is slow to arrive. When entertaining, you can play it safe and offer the “big three” – Chardonnay, Cabernet, and Merlot, or take a chance with a few alternatives.

My favorite wines of the summer are Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Grigio, dry Rosés, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Syrah, just to name a few.

Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc are both great served cold, especially on hot days. Most white wines don’t show well when served too cold, but these two wines become refreshing thirst quenchers when done so. Try them with herb-grilled shrimp, scallops, and chicken.

Dry Rosés seem to get a bad rap because everyone thinks of White Zinfandel. Dry Rosés are a staple in the Southern Rhone region of France, and much like Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc, are very light and refreshing when served chilled. A number of California wineries are now producing dry Rosés and the selection of them in wine shops has greatly increased. They are particularly versatile with a variety of summer foods.

If you are stuck on serving red wines, then try Zinfandel (not white Zin) and Syrah. Look for wines from cooler growing regions. These wines will typically have more acidity and tannin, less alcohol, and be a little more refreshing for a hot summer night. Zins are fruity and spicy with hints of black pepper. Syrahs are earthy with subtle fruit and a bit of white pepper. They are great with barbequed or smoked meats.

For those of you who feel they must serve the “big three,” look for lighter styles. Chardonnays with a lot of oak are just too heavy for a hot day. The same holds true with full-bodied Cabernet or Merlot. As with Zinfandel and Syrah, look for wines from cooler growing regions. They will be less intense and refreshing on hot summer days.

Going into a liquor store to choose a wine can be a bit intimidating, especially with all the selections available. Price is not always a good determining factor in picking wines. To be on the safe side, pick a wine from a name you know and in a mid-price range. The lower priced wines are usually mass produced, and the expensive ones are generally not as good as the additional money you spend. Smaller wine shops generally have clerks that know all of the wines that they carry, and can easily help you make a decision based on your taste and criteria. In larger stores or grocery stores, read the shelf talkers, as they are often accurate descriptions of the wines. Also, don’t be afraid to experiment. Try something the catches your eye or sounds interesting, but don’t spend a lot of money on it. You don’t want to spend $30 for a bottle of wine and then be disappointed because you didn’t like it.

Here are my personal selections for the summer of ‘05:
Sauvignon Blanc from: Montevina, Concannon, Hanna, Mondavi
Chenin Blanc from: Bogle Vineyards
Chardonnay from: Wente, Livermore Valley Cellars (LVC)
Dry Rosés from: LVC, Navarro Vineyards, Fenestra, Sierra Vista
Zinfandel from: LVC, Fenestra, Rancho Zabacco
Syrah from: Wood Family Vineyard, LVC, Sierra Vista

Remember, summer is a time for being outdoors, barbequing, and entertaining friends. It is also the perfect time to enjoy some exciting fruits of the vine.

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