Editor's note: this story originally ran in May 2017. With the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience (NOWFE) returning this Memorial Day weekend, and another hot summer on the horizon, it has been updated and posted again. This year, NOWFE has an introductory seminar for wine appreciation, called Wine Tasting 101, scheduled for May 25. See full event details here.
You may swoon for sangiovese, bow before Bordeaux and marvel at malbec. But then comes summer, the New Orleans summer, and all bets are off.
As the humidity creeps in, it’s time for wines that can cut through it all, wines that are refreshing, quenching and quaffable, and preferably easy on the wallet.
Now is the time to revisit the roster of wines that will live in your ice bucket and your fridge door these next few months, ready to cap off a hot day or toast a mellow weekend.
We asked a few wine pros from New Orleans Wine & Food Experience for advice to focus your choices at the weekend’s tastings or anytime you’re picking out wine with summer on your mind.
Made for the moment
You know a great summer wine when you taste it. But when you’re trying to track one down, it helps to be able to describe it.
“It should be should be lean, bright, crisp, refreshing; you take a sip and you want another,” said James Moises, owner of local distributor Bizou Wines and a New Orleans Wine & Food Experience board member.
To fit this bill, look for wines with strong acidity, which balances the sweet and bitter flavors of wine and imparts a tart flavor. Think of biting into a ripe tomato — that subtly sour, lip-smacking flavor comes from its acidity. Good acidity in wine has the same effect.
And look for wines with lower alcohol levels, in the 8 percent to 13 percent range. They’ll taste lighter on the palate, and the more modest potency can keep you in the game longer on a hot summer day.
“When a wine has too much alcohol, it’s too bold, too rich,” said Mickey Hanning, a past NOWFE board member sales rep for New Orleans distributor Wines Unlimited. “And when the alcohol is lighter, obviously the more you can drink. With the heat here, high alcohol can be dangerous.”
Happily, the ideal summer wine tends to be affordable, too.
“Summer guides you to wines that are intended to be to opened right away,” Moises said. “These aren’t wines for aging, and they tend to be pretty inexpensive.”
In practice, these traits carry through a broad range of wines, giving a great variety of tastes. Evan Goldstein, president of San Francisco-based Full Circle Wine Solutions, a master sommelier and New Orleans Wine & Food Experience regular, readily rattles off a few from the spectrum.
“It’s a crisp and crunchy sauvignon blanc from New Zealand or Chile, a zippy dry chenin blanc from South Africa, zesty vinho verde from Portugal, albariño from Spain’s Galicia, playful assyrtiko from Greece and the dry rieslings from Germany,” he said. “All hit the spot, as well as not punching too hard on the wallet, and ditto the craze for dry rosé from just about anywhere.”
Rosé all day
When the heat has you down, the delicate, tranquil color of rosé can be soothing on sight. But its beauty is more than skin deep.
“It’s inherently refreshing, lighter and lithe on the palate, and does pair with a wide range of food, from picnics on patios to a stunning range of seafood,” Goldstein said.
It may still bear noting that good rosé is not sweet, despite that white zinfandel you guzzled in college. But there is no single profile for rosé.
“The great thing about rosé is you can drink different rosés every day, not just from different brands but made from different grapes, so you can explore,” Moises said. “That’s the fun of rosé if you’re going to drink it all summer long.”
Some can even serve as summer replacements for reds on the dinner table. Look for dark, raspberry red rosés, or rosés made from grapes usually associated with full-bodied wines, like cabernet sauvignon. They make versatile wines that are cool and crisp but still have heft. They’re wines that would pair well with a steak, even on a hot summer night.
Reds for a red hot summer
Many reds still can quench in the summer, especially those with bigger fruit and, again, higher acidity.
“You can find it in France’s Beaujolais, Spanish garnacha, or even more fruit-forward styles of simpler pinot noir,” Goldstein said. “The lone rule of thumb: Keep the tannins low, the fruit high.”
Like the rest of us in the summer, these reds are better when they’ve had a chance to cool off a bit. A 10-minute dunk in an ice bucket usually will do the trick, and it can make all the difference.
“The temperature of serving a wine is so important, and a lot of red wine is served way too hot in New Orleans,” Hanning said. “You often need to put a little chill on it. Remember that cellar temperature and room temperature are very different here.”
Buoyant on bubbles
When the heat really gets you down, turn to the wines that rise above.
“How do you spell relief? B-U-B-B-L-Y,” said Goldstein, an unequivocal fan of its potential to sop up the ravages of summer. “It can be of many types and styles, from basic prosecco and moscato d’Asti, both a little on the sweeter side for those who prefer that, to a crémant from Bourgogne, Loire or Alsace to California sparkling to those off the beaten path, from Australia, Argentina, Washington state.”
New Orleans has been getting more wines that are slightly effervescent, though not as fizzy as Champagne and its peers. Vinho verde, a zesty, tart, universally inexpensive white from Portugal, has become the de facto wine of pool parties and beach bags everywhere. Txakolina, from Spain’s Basque country, is a similar example, though these bottles tend to be much more expensive by the time they make it overseas, Goldstein notes.
Clues at a glance
With such a vast world of wine out there, some practical tips and clues can help guide you to good choices for summer.
One might be bottle shape. For instance, tall, pointy bottles are indicative of German and Alsatian white wines, or wines from other regions made in their traditional styles. These tend to be refreshing and light-bodied wines, like pinot gris, pinot blanc and riesling.
“When you see those bottles, there’s a pretty good chance it will be light, crisp, but look out for the sweet rieslings,” Moises said, recommending instead the drier representations of riesling.
The climate of a particular wine-producing region can be a helpful guide for quick reference. Areas that are hot tend to produce lighter, fresher styles of white wine. For instance, South Africa is known for a style of chenin blanc that’s generally much leaner and crisper than wine from the same grape in France.
“When you’re pairing food and wine, you think about the food of the area," Hanning said. "What’s something they might be eating where they make this wine? To me, it’s the same idea with the climate. If it’s a hot area, they’re probably making wines that fit that climate.”
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