Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What's hot this summer?

A lot of people have been asking me what is hot this summer. That is such a loaded question. I feel as though the market is being flooded with great juice and there is so little time to drink it all. I have heard people talking about "the next big region" and have often thought that I may have discovered it. Some of my classmates talk about some of the more obscure Eastern European wine regions like Bulgaria and Romania, but I don't think they are the next new popular wine producing region; yet.

Many wine distribution companies, and wine retailers for that matter put a lot of stock in South Africa a couple of years ago. It was unique to see some of these amazing French portfolios come across my desk and then at the end of the book they are loaded with obscure South African wine labels. I think that Australia made such an impact on the global market that people wanted that next big thing from south of the equator. Even major producers like Lindeman's set up shop in South Africa, but as trends seem to decline I would imagine that South Africa will soon be a small fraction of the market.

Last year the Wine Spectator came out with an article on Israeli wines, and more importantly kosher wines. Curious, I picked up a bottle and shared it with a couple of friends of mine. I thought that it screamed Pacific Northwest fruit. Coincidentally one of the friends that I was sharing it with was from the Pac Northwest and hated the wine. And don't get him started on Pac Northwest juice, he would argue that it is some of the best wine being produced domestically (so would I, but never to his face). I however knew that the region would have to be a hand sell on the wine list so I did not pick it up. I do not think that Israeli wines are the next major wine region, but it is fun to try and my friend Keith Stanhill appreciates the kosher part of the wine.

So that brings us to South America, they are producing some amazingly priced vino. A group of us deemed "The Grape Nuts" got together at my house last month and tried a dozen different labels. Chile and Argentina in particular have come a long way from the barnyard/earthy aromas that plagued their wine for many years. Don't get me wrong, there are still plenty of earthy wines being produced, especially when we look at the Carmenere grape. But I have noticed that they are really trying to cater to the American palate. On top of all of that water is free and labor is cheap so they are able to produce their wine rather inexpensively. All in all I would say that South America has come a long way and I have really seen the Argentinian Malbec's taking off in this market.

For those of you that enjoy the South American wines but like to drink cool refreshing whites in the summer you must try their Torrontes grape. It has gotten a lot of press lately and I have noticed a number of retails stocking up on several labels. The Torrontes is a white grape from Argentina. It is medium to full bodied and has a nice citrus finish. We had a gentleman bring a Torrontes at our South American tasting that he paired with a Ceviche he made. I was shocked at how well the Torrontes held up to the seafood dish. The Ceviche also had a little spicy kick to it and the Torrontes really calmed it down.

As the weather gets warmer for us in the Upper Midwest I find the trend usually shifts to white wines. Even the wine drinker with the palate for the most full bodied reds needs a refreshing drink in the mid-July heat. Most big red wine drinkers switch to a Chardonnay, and the ones that love tannins (that sensation when your mouth feels like it has been wallpapered with suede and velvet) tend to gravitate towards the oaky, California Chards.

As for me when the heat hits it is time to pull out the roses. That's right, think pink. I am not talking about Beringer White Zinfandel. Rather light pink roses from Provence, France or a Chiaretto from Northern Italy. Spain has a number of dry rose producers at really affordable prices. A lot of Americans do not realize that as the heat hits Europe they do not just go for the clean, crisp whites, but they tend to enjoy the rose wines. Again, I am not referring to the sweet pink wines, I am talking about beautifully crafted red grapes that have had minimal skin contact during fermentation that resulted in a pink symphony. With flavors and aromas ranging from raspberries and strawberries, to watermelon and cherries. Plus, rose wines go well with just about any summer dish, including food from the grill.

As the summer heat hits and the humidity rises I find myself sun bathing on the patio with a great book and sunglasses enjoying a clean crisp glass of Clare Valley dry Riesling, that is right, dry Riesling. The Clare Valley in Australia make an awesome dry Riesling that reflects the acid and structure of a Sauvignon Blanc with out all of the herbal notes. However Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand has made quite an impact on the US. What began as a bunch of rich doctors, lawyers, and investors soon became a citrus packed phenomenon.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc really put New Zealand on the map. Cloud Bay began when a group of wealthy investors wanted to retire. They got together and bought a plot of land in New Zealand. Using money to pull out all of the stops they created a citrus explosion consisting of flavors and aromas of Grapefruit, Lemons, Limes, and Gooseberries. Then out of now where, boom, New Zealand was on the map. The prices have skyrocketed over the last 3 years with 90+ ratings for labels like Dog Point and Kim Crawford (who until last year I thought was a woman). These screw top phenomenons have made summer wine drinking a year round pleasure. I find myself still trying to find that great deal from New Zealand, as prices on Nobilo and their Icon label rise, I tend to drift more towards the New Harbor side of the scale. A good Sauvignon Blanc for a great price.

All in all I think you have to drink what makes you happy. If you like a sweet Riesling from the Mosel (which I absolutely love), drink Riesling. If you enjoy the overly buttery oaky Chardonnays of Napa (certainly a time and a place for my palate), drink Chard. I like to mix it up, there are so many great wines to taste, why stop with just one.

A rep once tried to sell me on the idea of drinking red in the summers and white in the winter. His argument was that we usually drink at home and there for our house tend to be colder in the summer due to the air conditioning, and warmer in the winter, due to the heater. I told him I don't drink in my house in the summer, I drink on the Veranda.

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