Octogenarian wine author Leon Adams, a crusty sort of fellow, was standing at a wine reception recently, surveying bottles of white wine displayed in a pyramid of ice.
"Want a glass of wine, Leon?" he was asked.
"There's no wine here," snapped Adams. "Wine is red."
A lot of people in this world agree with him. Red wine traditionally has so much more flavor that Adams once noted that all wine would be red if it could. To him--and those like him--white wine is what you drink only when there's no red wine around.
Still, when hot weather arrives, red wine consumption goes down. Most people feel that hot weather calls for something with ice cubes in it--like white Zinfandel.
But why not consider chilled red wine instead? Of course, I'm not talking about First Growth Bordeaux, which would be ruined by chilling. I'm referring to wines that are lighter in tannins so they can be chilled without robbing the wine of its fruit. Or wines such as roses that have a trace of residual sugar, so they can take an ice cube and still taste like something.
In our house we have a traditional summer dinner: Tuscan food, served al fresco on a hot day. Generally, the meal isn't served until late, when the scorch of the day has been muted into the calm heat of early evening.
The appetizers, served ahead of the main course, are uncooked--smoked salmon, home-cured olives, crackers with a cheese spread, nuts. The wines are well chilled and very dry--Verdicchio, Soave, Pinot Grigio, or Pinot Bianco. Even a fino Sherry works in this setting.
For a first course we often serve a cold fruit soup. With it, there will be a well-chilled German Spatlese.
The entree, almost always the same, is a pasta dish prepared with an uncooked tomato sauce. The ingredients are simply tomatoes (seeded and chopped), fresh sliced garlic, fresh sliced basil leaves and extra virgin olive oil. The hot pasta is drained, small cubes of fresh mozzarella are thrown onto the pile, and then the room-temperature tomatoes are tossed with the whole thing. And a bottle of chilled Heitz Grignolino Rose is uncorked.
The Grignolino grape, of Italian heritage, has a unique spicy aroma not unlike the scent of orange peel. The fruit of the wine has the sweetness of fresh tomatoes.
The Heitz wine, the 1989 version of which sells for $4.75, is a summertime dinner wine that even Leon Adams would appreciate. It is a delightful match for the flavors associated with Tuscan cooking, including such dishes as papa al pomodoro and risotto with wild mushrooms.
But its flavors work wonders with those found in the uncooked pasta dish, especially when it's paired with extra-sourdough bread and a simple tossed green salad.
Many other good rose wines would work with these foods, including those I have recommended in the past--Phelps, McDowell Valley, Ridge, Simi. Even the 1990 Mondavi White Gamay would work, but it would be best to mute its sweetness with an ice cube.
For those who prefer red wines, Heitz uses the same grape to make his Grignolino. The 1987, a light red, costs $5.
"That wine is too damn cheap," said Joe Heitz the other day. "I've got to raise the price." Heitz likes his Grignolino because "you can drink it without having any conversation," and he muttered something about wine snobs.
I asked about his rose. "Frequently when we go to winemaker dinners we'll sip it as the crowd gathers, and a lot of winemakers love it."
The Grignolino grape isn't the only red variety that takes a chilling. Here are other suggestions:
Beaujolais: French imports or those from California (Shaw, Pecota, Fetzer, Beringer) may be chilled. They do wonderfully with rich foods.
Dolcetto: The name of this Italian wine makes it sound as if it's going to be sweet. It's actually totally dry, made from grapes grown in the southern Piedmont region. Slightly chilled, the wine is not unlike a heavy-bodied Beaujolais. Author Burton Anderson says Dolcetto can have a bitter-almond aftertaste, but it's a soft, grapey wine that needs no aging.
Chianti: In the last few years, some of the most successful wines with connoisseurs have been high-end Chiantis that sell for close to (and more than ) $20 a bottle. But standard Chianti, most of which still sells for less than $10 a bottle, offers good strong flavors.
When you chill Chianti slightly, some of the aroma is subdued, but that makes it more refreshing when the weather turns hot. When the weight of Chardonnay is simply too much too bear, I often enjoy slightly chilled Chianti with poached salmon.
Lighter-styled Zinfandels: Those made with a lighter hand can be chilled; often they're better that way. One wine made just to be chilled is a non-vintage blend of Zinfandel and Syrah from Santino Winery in Amador County. Called Alfresco, it sells for $6.