The heat and humidity of an east coast summer annually hovers first in my purely emotional memory, triggering recollections of trips back to New Jersey to see my parents’ families, hearing thunderstorms, the blue of an evening with the sun just down, and catching fireflies—those mystic little beings foreign to our home in Hawaii. Gradually, though, reality surfaces with a sigh of recognition. Oh, this again, I think, sweating through another shirt and wishing for a breeze on days that feel akin to the inside of a mouth.
Not to mislead you, I do in fact love the summertime and all of its accoutrements: watermelon, corn, tomatoes, berries, barbecues, crispy cold white wine and sangrias of all sorts, gin and tonics. But living in Baltimore, I’m learning, means beating the extreme seasons into the minds and hearts of its citizens till they begin to pull on their hair and bite their nails, pretending that 82 degrees means “wear a cardigan outside” and that making preserves is a pleasant afternoon activity. To be clear, I have done both in the past few days. Does this make me local yet?
In any case, it’s time to start thinking about that transition and shifting our wine radars from porch pounders to snuggly sippers, but it doesn’t have to be a blind leap. Here are a few great options for this in-between time to help ease you out of your swim suits and back into your corduroys. Do people still wear corduroys? Never mind. You know what I mean.
Savoy is a region located at the beginning of the south of France, to the east border against the French Alps and in the general vicinity of Geneva. It’s success as a region relies pretty heavily on the ski industry and the restaurants that feed it and though it’s home to some familiar varieties, like Pinot Noir or Gamay, most of the grapes that end up in Savoie wines—white, red, pink, and sparkling—are pretty obscure. The sparklers are identified by the degree to which they sparkle: mousseux indicates a substantial bubble (as in Vin de Savoie Mousseux AOC, the more specifically classification of this genre), and petillant will indicate less bubble, more like a slight fizz.
Why it works: We’re not talking big money here, and though it may be a bit of a challenge to find, it’s not hard to front the cash. So while there may be no national holiday to celebrate, there are plenty of reasons to pop some bubbly. My favorite excuse is that perfect Saturday brunch scenario when everyone has slept in a little too late and there’s no rush to get anywhere and the weather is hovering just before warm. Just this past weekend we popped a bottle of Savoie bubbles with some buckwheat pancakes and preserves, a mildly Alpine breakfast offset by the crisp, waxy apple and mineral flavors of the wine.
Godello is a white wine variety from Galicia in the northwestern part of Spain that falls somewhere between Chardonnay and Riesling in body and attitude. Though it can range dramatically in style, it generally has flavors of pear and apple with soft citrus, but still vibrant and pointed acidity from its strong mineral presence. It’s luxurious and rich, but never feels heavy, can handle food ranging in weight and spice, and is tasty to boot. Shellfish is an amazing (and natural) pairing, as would be heavier tapas.
Why it works: Godello is actually one of my go-to autumnal whites because of its complexity: not afraid to be rich, silky, and full of flavor, but miraculously ethereal and subtle. As food gets heavier, we tend to thing wine has to put on the pounds as well, but another approach to food and wine pairing is to consider contrast. Creamy cauliflower soup with roasted apple and curry, for example, could be pretty palate coating, but pair that with a good Godello and you have enough acid to cut through the richness of the soup and enough flavor and body to balance the whole experience. And nobody will stop you if all you want to do is enjoy these perfect transitional evenings on your porch with a glass of it, either.
The “blood of Jove,” Sangiovese is the heart of the Tuscan wine operation and is grown throughout that region and many surrounding, though it finds its real stride in Chianti and the areas near it. A red grape with high tannin and high acidity, Sangiovese can bring a lot of heft and refreshment to the table all at once. The high tannin means that it can stand up to hefty red meat-oriented dishes, like those steaks on the grill, but the high acidity means that you can take the temperature down a notch and serve it just slightly on the chilled end, making for a fresh, full-flavored endeavor.
Why it works: A balanced Sangiovese is like wearing a good dress: it hugs in all the right places, hides all the right things, and feels like you never want to leave it behind. The sweet cherry, tobacco, and leathery accents the grape picks up from its Tuscan roots can either shine in open, easy entry-level bottlings like Chianti Colli Senesi, or play counter to a massive, masculine, broodingly dark structure that is assertive and seductive all at once, like a Brunello di Montalcino. A quick note: want the heft, but not the price tag? Try a Rosso di Montalcino, which is made from the same fruit as its fancier Brunello big brothers, but are designed to drink now rather than in the ten years Brunellos will take to settle down.
Summer isn’t over, we still have the rest of August, Labor Day, and knowing this city, we’ll probably have at least a handful of Days of Ungodly Heat left to ride out before we break out the scarves, boots, and Cabernet Sauvignons. But as I sit here watching the first loose leaves skitter onto my porch, I know it’s coming. Better go see if there’s any of that Savoie left in the fridge.
Katie Callahan is a wine educator and former manager of Bin 201 Wine Sellers in Annapolis.
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