While the severity of Houston’s winters can easily be questioned – unless you consider temperatures in the mid-60s to be nippy – its summers are world class. With that in mind, here are a dozen ideas for what to drink with some quintessential summer foods.
Picture perfectly ripe heirloom tomatoes, sweet and fruity with just the right amount of acidity; aged balsamic vinegar to match; pillow-soft, pleasantly unctuous and slightly tart Mozzarella di bufala; fresh basil; great olive oil; fleur de sel and freshly ground black pepper; and thin, warm, roasted garlic-parmesan toast. Now picture washing it down with a Chianti Classico Riserva – fairly light, with a beautiful hint of black cherries framed with firm acidity. It doesn’t get any better.
Steamed Lobster with Drawn Butter
Briny, sweet, rich lobster, made even richer with melted butter. The acidity from a slightly chilled white Burgundy from the Côte de Beaune will contrast with the dish’s richness, while the wine’s fruit and minerality will accentuate and develop the same flavors in the lobster.
Texas Barbecued Ribs
There’s a lot of variation in Texas barbecue in terms of sweetness, smokiness and spice, all of which influences the choice of the perfect beverage to drink with it. Having said that, a great Bock beer, with their big, deeply flavored maltiness, touch of sweetness and generous alcohol levels will usually do the trick.
Light, spicy, crunchy and fresh, fish tacos might be the perfect food for a hot Houston summer. A not-too-sweet, tart Margarita on the rocks is a great compliment. The drink’s lime encourages the cilantro and Serrano chile to blossom, and the sweetness from the Cointreau (on a good day) can make even a pedestrian fish seem a little like Turbot. The high alcohol should theoretically clash with the spice, but it has never bothered me.
Chilled Shellfish Salad
A chilled salad of steamed shrimp, scallops and crab, lightly dressed in a tarragon-mustard dressing and served in half a perfectly ripe avocado can make for a show stopping summertime lunch. A white Bordeaux from Entre-Deux-Mers will be the perfect compliment, and somewhat mitigate the cost of the food, too. This no oak, high acid, high minerality wine will bring out flavors in the seafood you never knew were there, while making the avocado seem even richer.
Dry-Aged Grilled Ribeye
Caveman food at its best. A big, juicy, rich ribeye steak, grilled medium rare (at most) with lots of tasty char from the grill, hopefully with generous amounts of genuine mesquite smoke flavor thrown in. A primal dish such as this will do well with a wine that favors clarity of purpose over too much subtlety or fussy elegance. I’d save the Premier Cru Bordeaux for another day and opt for a great Napa Valley California Cabernet Sauvignon. The fruit will uncover complexities in the steak you might otherwise miss, and the tannins will keep the richness from becoming cloying. The steak’s richness will also temper the wine’s tannins and alcohol. “A slab and a Cab” is popular for a reason.
Gazpacho with Crabmeat
A stellar version of this dish will be refreshing, spicy, rich and tart all at the same time. Vinho Verde is a wine from Portugal that is very light, slightly sweet and a little sparkly. It’s available in white, red and rosé, each of which is a great summer wine, although with this dish I’d recommend the white or rosé. Its name literally translates as “green wine,” which refers to the use of young, barely ripe grapes in its production, not the wine’s color.
Vietnamese Spring Rolls
Light and delicate, but with complex flavors from various herbs and heat and/or sweetness from different sauces, Vietnamese Spring Rolls can be tricky to pair with wine. But an excellent choice is Extra Dry Champagne which, counter intuitively, is a little bit sweeter than a typical Brut. The lightness of the wine plays off the subtle character of the rolls, while the slight sweetness tempers any heat from the sauces and brings out nuances in the flavors of any shellfish or roasted pork. The wine’s minerality makes the herbs more vibrant and the shellfish more complex.
While no one denies the appeal of great fried chicken, unfortunately the same can’t be said of German Rieslings. This is regrettable because these wines are some of the world’s greatest, and too many people are missing out on the fun. They’re not too sweet, cloying or one-dimensional. That describes the soft drinks that many people who eschew these wines drink on a daily basis. The next time you have fried chicken, pair it with a German Spätlese. You’ll discover a bright, refreshing, complex wine that beautifully balances a focused acidity with a smooth, rich modicum of sweetness. It works so well with fried chicken for the same reasons it’s perfect with Wiener schnitzel.
Made from the freshest of seafood marinated in citrus juice along with aromatic vegetables and herbs, ceviche is a perfect way to keep cool on the hottest summer day. Its high acidity can work against many wines, but Sancerre, a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley, is a great match. This wine’s own super high acidity, along with plenty of citrus and herbaceous notes, play perfectly against those same flavors in the dish.
This classic entrée salad from the south of France contains tuna (try it with Ahi, grilled rare), hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, boiled potatoes, haricots verts, anchovies, niçoise olives and herbs. An equally classic wine match for this dish is Tavel, a bone-dry, high alcohol rosé from the Rhône Valley, just up the road from Nice. The wine is clean and balanced, with fresh fruit flavors of pear and cherry blossoms and a crisp finish. It’s just the ticket to tie together the disparate flavors and textures in this salad.
Shaved, raw tenderloin of beef dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and capers, or maybe a flavored mayonnaise or mustard, is a great way to work red meat into a menu when the goal is to keep things light. An Oregon Pinot Noir, with its fresh red fruit and smooth, medium body, will remind you of all the reasons that beef tenderloin is so great: its almost sweet and fruity flavor and velvet-like texture. Serve the wine slightly chilled. If you insist on serving it at room temperature, just be sure the room isn’t one in Houston in August.