Summer’s here, and the time is right for drinking simple, lively, refreshing wines with food to match. Not every wine we drink needs to be complex and profound. Mahler is great, but if it were the only thing there was to listen to, music wouldn’t be so popular. Ditto with Shakespeare and theatre. Seize the seasonal opportunity to have some fun with wine.
This Italian sparkler is one of the most popular wines in America, and for good reason. It’s light, simple, fresh and a little fruity. Not every wine we drink needs to be complex and profound. Mahler is great, but if it were the only thing there was to listen to, music wouldn’t be so popular. Ditto with Shakespeare and books. Proscecco is the name of the varietal, as well as the wine itself. It is available as a still white wine, but the vast majority is at least slightly bubbly, with many being off-dry. Some of the best examples come from the Valdobbiadene region. As far as sparkling wines go, these wines are bargains. They make for a great apéritif, and are also the classic wine to use in Bellinis.
Mionetto Prosecco DOC Treviso Brut ($12.50) is pale straw in color, with scant bubbles. Its nose is clean and fresh, with scents of sweet apples and minerals. On the palate, it is clean and refreshing with tart apples and a focused acidity. It’s the perfect wine for Bellinis.
Zardetto Prosecco DOC Treviso Brut ($13) is a very bright pale straw, with small, well-integrated bubbles. Its nose is clean and fruity, with some mineral and floral notes. It tastes of mandarin orange, ripe apricot and minerals. The acidity is moderate, and the medium finish ends with minerals.
Bisol Crede Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut ($21) is pale straw in color with generous, medium-sized bubbles. This wine has a fresh, fruity nose of sweet apples tempered with a pleasing minerality. It is slightly off-dry, with flavors of apples, citrus and minerals, all kept in balance with good acidity and a nice, slightly bitter finish. This is an excellent Prosecco.
Nino Franco Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Rustico ($15.50) is another favorite. Initially, it has a short-lived but big head, which subsides into small, integrated bubbles. It is pale straw and very bright in color. Its nose is fresh, with a very pleasant wet rock minerality and delicate, sweet white flowers. On the palate, first there are clean minerals, then concentrated sweet oranges and almost-ripe peaches. Its medium-length finish ends with bitter almonds, apricots and acidity.
Vinho Verde is one of Portugal’s most popular wines, and is certainly the one best suited for summer quaffing (Madeira and Porto probably being a better match for other seasons.) These wines are light, refreshing, simple, crisp and usually slightly sparkling. They are also great bargains. The name means, “green wine” and refers not to their color, but to the fact that they are released very young and are at their best when fresh, not aged. Because many are non-vintage, and so one can’t really determine their age, it makes sense to buy them from retailers who turn them over fairly quickly. They are made from a number of different grapes depending on which particular sub-region of the Vinho Verde DOC a particular wine in produced. Although some atypical Vinho Verdes reach 13% in alcohol, most are between 8-10%; another point in their favor for being a great choice for the dog days of summer. They are available in white, rosé and red, although the reds don’t usually leave Portugal. Traditionally bone dry, many are now slightly sweetened for export.
Vinho Verdes are great examples of wines that really come into their own when paired with food. They are also naturals in situations where the agenda is light, the sun is hot, and the conversation relaxed. Combining all three is a home run. These are not wines to ponder over, looking for layers of nuance or complexity. They are thirst quenchers that will bring out the best in many of summer’s favorite foods. Whether crab Louis, grilled shrimp, gazpacho or Vietnamese spring rolls, any light, bright menu item will be more enjoyable with Vinho Verde. These foods will also bring out the best in the wine.
When good, Vinho Verdes are fairly consistent from brand to brand. Visually, they tend to be a very pale straw and bright, with some green tints. They are fun to pour: after a very energetic white head briefly forms, a very small amount of bubbles remain in the wine. On the nose they are light, fresh and crisp, with hints of citrus and minerality. On the palate, the nose in confirmed. They are light, refreshing, high acid wines with citrus, minerals and, in some cases, white flowers. The finishes are medium in length, generally ending with crisp, palate-cleansing acid.
Very pleasant Vinho Verdes fitting this description are Sonalto Branco ($6), Gazela ($5) and Aveleda ($7). Especially nice is Arca Nova ($8.50). Its nose has beautiful white flowers and clean, wet rocks. It is slightly richer than other Vinho Verdes, with grapefruit and jasmine, and a finish of Mandarin orange.
LamBRUscoLambrusco has two strikes against it from the start: it’s a red wine with bubbles and it reminds a lot of people of candy-coated Riunite in the ‘80s. Don’t let either of these things prevent you from trying a perfectly charming, very fun and food-friendly wine. Many Lambruscos are dry, or almost dry, earthy, fresh and moderately fruity, with any untoward exuberance kept in check with a pleasant, slight bitterness. In a way, they have something in common with a Dolcetto or one of the more serious Beaujolais. They also tend to be very good bargains. Lambruscos marked “Reggiano” tend to be sweeter, and more reminiscent of the Lambruscos from your youth (or before you were born, depending.) Lambrusco is the name of both the varietal and the region in Italy in which they are made.
Umberto Cavicchioli & Figli Robanera ($14) has a deep color of black cherries, is opaque and only slightly bubbly. Its nose is complex with rich, ripe red fruit, floral accents and earth. It has a medium body, but seems lighter because of the bubbles. The alcohol is low. Initially, there are soft tannins, followed by smooth, red fruit, then herbs, minerals and earth. Although there is some residual sugar, it finishes dry with bitter almonds. It reminded me a little of good Sangria. It was perfect with a grilled bacon-cheeseburger.
Visually, Lini 910 ($15) is bright, with a very concentrated black cherry color. Its nose is fresh and earthy, with ripe red fruit and a little mortadella. The wine is dry, with scant bubbles, medium alcohol and high acidity. The main fruit is sour cherries. Overall, it comes across as energetically rustic. It has a medium finish of bitter almonds. It helped a salad made with Belgian endive, tomatoes, a pistachio-balsamic vinaigrette and Parmigiano Reggiano taste sweet, fruity and especially delicious. It would have been equally at home with enchiladas.
Cavicchioli U. & Figli Col Sassoso ($20) has a beautiful, bright, rich ruby color. When first poured into a glass it produces a very momentary but enthusiastic deep fuchsia head – something you really don’t see too often. Its nose is earthy, with a clean minerality and pleasantly over-ripe black cherries. Initially, the body is light and bright, but it finishes full and smooth; odd, but nice. This dry wine has a lot of deep, rich red fruit, beautifully balanced with clean, wet-rock minerality, focused acidity and a light spritz. The finish is very agreeable with smooth, friendly tannins and a little bitter almond. It was a perfect match for Genoa salami and prosciutto.