Summer May Be Time For Rosé

Summer flavors are those of grilled food and fresh produce, and when you bring home farmers’ market fresh-picked corn, tomatoes (or snag them from your own garden), and have some great fish or meat to grill, it’s time for the best wines for summer. These are not necessarily your gentle wines. The bold and vibrant flavors of fresh, ripe summer fruits and veggies can stand up to wines that are bold enough to hold their own. Look for white wines high in acidity to refresh your palate between savory bites. For heartier foods like sausages, burgers, and/or steaks, choose a robust red or rosé where fat-cutting tannins will make them great food partners.

Planning some grilled chicken or steamed clams? 2006 Uno Mas de Brander, Grenache Blanc/Sauvignon Blanc ($22) is Fred Brander’s recommendation. The inspiration behind this wine was the wines coming out of the Languedoc-Rousillon area of France, where the orange-peel aroma and full-bodied nature of the Grenache Blanc marries well with the lime and grapefruit scents and leaner structure of Sauvignon Blanc. This is a great summer wine because of its refreshing yet focused flavors and crisp, dry, mineral-infused flavors. But beware, this is such a great summer sipper if you open it before dinner is ready, you’ll need a second bottle.

How about a lean and crisp Chardonnay for lighter summer dining that carries its own flavors of refreshing stone fruit (think ripe summer peaches)? Margaret Wierenga has the best laugh and wine pedigree of any winemaker I know. She was in her teens when her father, Burt Williams, started making the first Williams Selyem wines in a bathtub in a basement beneath their garage in the late 1970s. In 1998, she decided to follow in her father's footsteps and start her own winery, Brogan Cellars. Brogan Chardonnay Stuhlmuller Vineyard 2005 ($49) is her summer top pick. Margi rightfully loves the grapes from this vineyard. I tasted the wine with her at a July 4th BBQ and it was indeed superb on its own and a classic pairing with ridgeback shrimp and other fresh-off-the-barbi fare of summer. But before you sip, take a moment to enjoy the lightly golden color with a slightly green hue, a signature trait of the Stuhlmuller Vineyard Chardonnay grapes (available through the website: http://www.brogancellars.com/index.htm).

Ready for something you can chill down and drink up with lobster, sole, or shellfish? The go-to person is Craig known-for-the-Rhone, Jaffurs. His great Jaffurs 2006 Viognier, Santa Barbara County ($24, and worth much more) has the classic full mouth feel and a clean, lingering finish. Says Craig, “It is perhaps our best Viognier ever.” The wine has all the best elements of the terroir of the three top vineyards that produce the grapes: Stolpman, Bien Nacido, and Paradise. Craig calls Viognier, “The exotic alternative to Chardonnay. It's full and flowery, with unique scents of apricot and clover.” He recommends it paired with clean flavors, fruitful sauces, butter/herb sauces, or light spicing, and suggests you, “Try crab cakes, gumbo, or corn chowder for something wonderful and different.”

Rosé wines are finally finding their way to the summer table as folks discover their keen affinity to so many foods. More wineries are now making robust rosé wines and moving beyond the insipid wines that were formerly associated with this wine color. The off-dry style of Santa Barbara Winery 2006 Rosé of Syrah Santa Rita Hills ($15) makes an antipasto plate of cheese, olives, cured meats, and bread sing. Winemaker Bruce McGuire has identified a great Syrah block in a neighbor’s vineyard for making this winner. Syrah is a difficult wine to make into a rosé, but Bruce found that if he de-stemmed the hand-sorted fruit and let the juice and skins cold soak overnight followed by a light pressing the next day, the resulting wine showed off a stunning rosé color. Cool stainless-steel fermentation retained the exotic bright fruit flavors and aromas balanced with firm acidity, courtesy of the cold climate of Santa Rita Hills. This wine is a perfect match for a Mediterranean lunch, seafood, or salads featuring tangy and sweet flavors.

Summer anniversaries, wedding rehearsal dinners, or just great celebrations of life call for something special and Chris Whitcraft has just the wine. Whitcraft Hirsch Sparkling Wine 2000 ($120) is a sparkling wine from some of Sonoma Coast’s premier pinot noir grapes. Chris knows his pinot, with and without the bubbles. From his perspective, and mine, having tasted this wine, it is “made the way it was a hundred years ago; not to be missed if you like to taste history.” This is a dramatic sparkling wine and worth every penny. Just ask Chris or his son Drake at the Whitcraft Winery & Tasting Room at 36 A South Calle Cesar Chavez in Santa Barbara.

SIP TIP:

July 28 should be on your calendar, and not just for the traditional Old Spanish Days events. Elements restaurant is hosting its Second Annual Wine Tasting at the Sunken Gardens. As an added event this year, Elements will host a rare/reserve tasting at the restaurant from 2:30 pm to 4 pm, featuring ten of the top local boutique wineries. From 4 pm to 7 pm, over 30 boutique local wineries will be pouring their award-winning wines at the Sunken Gardens across the way from the restaurant. There will be Elements food, music, and the opportunity for the attendees to purchase those hard-to-find wines by the case. Elements Chef and Co-Owner, Paul Becking, will create the hors d’oeuvres to pair with the local wines and live music.

Tickets purchased in advance are $55 per person for the wine tasting at the Sunken Gardens, $65 day of the event. Tickets for both the wine tasting at the Sunken Gardens and the rare/reserve tasting at Elements are $80 per person. Tickets at www.elementsrestaurantandbar.com, and the Arlington Ticket Agency.