Just as we put away sweaters and hockey gear at this time of year, replacing them with shorts and golf clubs, so too is it the time to adjust our wine-drinking habits to reflect the changing seasons.
“We want to cast off all the heavy, alcoholic, over-oaked wines that might have comforted us and warmed us in the winter,” says noted wine author Natalie MacLean.
“Now we want light wines that go with seafood, shellfish … because if you’re sitting out on the deck and it’s hot, the last thing you want is a really hot, alcoholic wine.”
The most important rule of wine consumption, drink what you like, remains in effect no matter the weather. But for most, lighter drinking in the summer generally means more consumption of whites.
“Although pinot noir is a nice light red wine and it goes really well with salmon, a beautiful summer dish,” said MacLean, the Lower Sackville native whose book Red, White and Drunk All Over earned glowing reviews from the New York Times and the Financial Times of London.
“But the light whites I’m thinking of are Canadian Rieslings, Nova Scotia’s L’Acadie Blanc, which is beautiful with shellfish.
“Often with these wines, because they’re grown in a cool climate, the grapes don’t ripen as much, which translates into less sugar, which translates into less alcohol. So they’re very refreshing, very fruity — still full of flavour but just not as alcoholic.”
Typically, meals prepared on the barbecue evoke images of a nearby tub of beer on ice, but lots of grilled foods are made even more enjoyable by pairing them with the right wine.
“Well, I think beer is great. I wouldn’t get away from it, I’d just do both,” MacLean said.
“It doesn’t have to be either/or, but if you think of any foods that beer goes with, try champagne or sparkling wine with it because you have the same elements. You have the effervescence that beer has and the toastiness. Beer is a thirst quencher, especially on a hot day, but chilled bubbly from many countries will go just as well and I find it less filling.
“If you think of fish and chips, barbecue, whatever you’d eat with beer, substitute sparkling wine and you’ll find it an interesting combination.”
MacLean pointed out that one advantage of wine over beer in terms of summer drinking is that wine isn’t as affected by bright sunlight.
“Wine is bottled in dark glass . . . and it’s less sensitive to going skunky than beer is, so it doesn’t go off as much.
“That said, if you’re out on a hot day, you want to keep it in the shadows or somewhere at least cool because for reds and whites, they can get too hot and then really taste flabby and hot. It brings out the alcohol taste when wine gets too warm.”
“For barbecued steak, I’d suggest a robust red – Australian Shiraz, California or Chilean Cabernet, Argentina for Malbec, and I would stick to those New World countries as opposed to going to France, because the reds there are very elegant and are meant to be paired with less robust flavors. With steak, you’ve already got a very hearty flavor and it becomes even more flavorful on the grill, so you really need a honkin’ big red.”
“You can go just about any way with chicken and it really depends on the sauce. So if you’ve got a spicy rub and you’re barbecuing it, you could go with a really big red. If you’re just roasting chicken or if you have a very plain sauce, go with light whites. Chicken has a big range, which is good because most of us eat a lot of chicken.”
“Sauce plays a big role but you can go either way with the reds and whites. I would go with red berry wines like Zinfandel, which has a nice zing to it. It has some spice and some bright berry flavors. But you can also veer into whites with pork, like a round Chardonnay, or what would be even better is a Riesling that’s off dry, with just a touch of sweetness.”
“You’ve got a touch of sweetness with (honey garlic sausages), so again you want a New World red because you want the robust flavors but in New World you get a sweet fruit flavor. That doesn’t mean it’s sweet, it could still be dry, but because the fruit tastes sweet you get a perception of sweet that would go with sausages.”