You wouldn’t want heavy wines in the summer, any more than you would read War And Peace on the beach. But there is a spectrum of fine French wines to savor in hot weather. Light or medium weight, the emphasis should be on flavors, and complementing your dining choices.
Let’s start with white wines.
Clearly, many meals are going to be informal. Uncomplicated, flavorful wines will set them off perfectly. With a Caesar Salad, topped with grilled chicken or shrimp, try a Château Fage Graves de Vayres 2007 ($9 retail). It provides light flavors with a touch of citrus, complementing the food without competing with it. Another favorite from the Bordeaux area is Monsieur Touton Sauvignon Blanc 2008 ($8). That’s the bottle with a picture of the Bordeaux Opera House on the label. Buy it by the magnum for extra value.
Where I live, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, crabs are a festive summer treat. You’ll want a good Muscadet from the Loire Valley, such as a Château de la Chesnaie 2008 ($10) or, if you can find it, my personal favorite, a Marquis de Goulaine 2007 Muscadet sur lie ($12). This wine is made to go with light seafood. We have an indelible memory of a chilled bottle of Muscadet with a seafood luncheon at the Old Port of La Rochelle, France. These are wines with more body, fermented with the crushed Muscadet grapes in contact with their lees to bring out flavor.
For oysters, nothing beats real Chablis. That’s as it should be, since Chablis grapes are grown in western Burgundy on an enormous subsoil of prehistoric crushed seashells – the same one that emerges farther north as the White Cliffs of Dover! Chablis is being discovered now, and the prices are rising. All the more reason to find a bottle of William Fèvre’s Les Champs Royaux 2007 ($28). When we visited him in Chablis, Mr. Fèvre told us that he selects the Chardonnay grapes for this wine with as much care as much as he puts into his grand and premier cru wines, and then barrel ages the wine.
For heavier fare, a more substantial wine. We had lobsters recently, and a bottle of Lucien Albrecht Pinot Blanc Cuvée Balthazar 2007 ($11). This full and richly flavorful wine is named for the family ancestor who first settled in the present Alsatian property in 1698! Look to this firm for a spectrum of values in fine Alsatian wines.
But you have many summer red and rosé wine choices as well. The best known red wine for hot weather drinking is Beaujolais, the one red wine that should be chilled before serving. It is produced in a picturesque region just south of Burgundy. The area is a tourist’s delight, and I remember with pleasure a visit ending with a meal of exquisite poulet de Bresse and an assortment of Beaujolais wines. Chicken, roast fish, hamburgers or Caesar salad with shrimp would go very well with these wines.
Here the Gamay Noir grape, outlawed in Burgundy, reigns supreme, producing light, pleasant wines that have fruit flavors. There are now ten classified crus in addition to Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages, and they range from $10 to $15 for the most part, in a scale of flavor intensity, from Fleurie (lightest) to Moulin à Vent (the only one which might age). Pick your own favorite. Mine is Chiroubles, which is on the light side, but with wonderful berry flavors. Duboeuf is a reliable producer, and the Château de la Chaize in Brouilly also produces an excellent cru ($16) and welcomes visitors.
In France, rosé wines tend to come from either the Loire Valley region of Anjou, or from Provence. Bear in mind that Loire Valley rosé wines tend to be rather light, while those of Provence are a somewhat deeper taste spectrum. Most are not very expensive, and the $12 range will offer some choice. Moreover, since rosé wines are selling well now, other producers, particularly from Bordeaux, are beginning to enter the market.
There are no rosé grapes, and although the EEC tried to rule to the contrary, rosé wine is not a blend of white and red wines. They are red wine grapes, the juice of which is colorless. The color, usually a pale pink, or possibly salmon, is produced by having just short contact with the grape skins, which impart color. In another technique, the saignée or “bleeding,” some juice is run off to make the remaining red wine more robust. The runoff wine is now saved as rosé wine.
Chilled rosé wines go perfectly with barbeque, or perhaps roast pork or chicken that you have just taken off the rotisserie. Tavel is a famous rosé wine production region of Provence, that produces only rosé wines. Try a 2008 Château de Segries Tavel Rosé ($11 retail) for a rich, flavorful taste, with some hint of cherry or raspberries. From Bordeaux, I have enjoyed Château Pavie Macquin Rosé (well priced at $12), but I have found the Château Rosé Bourbon ($9) disappointing, sweetish and commercial. From Anjou, the 2008 Domaine des Nouelles Rosé d’Anjou, at just 10.5% alcohol, is light and dry, and at $8.99 a good bargain.
There is more information on French wines in my book, Shepard’s Guide to Mastering French Wines, and of course I hope that while you are on the beach, instead of reading Tolstoy, you’ll be devouring one of my mysteries instead (www.diplomaticmysteries.com). Let us know your own favorite wines – and any to avoid!