Kulers Uncorked: Extreme Summer Wine Edition

  • Two Thumbs Up
  • Plenty of floral and citrus aromas. It offers flavors of green apple, under-ripe pear and lots of tart lemon, lime and grapefruit. It has a hint of effervesce that lends a creamy note to this crisp wine. 

Lately, I’ve been spending a little more time down at the pool. Alas, not in the pool, but alongside it where I have set up a summer wine stand on Friday and Saturday evenings. You can have anything you want at the wine stand, as long as it is not a red or an oaky, white wine.

The reaction to my offerings can be broken down into three camps:

1.) Something approaching euphoria.

2.) Cautious. Wine lovers skeptical of the numerous long, thin bottles on display that to the misinformed eye say “sweet wines.”

3.) And “Seriously, you don’t have any chardonnay?”

I’ve been most surprised by the stalwart chardonnay lovers. They are an intense bunch, not given to even a little lighthearted exchange when I tell them I don’t feature their favored grape.

What I find the most perplexing about the chardonnay-only crowd is that many don’t care what style of chard, where it’s from and to a certain extent what it costs as long as it is chardonnay. Saying, “I love chardonnay,” is like saying, “I love cars.” A Ford Pinto is a car and so is a Ferrari 458 Italia. Aside from having four wheels, a steering wheel and a nasty habit of bursting into flames, they are very different automobiles.

But this is only an observation of chardonnay enthusiasts, not a criticism or indictment. I stock the pool bar with the serviceable Napa Valley Cellars Chardonnay, a wine that puts smiles across the lips of many a Chardonista.

So what do I stock at the summer wine stand that give wine drinkers pause? They are wines mostly from places where summers are hotter than a match head. Many of these wines—muscadet, vinho verde, picpoul de pinet, dry riesling, grüner veltliner and albariño—come in tall, thin bottles usually associated with German riesling. Folks unfamiliar with these wines jump to the conclusion that they are sweet. They are not.

They also are fairly low in alcohol, high in acidity and do not spend much (if any) time in oak barrels. Prior to the advent of air conditioning, these crisp, refreshing wines might be the only available relief from relentless heat and humidity for three or four months.

The attributes that make these wines perfect for a stifling day on the pool deck are exactly what most chardonnays lack. Oaky, alcoholic, slightly sweet, buttery wines offer very little in the way of relief and are the reason why they are not available at the wine stand.

So, what am I pouring? Here is my list of extreme summer wines:

Vinho Verde—Hands down, this is the Queen of Summer Wines. It is from northern Portugal and has brisk, lemon-lime acidity, alcohol as low as 9.5 percent and a subtle effervescence. Look for Arca Nova and Broadbent labels.

Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine—The weather in Nantes, France, which sits at the mouth of the Loire River, isn't particularly hot in the summer, but boy is it humid. Naturally, they make a crisp, minerally wine out of the melon de Bourgogne grape that also goes marvelously with local seafood. I pour Alfred Pery Valée Loire.

Picpoul de Pinet—Loosely translated, picpoul means lip stinger, which refers to this grape's searing (stinging) acidity. Grown throughout southern France, its best expression comes from Pinet in the Languedoc region, right on the Mediterranean. I like Hugues de Beauvignac's version.

Dry Riesling—I also refer to these wines as Australian-style rieslings. Because they have zero residual sugar, they are refreshing as a summer breeze and you'll find no better match for Szechuan and Thai cuisines. My absolute favorite is Kung Fu Girl by Charles Smith.

Grüner Veltliner—German sounding name, tall, thin bottle, must be sweet, right? Wrong. This is perhaps the most elegant summer wine of the lot. It pairs as easily with shellfish as it does with pulled pork BBQ sandwiches. Its flavors and aromas change like a mood ring as it goes from frigidly chilled to cool, so give it some time off ice. I pour Anton Bauer at the pool.

Albariño—Just across Portugal's northern border with Spain is the wine region Rías Baixas. Just like those of Portugal's Vinho Verde region, wines made from albariño grapes take center stage here. Typically they are a bit richer and lack the delicate spritz of Vinho Verde wines, but they still maintain the tart, citrus flavors. There are better (and more expensive) versions, but I find Martín Códax quite dependable.

By no means is this a comprehensive list. You could easily throw in just about any sparkling wine, viura wines from Spain, greco di tuffo from Campania, Italy, and torrontés from Argentina, among others. There are many wines out there made to cool you off from the inside if you’re willing to step up to the summer wine stand.

Gil Kulers is a sommelier and maitre d’ for an Atlanta country club. You can reach him at gil.kulers@winekulers.com.