Dog Days and Cool Wines
Beat the heat with something refreshing
By Angela Sanchez
August can be brutal with its long, hot, humid days. If there’s rain, it’s usually in the form of a reckless thunderstorm, leaving the air even stickier. We need cool wines to keep us cool.
A few of my favorites are off-the-beaten-path wines with high acidity, fruit- forward characteristics and zesty herbal notes. Grüner veltliner and vinho verde are light and clean, offering enough flavor for the avid wine drinker in the summer and a chance for the novice to try something new.
If you haven’t heard of grüner veltliner, that’s not unusual. It’s a dark green, late-ripening grape varietal produced predominantly in Austria. The soil of the region is much like parts of France’s Burgundy. Limestone and chalk run throughout, and impart a characteristic minerality and acidity that make it the perfect wine for the hottest days of the year.
Grüner veltliner is a favorite of sommeliers the world over for several reasons. It’s not widely planted or easily found on wine lists, making it a great wine to recommend instead of better known wines like sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio. Also, its light, bright, zesty characteristics pair really well with foods that are not easy to pair with wine, like asparagus, artichokes and greens. It has the racing acidity of sauvignon blanc and the fruit forwardness of pinot grigio, but also a layer of minerality and herbaciousness with lemon and lime to grapefruit citrus, green pepper and lavage characteristics.
Pair it with a zesty green salad of buttery lettuce, asparagus and tomatoes topped with a beautiful cheese, or a cold pasta salad with buttery olives, marinated artichokes and cheese. And as long as you are going off the beaten path for your wine choice, try it with an equally little-known cheese. Calvander from Chapel Hill Creamery is an Asiago-style cheese with a creamy, buttery, nutty taste, perfect for grating over salads and pastas. It’s a raw grass-fed cow’s milk delight named after the crossroads just down from the creamery.
Another perfect wine for the dog days of summer and their relentless heat is the refreshing vinho verde. Literally translating to mean “green wine” or “young wine,” this slightly effervescent Portuguese wine is a summer must. Produced in the north of Portugal to the border of Spain, it’s made to be consumed young, 3-6 months of production after harvest, and the addition of carbonation to add an ever so slight effervescence. The carbonation isn’t enough to categorize the wine as semi-sparkling, just enough to give a bright little lift on the palate. When it’s hot outside, the cool, clean, light, refreshing style of vinho verde is a welcome taste.
Obscure — at least to the rest of the world’s wine-growing regions — white grapes like alvarinho and louveiro make up the majority of the white vinho verde produced. Red varietals are used for both red and rosé versions of the wine. Vinho verde is almost like a wine spritzer, but the best ones have a dry fruitiness and little characteristics of citrus and peach. It pairs well with a ripe North Carolina peach salad that includes a fresh North Carolina goat cheese like Paradox Farm Natural Cheese Louise — fresh cheese at its best, with a creamy soft, almost whipped, texture. Its natural tartness and lemon character lend a lift to the sweetness of the peaches and complement vinho verde’s clean style.
Cool yourself off with the cool wines of grüner veltliner and vinho verde during the most intense days of the summer. Chill them down, set out a cold snack with North Carolina cheese and enjoy. PS
Angela Sanchez owns Southern Whey, a cheese-centric specialty food store in Southern Pines, with her husband, Chris Abbey. She was in the wine industry for 20 years and lucky enough to travel the world drinking wine and eating cheese.