Choosing a Summer Wine
By Fabiana Santana
Summer is the time for picnics and BBQs – the kind of events where BYOB is a given, not just an option. Selecting the right wine for warmer weather can be a challenge, especially since the wrong bottle could overpower the light fresh fare Mother Nature is offering up this season.
Clos du Bois is a legendary Sonoma County winery that honors a tradition of using the highest quality grapes to produce some of the best wines the west coast has to offer. They crafted their first vintage in 1974 and have been one of the best selling brands in the country. So, its no doubt they know we should be drinking this summer. Clos du Bois Wine maker Gary Sitton says that choosing the right wine, especially when food is involved, can be a challenge but when done right, is remarkable.
“Food pairing can be challenging: get it wrong and the wine and food will both taste bad….ah, but get it right and the two become greater than the sum of the parts. Both wine and food can be lifted to a new level. I encourage people to experiment and try new pairings, and new combinations.”
The key is to know what is available and drink – and eat – what you like. That sounds like good advice to us!
As the weather shifts warmer, what are the ideal wines to drink during summer and why?
For me, part of the fun of wine is the variety of different colors, aromas and flavors. It’s analogous to music in a way, where you can select a wine or song based on your mood, the food you are eating, the people you are with, and the weather outside. On warm summer days I turn to crisp white wines, like Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Rose, and Chardonnay’s like our Calcaire which offer a little brighter acidity, and a more refreshing fruit profile. I also recommend Champagne and sparkling white wines.
How should someone choose a wine to pair with a grilled dish?
I general I think one should look for complimentary attributes. For instance the big, bold, spicey flavors of BBQ ribs need something that stands up to the flavors, and is not overpowered. Similarly, a lighter, more delicately flavored meal needs a wine that will compliment and not overpower the nuance of the food.
What dessert wines are ideal this time of year?
While technically not dessert wines, on a hot summer’s day, I prefer lighter, fresher aromatic white wines, with moderate levels of residual sugar. Some examples are Italian Moscato d’ Asti , Clos du Bois Malvasia Bianca (only sold at the winery), and even some sweeter German Rieslings or Alsatian whites. Because these wines have less sugar and they are lighter in body, they pair beautifully with fresh fruit and lighter desserts.
What should a wine novice look for on a summer wine list/menu?
First, I say drink what you like…..with the caveat that you shouldn’t be afraid to take a risk and try something new. Second, I’m a wine with food guy, and I think the wine should always go with the food. Although I turn to crisp whites on warm summer days, I’d still prefer Zinfandel, Cabernet or Shiraz with summer BBQ (ribs, brisket, etc). Just make sure the red wine is served at a cool temperature. If you serve a red wine too warm, it will accentuate the alcohol and make the wine seem hot and unbalanced. And if you are serving something lighter like grilled fish, I’d recommend going with the crisper whites. When in doubt go with Rose, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir, all of which are highly versatile wines when it comes to food pairing.
What is the best temperature to serve white wine: cold, chilled or room temperature?
Technically speaking you should serve a white wine chilled, but not too cold, as you lose some of the nuance in the aromas and flavors. But honestly, I say drink it however you like it. And on a hot summer day, I’d rather have my wine too cold, than too hot.
What are the differences between the Clos du Bois Classic, Reserve and Proprietary wines?
The principle differences between the three tiers of Clos du Bois wines are the appellation the grapes are being sourced from, and the barrels we use for aging the wines. The Classic Tier wines are our lowest price point, and they represent 90% of the total volume we produce at Clos du Bois. They are mainly “ North Coast ” appellated, meaning the North Coast of California. You can think of it as coastal vineyards North of San Francisco, mainly from Sonoma County , Mendocino County , Lake County , and Napa Valley . These wines are aged mainly in French Oak, with small quantities of Eastern European and American Oak used as well. The percentage of new oak is a little lower (~25%) than the other two tiers, and there is a portion of the blends which is aged in stainless steel tanks, as opposed to oak, to add a fruitier component to our final blends. The goal for this tier is to provide our customers with a consistent, elegant, yet approachable wine at a price point they can afford to drink every day. Our Sonoma Reserve wines represent our middle tier and are approximately 9% of our total production. They are all sourced from smaller AVA (American Viticultural Area) designated areas in Sonoma County .
The Sonoma Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and Sonoma Reserve Merlot grapes are sourced from Alexander Valley . I believe Alexander Valley offers the best fruit expression for these grape varietals, and it is also where Clos du Bois’ home is located. And the Sonoma Reserve Chardonnay grapes are sourced from Russian River Valley , which in my opinion offers the best expression of the Chardonnay grape in Sonoma County , and arguably in the world. The Reserve wines are 100% barrel aged, approximately 30-35% new, and again it is predominantly French Oak. The Proprietary tier represents the top 1% of the wines we produce at Clos du Bois. Calcaire is our proprietary Chardonnay, which as the name denotes is our tribute to the Chardonnay wines of white burgundy with their calcairous, limestone soils. This wine is 100% barrel fermented, with partial malolactic fermentation. It is sur lees aged, and stirred bi-monthly. Our goal is to produce a restrained, elegant Chardonnay, with citrus aromas and flavors, with a core of minerality. Marlstone is our proprietary Bordeaux red blend and it is the oldest Bordeaux red blend made in Sonoma County (we have been making it since 1978). The varietal composition changes each year, but it always consists of a core of Cabernet Sauvignon with the other Bordeaux varietals (Merlot, Malbec, Petite Verdot, Cabernet Franc) adding layers of color and flavor. The grapes are sourced from our best Alexander Valley benchland vineyards. The wine is 100% barrel aged in 100% French Oak for two years, with only the very best lots and individual barrels making the final blend.
Want to visit the Clos du Bois winery? Visit their website to schedule a tour and tasting.
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