Ken Robertson

Lighter, whiter, brighter wines for summer

Summer wines are a little like swimsuits: Sometimes a little less offers a little more. So when I reach into my wine cellar or visit my favorite wine retailers or wineries to stock up on summer wines, I’m often looking for something a little daring and sparkly.

Those gigantic, tannic reds are great for a hearty winter meal, but come summer, it’s time for something not so brocaded with alcohol and dark, brooding black and blue fruit. My summer favorites include both crisp and off-dry whites and rosés. And, of course, sparkling wines. I find myself drinking less Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, partly because the summer heat turns my palate to simpler, lighter meals.

Luckily, the natural cycle of winemaking offers a new vintage of whites, rosés and sparklers just as warm weather arrives. And our adventurous Northwest winemakers have been adding new varieties and blends so rapidly that an entire summer, even with a bit of spring tacked at front and a dash of fall at back, isn’t sufficient to try them all.

Here are some you shouldn’t miss, starting with sparklers. You can never go wrong with the inexpensive yet high quality of Michelle brut and brut rosé. Want something a little more exotic? How about bubbly with the fruit of Gewürztraminer, the subtlety of Müeller Thurgau or the aromatic stone fruit of Riesling? Or maybe some of the dark-berry weight of Syrah to pair with barbecued ribs?

Treveri Cellars of Wapato, Wash., offers those and more, all under $20 and widely available.

Throughout the Northwest, sparkling wines are proliferating. In Oregon, Argyle Winery is perhaps best known, but Soter Vineyards, Domain Meriwether and several others are highly regarded. In Idaho, seek out Ste. Chapelle and Camas Prairie Winery, which makes a red sparkler from Lemberger. In British Columbia, Sumac Ridge and Bella Wines both make excellent sparklers. Bella’s Chardonnay and Gamay Noir are consistent standouts.

Rosé is a favorite at my house for a laid-back Saturday lunch with a favorite goat cheese, a fresh loaf of French bread, Greek olives, a small bowl of olive oil with a dollop of balsamic vinegar and a paté. Or you can add something else you particularly like. A word of caution, though, about a favorite rosé. Buy several bottles. Many are made in small lots because, as Richland, Wash., winemaker Rob Griffin recently told me, “Age is no friend to rosé.”

Here are three you don’t want to miss: Barnard Griffin 2014 Rosé of Sangiovese, which won gold for the eighth time in nine years in San Francisco earlier this year; Victor Palencia’s Vino La Monarcha 2014 Pinot Noir rosé, which won Best of Show at the recent Great Northwest Wine competition in Hood River, Ore.; and Sawtooth Estate Winery (Nampa, Idaho) 2013 Classic Fly Series Cinsault Rosé, which won best rosé in last fall’s Idaho Wine Competition.

A few others that are consistently excellent, regardless of vintage: Coyote Canyon’s Life is Rosé, which the Prosser, Wash., winery makes from Barbera; Airfield Estates Vineyard Salute Ruby Rosé, also made in Prosser from Sangiovese; and Abacela Garnacha Rosé from Roseburg, Ore.

All these exhibit a purity of red fruit aromas and flavors. And best news is that even if you can’t find some of them, many other Northwest wineries are making stellar rosés.

When it comes to summer whites, you can’t go wrong by simply buying Chateau Ste. Michelle’s fleet of Rieslings, starting with the top-end Eroica Gold and Eroica, then moving down to the dry Riesling. All three won gold at the recent Pacific Rim International Wine Competition. And the latter sells for only $10, sometimes less.

If you haven’t yet indulged in the Northwest’s great Albariños or Viogniers, it’s time to start. I’ve tasted a couple dozen from Oregon and Washington, and though the Albariño styles range from Abacela’s bracingly bone-dry to the softer style of Justin Michaud at Coyote Canyon, all have been excellent. For Viognier, try Rio Vista, if you can find it. The tiny winery is off Highway 97 on the way to Lake Chelan. Or Jones of Washington in Quincy, or Cinder Winery of Idaho, which makes both dry and off-dry versions.

Next, chase down some Roussanne. This Rhone white blends seamlessly with Viognier, Marsanne and other whites or can stand on its own. I like it as a single varietal from Barnard Griffin in Richland, Wash., and blended with 20 percent Marsanne and 20 percent Viognier in Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2014 Destiny Ridge Vineyard Shepherds Mark. Alexandria Nicole, based in Prosser, also has a tasting room in Woodinville.

Wine words: Disgorgement

Since summer is prime time to sip sparkling wine, it’s again time to take a trip down the linguistic lane that leads to France to explain the role of disgorgement in methode champenoise.

It’s spelled the same in both French and English because we Anglo speakers stole the term, then gave it a new pronunciation. It’s the process for removing yeast lees and other debris left by the second fermentation of sparkling wine inside the bottle and helps create the prized clarity that shows off the bubbles.

Second fermentation, while adding bubbles, creates turbidity if the lees are not removed. Thus, we disgorge the crud. First, the bottle is riddled, another process the French devised. Each bottle gets a brisk partial rotation, then the lees are allowed to settle. It’s repeated again and again over many weeks. The bottle is gradually tipped upside down, so the sediment nestles in the neck atop the crown cap that seals the bottle.

When the winemaker decides it’s time, the bottle neck is frozen, which locks the sediment into ice, and then the crown cap is popped off. The pressure from the carbon dioxide bubbles dissolved in the wine blows the frozen lees out of the bottle, leaving behind all but a couple ounces of the wine.

The bottle is then topped up with the same wine, often with a bit of sweetness (the dosage) added to adjust how dry the wine will be, then recapped for further aging if desired or sealed with the traditional cork, wire basket and foil.

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