This is the time of year I start to daydream more. The heat and humidity make everyone a bit more punchy, and I often drift off to my happy place along the Mediterranean to find solace.
The Mrs. and I spent a long vacation years ago with friends eating and drinking our way from Barcelona, Spain, to Portofino, Italy. The temperate weather, al fresco cafes, ocean setting and bottles of light, flavorful wines sear in my memory as hot as a Saturday morning T-ball game in July in Tempe.
The carignan-, cinsaut- and grenache-based rosé wines of France’s Midi and Provence (two out of every three bottles from Provence are made pink) were seemingly everywhere. On every table and in every glass — including ours. The wines were not terribly sophisticated, but they didn’t need to be. They were fruity, pleasant and unoaked; perfect for cheese and fruit courses, salads and fish dishes.
In Spain, we discovered what is now one of my favorite summer varieties: Albariño. This zesty, high-quality grape makes some of the best whites I’ve ever had. There is real structure, acid and nuance in this wine produced chiefly in the Galicia region of the country in the northwest coastal area. The wine held up well with another Spanish tradition, tapas. We gobbled up plates of shrimp, bruschetta and other finger foods with the wine. Today, it’s one of the few wines I’ll pair with chips and salsa. Whole Foods in Tempe carries a couple of Albariños for about $10.
We sipped our way through San Rafael, Cannes, San Remo and finally to Portofino, an idyllic port town teeming with good restaurants and extensive wine lists. Here I discovered the fresh and delicious trebbiano-based whites of the northern Veneto, Lombardy and Friuli-Venezia regions. Famed producers Bolla, Allegrini and Masi hail from the area. After a day of shopping and sightseeing, we invariably wrapped up our day with a chilled bottle of white or rosé from one of these producers.
I think the Europeans just “get” how to beat the summer heat. They’ve had a lot more time to perfect the wines and the Mediterranean lifestyle. We should lift a page out of their book. Here are a few wines that speak to the spirit of the region. I still dream about those glasses of rosé. You will, too.
Domaine des Coccinelles Côte du Rhone Rosé: This delicious blush will make you smile with its whimsical ladybug (coccinelles in French) label and delightful aromatics and flavor. Raspberry-cherry floral highlights would work well with soft cheeses and grilled fish or satays. That it’s certified organic is a bonus. $12.
Tallus Collection 2005 Lodi Pinot Grigio: Usually I am not a big fan of pinot grigio, but this Central California wine reminds me of those bright, rich northern Italy whites. Smaller amounts of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc were added for complexity and to round out the acidic wine. The wine is clean with citrus and melon impressions and the absence of barrel aging. Good value at $8.
Montecillo Blanco 2005, La Rioja, Spain: Made from 100 percent Viura grapes, this wine is clean and bright with a fruity bouquet. But what I like most is fresh pear and green apple flavors wrapped into a smooth, creamy package. Do like the Spaniards and serve with seafood paella. $8.