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Mercury Rising

By Michael Schiaparelli · June 11th, 2008 · Fermentations

This will not be the last wine column you come across this summer urging you to switch away from bigger reds and heavier whites that are appropriate in colder months. Hell, I've written this column or ones like it before, but the message bears repeating: When the mercury (do they still use mercury in thermometers?) starts to rise, it's time to enjoy lighter, more-refreshing wines with zippier acidity and lower alcohol.

I know it's difficult, but you have to consciously steer away from that beckoning wall of familiar cabernets and chardonnays. Better local wine shops and restaurants have already expanded their seasonal selections (rosés, Gruner Veltliners, Zweigelts and Beaujolais), and these are the wines you should gravitate toward for your backyard barbecues.

For at least a decade, rumors of a resurgence for dry rosé have been rampant in the wine press. A steady (if slow) increase in sales has been evident, but -- in Cincinnati, at least -- it's still primarily (if sadly) a wine-geek thing.

Of course, many of the pink wines gleaming on local store shelves tend to be the fat, sweet, simple type. So ask your local retailer for one that's dry and refreshing -- the kind of thing that farm workers drink this time of year to wash down lunch in the brutally hot vineyards of Southern France. These wines come in a broad range of styles -- from soft and floral (like a rosé of pinot noir from Marsannay in Burgundy) to more structured and intense (like the famed rosés of Mourvedre from Bandol). I guarantee you'll find one you like.

This is also the time of year for interesting whites like Gruner Veltliner, an Austrian grape that's also been on the brink of a breakout for years, though its unfamiliar name might be holding it back. Still, rare is the wine list that doesn't feature at least one "GruVee," which tend to partner wonderfully with food -- aromatic, balanced, herbaceous and delicious. Look for producers like Schloss-Gobelsberg, Domaine Wachau and Loimer (which offers an inexpensive, 1-liter bottling that's great for parties).

Speaking of unfamiliar names, "Zweigelt" is another Austrian grape, this one a red hybrid developed in the 1920s by professor Fritz Zweigelt. At their best, these wines have terrific fruit and good balancing acidity -- like a cru beaujolais made from the Gamay grape. With a little searching, you should be able to find well-priced Zweigelts from Berger, Zantho and Paul Achs. (Gamay-based wines from France's beaujolais are much easier to find; just steer clear of any leftover "Nouveau" that might be gathering dust.)

There are lots of other great choices, too -- wines from Portugal and Greece, Italy and South Africa -- that will show wonderfully this time of year. Don't hesitate to ask for a suggestion: Wine shops, wine bars and wine columnists live for an opportunity to turn people on to something unfamiliar!

CONTACT MICHAEL SCHIAPARELLI : mschiapa@cinci.rr.com



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