I'll admit it — I love shoulder seasons. Late spring to early summer in Mississippi offers what is, without a doubt, one of my favorite shoulder seasons in the world. Everything is in bloom, we have more daylight and we are treated to warm, pleasant days and cool, crisp nights. If we are very lucky, we even get a breeze to keep away the mosquitoes. Grills get lit and, as meals and parties move from living rooms to porches, we start looking for wines to take the edge off the afternoon sun.
A classic choice in this broad, subjective category is Riesling. This sweet white wine originated in Germany, but grows well in most of Western Europe and the U.S. It is immensely versatile; ranging from off-dry to richly sweet with color and flavor profiles as varied as the countries in which it is grown.
Often falling under the shadow of its much sweeter cousin, Moscato, Riesling is, in my opinion, a greatly underrated wine. This is not to say that Moscato is a wine to be dismissed — far from it. More on that another time. That being said, I would invite all Moscato drinkers to branch out.
In our market, we have access to Rieslings that are predominantly semi-sweet with notes of tree fruits and citrus. For a deeper, richer option, look for late-harvest Rieslings; these will showcase apple and honey notes. As a whole, these wines offer an approachable sweetness paired with a crisp acidity that is ideal for hot weather after an essential solid 2-hour chilling in the fridge.
For those who prefer dry wines to sweet ones, let us turn to the world of Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio. This grey-skinned grape takes its name from its country of origin (the French word for grey is gris); when these grapes are grown across the border in Italy, they take on the grigio appellation. This single grape is used to craft two very different and widely popular styles of wines. Savignon Blanc lovers, take note: both these styles cater to your tastes.
The second style is the Alsatian Pinot Gris, which showcases notable spiciness, full body and a higher alcohol content. Where Pinot Grigio is harvested young and meant for early consumption, Pinot Gris will cellar and age well. Look to Italy and Oregon for the best and most accessible options for both of these delicious varieties.
A note of advice before moving on: some Pinot Gris, particularly those grown in warmer climates, can have alcohol contents of up to 14 percent. In these cases, chilling the wine and keeping it cold is absolutely essential. Allow them to get too warm and you'll find yourself with a nose full of rubbing alcohol.
Red wine lovers, despair not! I have not abandoned you. Chilled reds, lighter in body, lower in tannins and brighter in fruit flavors, make beautiful warm weather choices. For an ideal selection, turn to Beaujolais. Made predominately from Gamay grapes, Beaujolais hails from Burgundy, France.
There are three primary styles of this wine. Beaujolais Nouveau, a thin, bright wine made from the first harvest of that year; Beaujolais Villages, a plump, fruity offering known as the classic bistro wine of Paris; and Cru Beaujolais, high-caliber wines of particular distinction. For our purposes, the best bang for your Beaujolais buck is the Villages-bistro style.
Beaujolais winemakers harness a process called carbonic maceration. In this technique, a portion of the grapes is allowed to ferment without breaking their skins. This increases the fruit-forward quality of the wine and keeps the tannins low, making Beaujolais an ideal porch wine, especially when slightly chilled.
Feeling really ambitious? Try any one of the wines discussed this month in a sangria recipe next time you light your grill this shoulder-season. Then invite me over.
Steals, Deals, Splurges
Deal: Louis Jadot Beaujolais Village (2014)
Splurge: Santa Margarita Pinot Grigio (2014)