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Steven Kolpan is Professor and Chair of Wine Studies at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, NY. Steven is co-author of Exploring Wine, which has sold more than 125,000 copies, and was nominated as Best Wine and Spirits Book by the James Beard Foundation. Steven is also co-author of WineWise, a consumer-friendly guide to the wines of the world, which won both the 2009 James Beard Foundation Award for Best Beverage Book and the 2009 Georges Duboeuf Award for Best Wine Book of the Year. He is also the author of A Sense of Place, a history of Napa Valley's Niebaum-Coppola / Rubicon Winery (foreword by Francis Ford Coppola) that received the prestigious Versailles Award for Best American Wine Book in 2000. He is a contributing editor and the wine columnist for The Valley Table and Salon.com. In 2007, Steven Kolpan was named Wine Educator of the Year by the European Wine Council. He has been a member of Slow Food International for 20 years. Steven Kolpan lives just outside of Woodstock, New York.

Wines for Summerlovers

Summer should be a season for rest, relaxation, and recuperation. We still may work 9 to 5, but it’s light when we get up, and it’s still daylight when we drive home; that alone should put us in a sunny mood. And most of us can manage to get away or just goof off for at least a couple of long, lazy weekends, while the lucky ones sneak a week or two. After slogging through the wind and snow of the winter, and muddling through the season of mud that passes for spring in the Hudson Valley, we come to summer, that cherished time of year that means a life in the great outdoors of fun, friends, family, and food.
I am a Summerlover, and so are most of my friends. We live in shorts and t-shirts whenever we can, and we cook and dine al fresco every chance we get. I love to fire up the grill, and then jump in the water to commune with and meditate on the menu, which is inevitably based on what’s fresh from the garden, and what looked good at the fish market or butcher. And of course, there’s the wine...
Summer wines should be full of fruit, cool and refreshing, and as informal and inexpensive as the Summerlover dress code. When you’re relaxing and talking, or playing killer croquet, badass badminton, hard-hearted horseshoes, or simply silently swimming, you don’t want to ruminate over ponderous, serious wines full of complexity and depth. When the sun is shining, you want the alcohol to be low, so that you don’t become groggy, and are able to have safe and responsible funfunfun so that daddy doesn’t take the T-bird away. Save those big reds and oaky whites for sitting by the fireplace in late autumn, winter, and early spring, dining on lamb stews, hearty soups, and scripted meals. Just as food is seasonal -- tomatoes and corn are the cornerstones of the true Summerlover’s diet -- so is wine. So bring on the Wines of Summer: light, crisp whites, thirst-quenching dry rosés, fruity, luscious reds, and don’t forget the bubbles!
In the mood for a salad of fresh greens, studded with boiled, steamed, or grilled lobster, drizzled with a dreamy dressing of coarsely puréed watermelon, onion, and ripe peaches? What could be better with this light and simple dish than a Vinho Verde from Portugal, an elegant, dry white wine that is redolent of grapefruit/citrus, with just a bit of spritz for a refreshing cleansing of the palate.
Vinho Verde is the ultimate Summerlover’s wine; about 8 to 9% alcohol, and it’s not afraid of an ice cube or two, or even a little sparkling water for a magnificent wine spritzer. Vinho Verde is the reigning monarch of the land of ABC (Anything but Chardonnay), and she is a ruler who favors almost unbelievably progressive taxation. Vinho Verde sells for about $6, to $10. per bottle, a truly great wine value, so buy a case or two for the summer. You want to drink this charming wine as young as possible, so look for the 2009 or even better, the 2010 vintage, or in no-vintage versions check the very small print on the back label for the date of bottling.
Here is a warm weather mantra for you to channel your inner sunshine: “Summerlovers Love Rosé.” During the cool months of the year, rosé wines get little notice and less respect. Rosé is all but forgotten or ignored by wine geeks, but for wine and food lovers who adore fresh, cool flavors of orange and strawberries, dry rosé is a revelation.
Grilled salmon, served medium-rare with “creamers:” tiny roasted red potatoes and roasted summer garlic, and a salad of garden greens dressed with extra virgin olive oil and fresh herbs, paired with a chilled dry rosé is nothing short of pink perfection. A wine that will enhance your food as well as slake your thirst, rosé is to summer as falling leaves are to autumn, an undeniable part of the landscape. Try the Chivite “Gran Fuedo” Rosado from Navarra, Spain, which is widely available in Hudson Valley wine shops for less than $10 per bottle.
Note: Attention, White Zinfandel fans (which is, in actuality a semi-dry to semi-sweet rosé of the red Zinfandel grape). This could be the summer to move up to a somewhat drier, but ultimately more refreshing, fruit-driven wine. Can light reds be far behind?
The perfectly grilled burger, cooked and served en plein air, is as much a part of summer’s iconography as fireworks on the 4th of July. Serve it with fresh tomatoes, lettuce, and onion, salted cucumbers picked that day, a sauce of ketchup, mustard, and mayo, with just a touch of Tabasco, all piled on a sandwich contained by hearth-baked bread, with homemade potato salad on the side, and just ask yourself as you taste this American delicacy, “does it gets any better than this?”
Yes, it does.
Pair that burger with a light, fruity but dry red, like Gamay Noir from the Hudson Valley’s Whitecliff Vineyards, a Beaujolais-Villages from Georges Duboeuf in Burgundy, France, or best of all, a Valpolicella Classico Superiore from Sandro Boscaini in Veneto, Italy (each of these wines is easily under $15.). Now, take a sip and taste a second sauce, a true “secret sauce ” for that burger, revealed only to your palate. These wines smell and taste of red summer berries. The fruit of the wine harmonizes with the earthy, sweet flavors of the burger, creating a simultaneous counterpoint and complement for the sensual nexus of flavors going on in this dish.
When it comes to wine and the image of its pompous poobahs, what’s more fun than a little harmless sacrilege? I will surely be cast out of Snobovia, but I say chill these reds. That’s right, serve ‘em cool, serve ‘em cold. Why? Putting a chill on these simple reds will bring out their fresh flavors and pump up the refreshing acidity that we crave on a hot day to refresh our palates. If you taste these wines warm (made even warmer in the glass by your hand and by the sun), they might taste flat and flabby, and lose some of their many charms.
Treat these reds like whites when you enjoy them in the summer sunshine.
Sparkling wines, especially lighter méthode champenoise wines, like Cava from Spain, or New World Bubbly from the United States, are perfect aperitifs, so restorative when sipped outdoors. These wines, which sell from about $6 to $18, depending on style and producer, are also great with cold foods and lighter hot dishes. Try a Paul Cheneau Cava, or Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut from Washington State (both about $8), or if you’re making some Southwestern-style dishes, try Gruet Blanc de Noirs from New Mexico (about $15). My favorite from California is Roederer Estate Brut (about $18), a magnificent wine from a magnificent vineyard in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino. You really can’t go wrong with well-made sparklers, because they cool you down and perk you up.
The pleasures of summer are many, but fleeting. Before you know it, you’ll be shoveling snow, which, to Summerlovers, is the Hudson Valley’s cosmic dandruff. But just for now, for these precious few months of warmth and sunshine, let’s celebrate our glorious summer season with glorious summer wines.

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