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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.

Warm Weather Reds

With welcome warm weather upon us, most wine and food enthusiasts think about light wines to pair with light foods. And when we think “light,” most often we also think “white.” Makes sense. Fresh greens and veggies from the garden, and fish and chicken hot off the outdoor grill all cry out for white wines, right?

No doubt whites like Sauvignon Blanc, dry Riesling, and Viognier strut their stuff when paired with lighter dishes. Likewise Vinho Verde from Portugal, Albariño from Spain, Vermentino and Falanghina from Italy, Muscadet from France, and Moschofilero from Greece are wonderful accompaniments to the low-intensity/high energy foods we like to eat outdoors in the sunshine or indoors during the moderate cool of the evening. And if there is one white wine and food pairing that should probably be the gustatory signature of the Hudson Valley, it’s our local sweet corn with local Chardonnay; wow, what a treat.

Admittedly, I, like most of us, think of whites as my go-to wines in warm weather, but in the back of my mind, I’m “thinking red.” Here’s why: there is a plethora of lighter red wines that can successfully, even excitingly, cross over into the territory usually reserved for whites. These wines are lighter and simpler, fruit-driven, with only moderate tannins but with plenty of thirst-quenching acidity. And now for the really good part: these wines tend to be so inexpensive that they can’t help but under-promise and over-deliver. In other words, you get true bang for your buck and at the same time you get a memorable food and wine experience.

So, where to start? How about with rosés, dry but bursting with red berry fruit accents. True rosé is true red wine, made only from red grapes with minimal skin contact during fermentation (the skin is where all the color is). I say “true rosé,” because outside of the wine-producing nations of Europe, it’s legal to make rosé from a blend of white and red wine, so I suggest sticking with European rosé or with a New World producer known for the quality of its rosé, or, easily enough, a New World rosé that you like. If you’re grilling kebabs, poultry, fish – especially salmon – rosé is a great match. A backyard burger is a real crowd pleaser with rosé, as well as a sandwich of grilled vegetables and mozzarella, turkey with a sweet/savory cranberry relish, or roast beef served with local potato salad.

If you’ve never tried cool, crisp rosé with foods you love to eat when the weather turns warm, you’re in for a surprise and a treat. If you already have experience with this style of wine and therefore crave rosé with this kind of food, you’ve got some great choices available to you. My advice is to focus on wine regions of the world that are known not only for the quality of their wines, but specifically for the quality of their rosé. This leads me first to Provence in France, where rosé rules. Next, I would look for wines from Navarra, Spain. There are fine rosé wines from other parts of the world, but if you’re looking for a wine redolent of strawberry, raspberry, and cranberry all wrapped up in a dry, refreshing package then look no further than Provence or Navarra. This time of year there should be a terrific selection of these wines available in good wine shops and there’s absolutely no reason for you to pay more than about $15 for the best of these wines. In fact, you’ll probably be able to find some of these gems for less than $10.

What about “real reds,” wines that look dark in the glass, but are light on the palate? We have such a tremendous selection of warm-weather reds to choose from that the only hard work we have to do is choose one (or two, or three, or…). Some of these wines will be recognizable to you but you may never have thought of them as thirst-quenching warm weather wines. Some of these wines may not be so familiar, but believe me, they’re worth trying. And for those of you who are old hands at enjoying lighter reds with lighter foods, maybe there’s a couple of new wines to consider. What do these wines bring to the party?

Well, first of all they are great guests. They don’t fade into the background. They are spicy and zesty; they bring the fun and excitement, but they’re not too loud and not self-centered. They virtually sing for their supper, but in perfect harmony. These reds remind us that wine is food; it just happens to be in a glass. As if by magic, these wines create another sauce, another spice, and undiscovered flavors so dramatic that it becomes hard to imagine the food without the wine, the wine without the food.

Here are some ideas for great red wines that will accompany/pair/rendezvous/consummate/marry/honor the wonderful aromas, flavors, and textures of the food we love when it’s hot outside. Any of these wines will add a thrilling dimension to foods prepared and served al fresco – fish, poultry, leaner cuts of red meat, served with seasonal greens, veggies, potatoes, and our extraordinary local tomatoes (botanically it’s a fruit, but according to the Supreme Court [Nix v. Hedden, 1893], it’s a vegetable).

But first… A service note: just chill. No, seriously – chill these reds for about a half-hour or so before pouring to bring out the red-fruit freshness in the wine. Certainly not mandatory, but highly recommended in warm weather.

And then…

A buying tip: Do not spend a lot of money on these wines. It may seem counterintuitive, but you are not looking for the most complex examples of these wines; quite the opposite. You’re looking for good, eminently drinkable, simpler versions of these wines. Especially when it comes to California’s versions of these wines, this is where popular varietals and national brands (Woodbridge, Smoking Loon, Fetzer, Pepperwood, etc.) perform a highly useful service. Same goes for Chile (Concha y Toro, Santa Rita, etc.)

California: Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel, and Syrah are the go-to choices for me. Pinot Noir and lighter versions of Merlot will work wonders with both fish and meat dishes. I’d reserve the Zin and Syrah for white and red meats, and roasted or grilled veggies. With these wines, observing my buying tip (above) will serve you well. You’ll create a winning wine and food pairing with simpler versions of these reds and save some serious money in the bargain. A good, local/regional alternate choice: Hudson Valley or Finger Lakes Pinot Noir.

• Beaujolais-Villages is made from 100% Gamay grapes. The wine is driven by the aromas and flavors of red berries, with moderately high acidity. A good local alternative: Hudson Valley-produced Gamay Noir from Whitecliff Vineyard.
• Bourgogne is made from Pinot Noir, or maybe a Pinot Noir/Gamay blend. Either way, this is a lighter, simpler version of the best Burgundy has to offer.
• Côte du Rhône is a blended wine anchored by Grenache, that will perform perfectly with simply –prepared white and red meats.

Italy: Valpolicella is a Corvina-focused red blend that adds a saucy, spicy flair to summer meals, as does its geographical neighbor in Veneto, Bardolino. Chianti is an elegant expression of Tuscany’s Sangiovese grape, which turns earthy when paired with simple foods, No need to seek out the more complex and more expensive Classico or Riserva versions. Keep it simple. Dolcetto d’Alba and Barbera d’Asti from the Piedmont region are ideal choices for meat-based dishes, and Barbera’s high acidity resonates perfectly with tomatoes.

Spain: Rioja can take on many guises based on age and style. For uncomplicated summer dishes you’re looking for the simpler Cosecha, Crianza, or Roble versions: young wines with a spicy attitude and more than a little bit of soul.

Chile: Carmenère is a juicy, straightforward red with pungent berry overtones. An easy match with the fresh flavors of summer. In a pinch, lighter, inexpensive versions of Chilean Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon will work, but Carmenère, which is now widely available, is the more exciting choice.

Argentina: Malbec is synonymous with beef in any and all of its manifestations. Look for a young, lighter, less expensive style. A bottle that fits the bill perfectly and is widely available: Trapiche “Oak Cask.”

So, next time you’re getting ready to fire up the grill, and you start to think about the wine you’d like to drink with the flavors of summer, why not “think red”? By choosing warm weather red wines with your meal you’ll provide good food with good wine at a good price, and hopefully with good company. A balanced equation for both your wallet and your senses. 

Here is a list of some warm-weather rosé and red wines that are sure to please; all of the wines retail for less than $25, and most are less than $15. This list is by no means exhaustive, just a jumping-off point for your own favorite selections.

Rosés:  USA: from Long Island: Channing Daughters or Wölffer Estate; from California: Bonny Doon Vin Gris, Gundlach Bundschu, Hendry, Amador Foothills, Fritz, Tablas Creek, Quivira, Foppiano, Bonterra, “Sofia” by Francis Ford Coppola.

France: from Provence: Mas de Gourgonnier, Mas de la Dame, Commanderie de Peyrassol, Château du Rouet, Corail, Cape Bleue, Château Routas; from Tavel in the Rhône Valley: Château d’Aqueria, Domaine Lafond, Château de Trinquevedel.

Spain: from Rioja: Muga, El Coto, Marques de Caceres, Marques de Riscal, CVNE, Faustino; from Navarra: Chivite “Gran Fuedo,” Vega Sindoa, Ochoa.

Italy: from Veneto: Bardolino Chiaretto Cavalchina or Tre Colline; from Sicily: Planeta or Regaleali; from Campania: Mastroberardino; from Tuscany: Banfi “Centine,” or Coltibuono “Cetamura”.

Reds: USA: from the Hudson Valley: Pinot Noir produced by Millbrook, Robibero, Oak Summit, Bashakill; Chelois produced by Hudson-Chatham, Genoa produced by Cereghino Smith; from California: Light, simple Pinot Noir from value-driven producers, such as Pepperwood, Woodbridge, Mirassou, Smoking Loon, Fetzer; Zinfandel produced by Bogle, Edmeades, Rancho Zabaco, Dancing Bull, Ravenswood Vintner’s Blend, Rosenblum Vintners Cuvée, Seghesio, Renwood.

France: from Beaujolais: Beaujolais-Villages or any of the “Cru” Beaujolais (Morgon, Fleurie, Juliénas, Moulin-A-Vent, etc.) from Georges Duboeuf, Sylvain Fessy, Michel Tête, Jean-Paul Brun, or Louis Jadot. Great Hudson Valley alternative: Gamay Noir from Whitecliff Vineyard; from Côtes du Rhône, Côtes du Rhone-Villages, or Côtes du Ventoux: Jean-Luc Colombo, Guigal, Jaboulet “Parallèle 45”, Perrin Réserve, or La Vielle Ferme; from Burgundy: Bourgogne, Cote de Beaune-Villages, Côte de Nuits-Villages, Hautes Côtes de Beaune or Hautes Côtes de Nuits from Jadot, Drouhin, Bouchard, Bachelet, Mortot, Rion, Michel Gros, Thevenot Le Brun & Fils.

Italy: Chianti produced by Malenchini, Coltibuono, Banfi, Antinori, Castellare, Gabbiano, and Melini; Valpolicella and Bardolino produced by Allegrini, Masi, Tomassi, Zenato, Bertani, Boscaini, Accordini, Guerrieri Rizzardi, Le Fraghe, Ronca, and Bolla; Dolcetto and Barbera produced by Marcarini, Pio Cesare, Chionetti, Einaudi, Vietti, Vigne Regali, Renato Ratti; Barbera produced by Boeri, Cascina Castlet, Chiarlo, Borgogno, Icardi, Braida, Marchesi di Gresy.

Spain: Rioja Crianza produced by: Vivanco, Montecillo, Conde de Valdemar, CVNE, La Rioja Alta, Marqués de Cáceres, Marqués de Riscal, Faustino, Bogegas lan, Marqués de Arienzo, Muga, Marqués de Murrieta, Viña Izadi.

Chile: Carmenère produced by Emiliana, Arboleda, Casa Julia, Casillero del Diablo, Errazuriz, Carmen, MontGras, and Santa Rita. Argentina: Lighter, simpler, inexpensive versions of Malbec produced by: Luigi Bosca, Trapiche, Norton, O. Fournier, Trumpeter, Alamos, Yellow+Blue, Finca El Portillo.

Hudson River Region: A Sense of Place

Recently, a local winemaker was kind enough to send me a sample bottle of wine to taste, and it was terrific. According to the written blurb accompanying the wine, the wine was estate-bottled, made from grapes grown on the winery’s own vineyards, here in the Hudson River Region American Viticultural Area (AVA). I was excited to taste the wine, and was even more excited that the wine was superb in my glass and on my palate.

 But something was wrong. Here was a wonderful and truly local wine made with care and passion, but the wine label did not read “Hudson River Region,” it read “New York State.” Usually, when a wine produced in the Hudson Valley carries the New York State appellation it means that, by law, at least 25% - and usually a lot more – of the grapes were grown elsewhere in New York State, possibly in the Finger Lakes or Long Island wine regions. But such was not the case with this wine.

 In an e-mail, I asked the winemaker “If this is an ‘Estate’ wine, why is the appellation New York State, not the Hudson River Region AVA?” The answer surprised me. The winemaker assured me that the wine was estate-bottled – “grown here in our vineyard” - with no grapes brought in from other New York State regions, but “the Hudson Valley does not have the best of reputations, and when I enter any of my wines in contests, they seem to do better with a New York State rather than a Hudson Valley (label).”

 In my e-mail response I then had to ask: “How will the AVA ever surmount its perceived reputation if the best estate-bottled wines made in the region don’t use the Hudson River Region AVA name on the label?” I never got a response to my question.

 The “contests” that the winemaker referred to are, of course, wine competitions that can add to a wine’s reputation and the overall reputation of the winery with consumers. As someone who has judged several wine competitions, including the Hudson Valley Wine Competition three times, my experience has been exactly the opposite of the winemaker’s. I, and many of my fellow judges, have looked first and foremost for true Hudson Valley wines, wines that express a sense of place that can be ascribed to our local vineyards. While it’s always a wonderful experience to taste a fine wine, that experience is heightened when you know you are tasting a wine that is the product of local terroir – the environmental imperatives of soil type, sunshine, rain, wind, elevation – that conspire to create a unique wine.

 People who are willing to pay serious money for wine do not do so based soely on the grape varietal, but the place in which that grape grows. We call some of the most exquisite sparkling wines on the planet Champagne because that’s where the vineyards are. We don’t call it “Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier with Bubbles.” Great white Burgundy is by law 100% Chardonnay, but we call it (for example), Puligny-Montrachet or Meursault, the villages that contain those Chardonnay vineyards. We don’t call esteemed estate-bottled red Bordeaux wines “a Cabernet/Merlot Blend,” we call them Château Mouton-Rothschild or Château Margaux. We name these terroir-driven Old World wines, and others such as Rioja or Chianti or Barolo, for the place that nurtures the vines, not the vines themselves.

 Even in the New World, where we most often name our wines for varietals, “place” is still important. Would you pay as much money for a “Cabernet Sauvignon labeled “California” as you would for one labeled “Napa Valley,” or a Pinot Noir labeled “Oregon” instead of “Willamette Valley?” Closer to home, how about a “Finger Lakes” Riesling versus a “New York State” bottling, or a “Hudson River Region” Cabernet Franc (a grape that can perform beautifully here) versus a “New York State” version? A Hudson River Region Seyval Blanc (one of our leading hybrid grapes) versus a New York State Seyval Blanc?

 I am the last person to tell our local wine producers how to sell their wines or conduct their businesses. I appreciate that wine is agriculture, and that Hudson Valley winemakers, like all farmers, have to work hard to make their lives economically sustainable. But as someone who believes that the community of winemakers in the Hudson Valley is capable of producing fine, even world class wines, I think it is important to promote the quality of the wine produced here, especially when those wines rise to that high level. Our best winemakers are now producing wines that can share the table with many of the world’s best bottles, and it’s important that everyone drinking that wine know – and remember – that the grapes are grown and the wine is produced in the Hudson River Region AVA. If wine drinkers become aware that these extraordinary wines exhibit a sense of local place they will take them seriously and seek them out. That can only be good for the reputation of the entire Hudson Valley wine industry.

 Of course, some Hudson Valley wine producers choose to work with fruit sourced from other parts of New York State, or even other states such as California. Sometimes these producers don’t own any vineyard land or enough vineyard land to grow enough grapes to remain economically viable. Alternately, some producers may choose to produce wines from grapes that don’t do as well here in the Hudson Valley as they might do in Long Island (Merlot comes to mind). For these wines the “New York State” appellation makes sense. In addition, the wines may be quite good, and their production helps to nurture and expand the local wine industry. These wines, while they do not reflect the terroir of the Hudson Valley, still can be well-made and true to varietal type, and will certainly help to spread the word that good wine is being made here.

 I guess I want to encourage those Hudson Valley wine producers that are making their wines from grapes grown in local vineyards to be proud of what they have accomplished, and not to worry about what I can only describe as ill-informed, inexperienced, or just plain ignorant judges of wine competitions who prefer the generic qualities of New York State wines to the complex profile of Hudson River Region wines. I know that last year, when I judged the Hudson Valley Wine Competition, I was happy to see far more labels sporting the Hudson River Region AVA than ever before. Did I fall in love with every wine just because it featured the local appellation on the label? Of course not. Some of the truly local wines were extraordinarily fine, some quite good, some needed work, but those type of results would be the same the world over, whether the wines being judged came from the Rhône Valley of France or the Douro Valley of Portugal, the Napa Valley of California, the Willamette Valley of Oregon, or the Hudson Valley of New York.