An almost crystal clear, blush rosé became my bestie during my honeymoon in the South of France almost ten years ago. The magic mix of a refreshingly light blush varietal (right now I’m loving La Cadierenne Cuvée Grande Tradition Bandol Rosé 2014, $20), the Provencal azure blue sky and the promise of a good marriage (so far, so good) among centuries old grape vines…well it’s the stuff of best-selling escapist fiction (hello, anything by Peter Mayle). If I had to put it to music, the taste and experience would sound like this ditty sung by Lana Del Rey. Like the song says, “Strawberries, cherries and an angel’s kiss in spring…my summer wine is really made from all these things.”
To inaugurate the season, I asked Joel Riddell, my longtime friend and a Canadian ex-pat living in San Francisco, to handpick wallet-friendly sips. And no, he’s not just some random dude who likes wine. He’s toured the world tasting the best vintages for over 15 year and hosts his own Emmy-nominated daily radio talk show on iHeartRadio in addition to Dining Around, an on-air food and wine convo he has with VIP guests and chefs. Here are his tips for picking the perfect hot weather vintage.
How-to Choose a Summer Wine Everyone Will Love
Keep it light “I always think of summer wines of being white or blush while dining al fresco. If I consider a red, I may do a sparkling red from Italy. However, it is summer and everyone wears white or pastels and I don’t want to spill and stain them so I tend to choose light wines. It’s important to think about these things.”
Don’t just look at the label “If the name and label is too clever, generally the brand has spent more on the packaging than what’s in the bottle. Instead, consider the varietal. If you like a Shiraz, try a Rosé with the same grapes.”
Stop being so serious “Don’t be afraid of a sparkling wine. Or add a splash of champagne, a few drops of framboise or even an ice cube or two with fresh raspberries to a budget-friendly summer wine. However, don’t over-accessorize either. Give the wine some room to come to life as it was intended to. ”
Pick a signature sip “Choose a couple and taste test them at a party, then buy more of your favourite to serve as your signature vintage all summer long. You can always finish what’s left of the lesser wines at the end of the night, because let’s be honest, that’s generally when no one really notices what you’re serving anymore.”
Joel’s Picks…Starting At $10!
The Classic Choice: Joseph Drouhin Chablis Drouhin-Vaudon, $24. Garden parties are not complete without a welcome toast from this classic Burgundy house. The Drouhin family possess the warmth and grace of your family and their wine is meant for sharing with your personal V.I.P.’s. Serve this with a salad nicoise or lobster roll and it would even stand up to frites but don’t tell Frédéric Drouhin, the company’s President, or Véronique Drouhin, the Head Winemaker, that I said so. Let’s keep that between you and me.
The In-Vogue Vintage: Aveleda Vinho Verde, $10. Vinho Verde is getting as popular as Rosé. When I invite guests for a long afternoon of delicious fun, I consider all aspects of the experience. With this varietal from Portugal, I would choose platters of cured meats and pickled vegetables with a light lunch of seafood, poached pears and fresh fruits or ices. Bright and refreshing, enjoy this wine in the afternoon or early evening.
The Reinvented Vintage: Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2014, $23. What better person than Robert Mondavi to reinvent a varietal that celebrates a sense of place? A Fumé celebrates the best a vineyard has to offer and this Napa Valley creation should be enjoyed with plenty of music and frivolity (like the Mondavi’s recent 50th anniversary harvest party I was fortunate to attend). Serve this California vintage with in-season summer flavours but always a remember a bit of spice, whether it’s a little piri-piri or a few jalapenos, will add complementary spice to your life.
The N.K.O.T.B.: Santo Santorini Assyrtiko White Blend, $15. Perhaps it is the name, Assyrtiko (a-cert-ta-co) that holds this wine at bay, or even the limited production, regardless, it’s hitting the shores of North America and will become a go-to for every stylish party host (including you). Santo is a wine co-operative representing 55% of Santorini Island’s production. Each grower has an average of one hectare of vineyard land that’s grown basket style with low vines and a heavy canopy. With virtually no rain fall on the island, ancient vines reach unfathomable depths in the soil creating a complex mineral laden palate with the essence of the Adriatic. You can imagine the azure sea at your feet while sipping this one.
The Local Star: Henry of Pelham Rosé VQA, $15. Growing up in Niagara wine country, I’m always happy to be reminded of the farmers’ markets in Welland and St. Catherines. Memories of ripe peaches bursting with juice, strawberries heavy with sugar and sticky hands from hours of picking cherries come to life for me with just one sip. This dry Rosé flashes with colour, dreams large and delivers a complex palate that’s suited to a proper BBQ chicken, ribs or whatever fish you happen to catch at the cottage.