Summer, sunshine, friends, patio wines and tasty bites to eat. It makes you want to get to Whistler as quick as you can, even if it means fighting the traffic and spending more than an hour to get across the Lions Gate Bridge. As temperatures peak and patios and decks heat up across the village, our living space gets incrementally bigger as we spill out-of-doors to nosh and drink al fresco.
The question is, what to drink this summer so that you look like you frequent the trendy bistros of Paris, the tapas bars of Barcelona and the trattorias of Milano in your spare time? It's no small feat in the uptight, overtaxed, heavily regulated British Columbia wine market that's in love with food trucks not authorised to sell you a glass of wine. I say head for the patio and catch some sun and a glass of wine while you can.
It's no secret the direction of wine in summer is lighter and fresher. In fact, it should leap (at least a bit) from the glass. Stylistically, the whites need to be tangy and awash in acidity, almost a little bit electric, if you like, as if someone squeezed a lemon into your glass. Don't mistake freshness and lightness for white wines only. Rosé and lighter reds are making serious inroads into the summer wine scene and, yes, men are sipping them, too.
If there's a common thread with summer sippers it's lower alcohol, more fruit and freshness. On cooler, marginal sites where the fruit barely ripens, freshness and fruit are valued over alcohol and power. Some of the coolest sites that are fast becoming the appellations of summer include: Marlborough, New Zealand; Casablanca, Leyda, San Antonio and Limari, Chile; Monterey, Sonoma Coast and Mendocino counties in California; Walker Bay and Durbanville Hills in South Africa, Spain's Rueda and Bierzo regions; the Mosel and Saar Valleys in Germany; Adelaide Hills in Australia; Argentina's Cafayate Valley; and closer to home sites in the mid- and northern Okanagan Valley.
The first and only duty of a summer wine is to be, well, more gulp-able. Often they are a touch watery at the edge, perhaps with a small bit of CO2 or fizz. Should they be red, there should be little or no dry tannins in the finish — and that's about it.
To help you to kick-start your summer patio party, we offer some easy-to-embrace food themes and matching wine styles. Oh, and I'm hoping to spend no more than $15 on any summer wine because gulping can get expensive.
Nothing says "party on, dude" more than pork, as in barbecue ribs or pulled-pork sandwiches. Add a slaw or a salad or two and you're ready to investigate the versatility of riesling.
The level of residual sugar should match the level of spice or heat in the dish. Residual sugar (the off-dry style) is acceptable as long as there is enough natural acidity to balance the wine. New World riesling from Australia's Clare or Eden Valley, local picks from the Okanagan, and a wide range of introductory Mosel labels will jump start any patio bash.
If grilled chicken is a big part of your summer diet you're in luck. It's easy to prepare and you can sauce it a dozen ways to tweak the wine match. I suggest sauvignon blanc as a worthy patio pick and a fine match.
Your choices are expanding every year, and while Sancerre is the ancestral home of this delicious varietal there are plenty of worldwide picks. The pungent style of New Zealand's sauvignon blanc with its bright gooseberry fruit and tinned asparagus notes have a large audience, as do the coastal Chilean and South African sauvignon blanc — a sort of half/Loire, half/New World version that brings a hard to beat juicy quality to the wine. You could easily add a favourite torrontés from Argentina, or a Spanish verdejo to the preceding mix to spice up your selection.
We have been tasting rosés since April so while I suggest they easily fit our summer theme let's take a look at some lighter reds that will satisfy it, too, and appease the, "I only drink red wine" guests. We're thinking tempranillo, grenache (France), garnacha (Spain), barbera, bonarda, gamay and, in some cases, pinot noir. All work with most anything you can grill on a barbecue.
If you want to play wine geek I suggest a pre-dinner brown bag tasting. Number each bottle you plan on serving then wrap it a brown paper bag and give it the same number. Let your guests sip and chat and talk wine during that awkward first half hour of the party and then after everyone has picked their favourite wine you can remove the bags and reveal their identities. It's great fun and helps painlessly discover new wines.
The best summer tip I can share with you is to chill your reds before serving them to better release the fruit. Soft tannins, supple textures and ripe red fruit are the story of summer reds. Who knows, with a little luck you might look like you spend your winters in Paris, Barcelona and Milano.