Summer is upon us. For about three months, bright, balmy afternoons give way to temperate evenings that are perfect for al fresco meals highlighting Idaho's bounty of fish, meats and produce.
Often, food lovers wonder whether the arrival of summer should predicate a change in the wines they serve. Should light, chilled wines be the focus? Should the burly Bordeaux blends and California cabernets be tucked away for cooler weather?
The answer is a qualified "yes." Increasingly, wine gurus are telling people to let go of the old rules and simply drink what they like. But following some basic guidelines of pairing wines with food—and the weather—can turn an average barbecue into a fête to remember.
Generally, when the mercury starts to climb, wine aficionados bring out younger, more acidic wines that match up well with seafood, salads and lighter, grilled fare.
One might start with looking at white wines, which should be served chilled but not icy cold. They can be poured as an afternoon apéritif or as a complement to a variety of summer meals.
A crisp pinot grigio—pinot gris to the French—can be the perfect choice to accompany appetizers, cheeses and summer salads. Classic citrus- and mineral-scented sauvignon blancs can make an ideal match for herbed chicken, fish and many shellfish dishes. Tart, fruit-endowed dry Rieslings are a good counterpart to trout and picnic foods. Gewürztraminer—when finished dry as is done in the French region of Alsace—is often served with spicy foods, but also marries well with oysters and exotic mixed greens. Pinot blancs—easy-to-appreciate white wines that are becoming increasingly popular in the United States—are another friend of seafood.
Chardonnays—which range from lighter-style wines from the French region of Chablis to buttery, heavily oaked boutique wines from California—pair exquisitely with rich seafood dishes, such as salmon or lobster, and white meats. And then there's the newest darling of the white-wine world, grüner veltliner, from Austria and the Czech Republic. It is said to be the most versatile, food-friendly wine in the world—and a perfect companion for asparagus.
To some wine enthusiasts, dry, sparkling white wines, particularly those from the French region of Champagne, are the quintessential wines of summer. Indeed, they can be sipped alone, served with smoked salmon or oysters, and can stand up to most main courses.
Then there are dry rosé wines—not to be confused with the sweet pink stuff your parents drank. Rosés—made with red grapes but allowed less interaction with the skins than red wines—can pair up magically with grilled fish, cold poultry and smoked meats. They can be acidic, tart and somewhat light or more extracted and bursting with hints of berries.
Lastly, don't forget that red wines do have a place under the sun. Light-bodied reds, including gamay-based Beaujolais wines and many pinot noirs, can be served slightly chilled with pork, ribs and poultry. For heavier grilled meats, consider a spicy zinfandel. And if your steak will settle for nothing less, yes, it is OK to pop open your favorite cabernet, merlot or other monster red.
Need a place to start? Here's a list of 10 affordable wines built for summer that are sold in the Wood River Valley. Note that the prices are approximate and can vary.
2008 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand)—$17.
2008 Groth Sauvignon Blanc (California)—$19.
2007 Kris Pinot Grigio (Italy)—$14.
2006 Phantom Hill Pinot Gris (Idaho)—$18.
Prosecco di Conegliano sparkling wine (Italy)—$18.
2007 Bergerie l'Hortus Rosé de Saignée (France)—$17.
2008 Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare rosé (California)—$16.
2006 Frenchman's Gulch Chardonnay (Washington)—$13.
2007 Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages (France)—$13.
2007 Quady Electra Orange Muscat (California)—$14.
Try it over ice with a small slice of orange as an apéritif.
Gregory Foley, Web news editor for the Idaho Mountain Express, has been a professional writer and editor since 1997. He has worked as a restaurant sous-chef and for four years guided food- and wine-focused bicycle tours in Europe.