Wines for all Seasons
By Herve Pennequin
I like to think of a good wine list as being eclectic all year long, featuring wine from various obscure regions of the world. Following the seasons is a great way for a chef and sommelier to work together in creating a menu with wines that go well together.
As spring approaches, menus typically focus on vegetables and lighter fare. Selections of wines by the glass should follow and compliment the changes of food items.
Spring represents new beginnings with light to medium bodied white and red wines
Spring represents new beginnings with light to medium bodied white and red wines. The transition from winter must be smooth and gradual. The wine selections should include some of the richer wines from winter while introducing a lighter variety. Some white options are the slightly oaky Sauvignon Blancs from California, Viogniers from both Central California Coast and the Rhone Valley, great crisp Marsannes and Roussannes from France, Rieslings from Clare Valley in Australia, Chardonnays that are less “buttery” than those mostly found in the New World. Red wines should be slowly replaced by light Cabernet Francs, soft Merlots from the appellations surrounding St Emilion in Bordeaux, light Chiantis and the Nero d’Avolas from Italy (inspiring lively cuisine). A favorite is Crianza Tempranillos from Spain, the lightest style of Cabernet Sauvignon (look for Cru Bourgeois from the Medoc in Bordeaux, or light reds from Chile). South Africa provides great wines that suit perfectly with lighter styles of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon (think Kleine Zalze winery, very elegant).
Summer brings warmth and fun and a chance to experiment with seasonal wines like the dry RosÃ©s of Provence, embodying floral red-berried fruits. These wines are a wonderful start to any meal. Dry versions of Riesling from light soils in Alsace, from the Kemptal region in Austria and from Mosel in Germany are also wonderful in summertime. The Gruner Veltliner from Austria has gained such recognition that in summer, it opens up your appetite and matches moderately spicy foods or seafood. Seafood also pairs well with Greek wines, from the Robola of Cephalonia through the great Retsina from Gaia (blended with Rodhitis and not at all like all other Retsinas). For the perfect summer Sauvignon Blanc, light and most likely unoaked, go to the Loire Valley (Sancerre, Pouilly Fume). The Loire Valley will also give you another great white varietal, Chenin Blanc. Italy has a great range of dry, fresh, crisp white wines. Look for Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino in Campania, Vermentino in Sardignia, a Trebbiano from the Orvieto region, Vernaccia blanco or a Verdicchio from the Marches region. Spain will also please you with the Albarino from Galicia and Viura from the Rioja (without too much oak of course). If you have not tried Sherry before, then do so in summer as an aperitif, the Fino version. The fresh and light Gamay (Beaujolais) leads in its category of lively reds and Pinot Noirs follows suit in its summer role. The Mavrodaphne in Greece matches great seafood dishes, close to the Pinot Noir in style after a couple of years of aged, when its acidity goes down.
When looking for a great Pinot Noir choose one from the South of Burgundy (fruitier than the North), Oregon or the lighter ones from Alsace or Germany. The Grenache in southern Rhone is a good alternative for a choice of medium bodied red for summer. In Spain, the Mencia (aka Cabernet Franc) in Galicia provides wines that are a little bit richer but still fresh and lively overall. A great Dolcetto from Piedmont also brings another level of taste with summer foods. I opt for an Italian Salice Salentino from Apulia, the Negro Amaro varietal with superb spiciness and great red berry fruits, that pairing so well with Mediterranean cuisine.
When fall appears, announcing colder weather and the beginning of third quarter festivities, one can take another look at what the spring wines had to offer and begin to introduce the red wines for winter.
Winter must feature rich and heavier styles of wines,
Winter must feature rich and heavier styles of wines, for obvious reasons, truffles, mushrooms, game meat and intense sauces. Most white wines will belong to the rich, oaky Chardonnays from all over the world, Gewurztraminers (from Alsace and New Zealand), Marsannes and Roussannes from the famous appellations in the Rhone valley, and the Central Coast. Rich Rieslings from Rheingau and Plalz in Germany and from heavier soils in Alsace (like the volcanic soil in Rangen). If opting for an Italian wine, select the Soave Superiore with the intense Garganega varietal. Pinot Gris from Alsace in the winter are a wonderful match with Foie Gras and poultry.
For the red wines, of course, let’s bring out the “Big Boys”: intense Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa at its best, Washington State best estates, Saint Emilion Grand Cru, left bank Classified Growths from the Medoc and Pessac Leognon, etc…). Shiraz from Australia and Syrah from the Rhone valley and Central Coast are a must. Another addition would be the old world Pinot Noir, north Burgundy (think Vosne Romanee, or a Gevrey Chambertin). Italy with the King of the Wines or Wines for the King, Barolo and its Nebbiolo grape, would do just fine too. Barbaresco is a good substitute and the Sangiovese from the Chianti Classico area or the Brunello region, especially the Riserva. A great Malbec from Argentina, a superb Tempranillo from the Rioja, Toro and Ribera del Duero, and even a rich Priorat will all please your winter palate.
Having four seasons keeps a fresh outlook on the palate. If you are still debating on what to select, Champagne is wonderful all year long. In the end, taste makes the best match, regardless of the recommendation. As the seasons change, challenge yourself to change your approach to wine, always making for an interesting afternoon or evening. Cheers!
Pennequin is a wine consultant specializing in building wine programs and conducting staff training for restaurants in Atlanta, New York and Los Angeles. For more information, firstname.lastname@example.org.