image shows Vincent Gasnier tasting a fine wine

Wine in the Garden - Winter '08

It may seem strange to be thinking about summer wines in the depths of winter, in the middle of the football season, but for wine lovers, summer is the time of the greatest pleasure, when light reds and crisp whites, medium reds like Chianti or Rioja, Rosé and even Champagne all come into their own. If you are thinking about offering a fine selection of wines for light lunches, barbecues and parties, then this is the time to think of ideas for the most attractive summer wines.

Generally, for the summer you will need some light fruity reds such as Fleurie or wines made from Pinot Noir, or white wines like the crispy, dry, thirst-quenching Sauvignon Blanc

Let’s start with the reception in the garden. A time to meet new people, and maybe to look back over the year with old friends. You might want to serve Champagne as a reception drink, and if the weather is fine I would suggest a fine pink Champagne such as Deutz or Ruinart.

If you don’t want to go as far as offering Champagne, or you prefer a still wine, then New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc such as Cloudy Bay or a good one from South Africa makes a great reception drink nicely chilled. Look for New Zealand wines from Marlborough or South African wines from Constantia to get the best. If you like French wine, then why not offer a cold Sancerre, also made from Sauvignon!

If you and your friends prefer Chardonnay, then South Africa and Chile provide good value for money. For the very best, you can’t beat Puligny Montrachet or Chassagne Montrachet from Burgundy, but they are very expensive… Later in the afternoon or early evening, you might want to serve a richer white wine. I suggest Gruner Veltliner from Austria or Californian Viognier. These make a great pick-me-up.

After a number of years out of fashion, rose is making a comeback, and this is also a great drink for the summer party outdoors. This is where rose really comes into its own. My favourites are French Cotes de Provence, especially Domaine Ott, or a Tuscan Rose from Italy, or maybe an Australian Grenache Rose, which is dry and slightly more full-bodied. Californian Zinfandel “blush wine” is quite popular, but remember this can be very light, and sometimes lacks a bit of character.

If your reception is to be followed by a barbeque, then my favourite barbecue wines are light reds, rather than heavy or full-bodied wines. Try to stay away from the strong Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. You don’t want to you’re your guests to sleep or give them a thick head! I am a big lover of New Zealand Central Otago Pinot Noir, Barbera from Italy, Australian Bush Vine Grenache and of course the traditional Fleurie from Beaujolais. These go particularly well with favourite barbecue foods such as steaks or sausages. For fish, the Sauvignon Blanc will go well, and for Tex/Mex food the Pinot Noir-or cold beer!

All these reds can be served colder than usual, as the colder the wines, the fruitier they will feel. However, where people and even restaurants make a mistake is that they chill the wines  rather than just cooling  them down to 10-12°C (called in the old time – ‘cellar temperature’). You should not chill reds like you would a white wine-just keep it at a cool room temperature, otherwise you will lose the best of the flavour.
A tip for you is to put them in the fridge for 45minutes, or even 15/20 minutes in the freezer-but no longer. Make sure you never leave them in front of a sun-drenched window. You will be wasting your money if the wine warms up too much; your friends will not notice any character in it.

On a very warm afternoon, after spicy barbecued food, people love ice cream or fruit and cream. This is your chance to really surprise them with a great  food & wine combination! Why not try a sweet wine such as a Canadian or German “Ice Wine”, or a semi-sweet fizzy such as Italian Prosecco or Spanish Cava? These need to be served “colder than cold”. Cava is popular and good value, but after the second glass you will notice that most of it doesn’t quite match up to real Champagne!

Summer is also the time when many of the shops offer “bargains”, sometimes selling wine at greatly reduced prices. Take care with these offers, as often the “original” price is over-inflated to make the reduction seem greater. Try to learn as much as you can about wine, and stick to the better regions and producers to find the real best value.

Whatever you like best, always make sure you buy the youngest, most recent vintages. It is well worth spending the extra pound, to avoid the type of wine which makes you wake up with a bad headache, as sulphur has been added to mask poor flavours or protect against oxidation!

Don’t automatically go for the most expensive wine; sometimes this will be too rich and heavy for summer drinking. Follow my advice and stick to the lighter, fresher wines-both white and red, and your summer party will be the better for it!

NB Vincent Gasnier is happy to advise anyone on buying and choosing wine, or staring a wine cellar or collection. See his books “Drinks” (Dorling Kindersley, 2005) and “How to Choose Wine” (DK 2006)