There was a time, not so long ago, when making a case for rosé was a (largely futile) annual tradition. Each year, wine writers would make an annual pink-wine supplication, usually in mid-May. The Plea for Rosé was one of those silly little rites, as much an annual event as the Thanksgiving Day Parade or a nasty, gnawing hangover on March 18. That plea, if you haven’t noticed lately, has been heard. By 2006, the New York Times had already dubbed rosé “the summer drink to be seen with,” complete with name-drops of Pamela Anderson and the lead singer of Franz Ferdinand. Countless other proclamations have followed in the years since.
But somehow, the yearly plea remains. And it goes something like this: It’s summer, it’s hot, drink rosé.
Which has me wondering what happened to all the other wines of summer. Just five years ago, the hoary summer-wine recommendation had at least a touch of color other than pink. What of the varied white wines of the Amalfi Coast, which were practically divined to be consumed with seafood served in the warm summer sun? What of chilled gamay, which had its own sort of mildly hip moment as the “ultimate BBQ wine” not long ago? (I am sending you this from Fleurie, in the heart of Beaujolais, where I can happily report the tradition continues, and the rosé meme hasn’t quite penetrated.) What of Vinho Verde, or Soave or Santorini’s assyrtiko, dammit? Where have all the other summer wines gone?
All this makes me sound like I have a thing against rosé, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. I adore the stuff — although I drink it year-round, which is precisely my problem. Making summer wine all about rosé debases the opportunity for summer to be just as diverse and interesting a drinking season as the other three. Just because the capri pants come out of the closet doesn’t mean we have to all start pretending there’s just one type of wine to drink.
But that’s just what the rosé tidal wave has achieved — in the immortal word of Lisa Simpson — a dumbening. Still, to argue against the ubiquity of “summer water” in, well, summer, may have you fixing to ask me: Why do you hate fun, guy?
Quite the contrary, I am merely advocating for all shades of the stuff. Thus I offer you five strong moves for summer wine, which have all the makings of an ideal summer wine: refreshing, bright, appropriate to the season’s changing food. And, of course, that X factor. They help perfect that summer state of mind, which is why you should be able to drink them in December and suddenly feel transported to that perfect moment in a Mendocino garden when the early evening wind kicks up, or that midsummer sunset on a rooftop in New York, when the skyline seems to trap itself inside your glass.
Italian white wines: It’s easy to forget how obsessed Americans were with Frascati (a sometimes bubbly, sometimes sweet and sometimes dry white wine from outside Rome) and Soave, the Veneto’s famed white wine, not too long ago. They both are perfect for summer for their ripeness of fruit and their texture (good Soave always has the texture of liquid corn silk). The quality of Soave, from the Veneto, is surging right now, with exceptional examples from Pra and Inama, while Casale Marchese’s aromatic, crisp Frascati is a cut above the rest. And, as mentioned before, there is the Amalfi Coast, a haven for exceptional, minerally summer whites made from falanghina, greco, biancolella and more. The wines of Marisa Cuomo are always a staple, as are wines from nearby La Sibilla, Pietracupa and others.
Off-dry German Riesling: I’ll spare you another round of aesthetic debate on these wines and suffice it to say: Where else do you find a wine with world-class complexity, low alcohol and the sort of acidity to make you OK with the fact it’s 93 degrees in the shade? I am remiss myself on this practice (to be fair, I’ve been in the San Francisco fog belt for most of the past nine summers) but am resolved to pick it up again this year, both with fully fruity styles like kabinett and partly sweet ones like halbtrocken and feinherb. My partial short list for the coming months: Strub, Falkenstein, Weiser Künstler, the eternally underrated feinherb style from Willi Schaefer, Zilliken and some Heymann-Löwenstein (if I can find any).
Top Three Four:
Strub Niersteiner Oelberg Riesling Spätlese Feinherb “Roter Schiefer “ | $20
Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Riesling Kabinett | $27
Heymann-Löwenstein Schieferterrassen Riesling | $28
Hofgut Falkenstein Niedermenniger Herrenberg Feinherb Riesling | $20
Light, chillable reds: If rosé gets its own summer column, light reds should get the same. Gamay, as noted above, is a can’t-fail, and practically mandatory for the summer. This season I’m partial to the Beaujolais-Villages from France Gonzalvez and the Fleurie from Clos de la Roilette, to name two from Beaujolais, to say nothing of the liter bottles of “La Boutanche” gamay from Frantz Saumon, or the Robert Sérol wines from the Côte Roannaise. Beyond gamay? Germany’s trollinger (look for Weingut Knauss), also known as schiava in Italy (look for Weingut Niklas there); grignolino, that floral, sprightly red from Piemonte’s “other” category; and, of course, the many light reds of the Jura. (As I write this I’m on to a lightly chilled bottle of DD from Stéphane Tissot, a blend of poulsard, trousseau and pinot noir.)
Weingut Knauss Trollinger | $18 (1L)
France Gonzalvez Beaujolais Villages “G” | $28
Domaine de la Tournelle Arbois Trousseau des Corvées | $32
Vinho Verde: The relative insubstantiality of this slightly fizzy Portuguese white is its virtue, and its quality has quietly surged, a happening perhaps ignored by wine columnists too drunk on rosé. It is, on balance, a wine that needs no thinking about, and you can be happy finding bottles from Muralhas de Moncão, A. Mendes, Aveleda and Aphros, among many. You can also acknowledge some far more serious versions by grabbing bottles from Quinta do Soalheiro or Quinta do Feital.
Champagne: Yes, its price makes it difficult to consider pounding it in a park. But Champagne still has all of the makings of a proper summer wine: It can be as chilled as you like, it’s easy to drink and it goes with absolutely everything. I’ll leave the name-checking on this one for another time, but whatever Champagne you enjoy the other three seasons of the year should not be left to languish come July.