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The Grape Trail

by Danny Davino


Do you remember that old song called Summertime? It was written in 1934 by George Gershwin, but to be more accurate it’s an “aria” rather than a song, because it’s from his opera Porgy and Bess. The evocative quality of the music seems to come from Gershwin’s use of soulful slow-moving chromatic harmonies that make it sound like a blend of spirituals and blues. Few other pieces of popular music evoke the sultry, oppressive and shimmering heat of high summer in the south.

Back in the Old Country, summer was usually the only time of year when you could venture out of the house without getting frozen or soaked. A few of my summers were spent in the southern parts of France and it was lovely to have lunch under a tree at an outdoor restaurant somewhere in the countryside. A wooden table with a blue checkered tablecloth (for some reason, it was always a blue checkered tablecloth) French cheese, crusty baguettes, salad and of course a pitcher of cold local wine nearly always a lively white or a fresh young rosé. So this month let’s take a look at a couple of ideal summer wines.

Muros Antigos Vinho Verde 2016 (white), Portugal (Bt. 750 @ Wine Garage)

You’d be forgiven for assuming that Vinho Verde (veeng-yo vaird) means “green wine” but it refers to the fact that the wine is young, released between three to six months after the harvest. It comes from the historic Minho province in the far North-West corner of Portugal where they’ve been making wine for over two thousand years. Vinho Verde is not so much a style of wine but a district, or denominação de origem controlada (DOC) as it’s known to the locals. With 51,000 acres of vineyards, Vinho Verde is Portugal’s largest wine region and although they produce red, rosé and sparkling most of their wines are white.

Muros Antigos Vinho Verde 2016 (white), Portugal (Bt. 750 @ Wine Garage)
Domaine de Fondrèche Rosé 2016, France (Bt. 850 @ Wine Garage) 

Muros Antigos (“Old Walls” according to the Google translator) is made by Anselmo Mendes, one of the best-known and influential wine makers in this part of Portugal. It’s a blend of three local grapes, Loureiro, Avesso and Alvarinho and it’s an attractive-looking wine - a light gold colour and a slightly oily appearance. There’s a delicate aroma and the first few sniffs bring a refreshing lemony smell. On the palate the intense lemony flavour has a good grip and adds a zesty character. There’s a good depth of flavour too and a smooth texture though you’ll probably feel the characteristic slight prickle on the tongue which is a trade mark of Vinho Verde. Then sometimes, there’s a sudden, almost magical flash of green apples on the taste. There’s plenty of rounded natural acidity there with a remarkably long and persistent finish. I tried it at 9°C and the wine felt firm and well-focused with a good balance of fruit and acidity.

At just 12% ABV this is a terrific wine and would make a lively apéritif as well as a good partner for many fish and Asian chicken dishes. Wine critic Robert Parker wrote of this wine, “Beautifully constructed, transparent, bright and crisp, this should be a perfect Loureiro to drink this summer”.

Domaine de Fondrèche Rosé 2016, France (Bt. 850 @ Wine Garage) 

For a sultry summer’s evening, few wines can beat a cold refreshing rosé, especially one from the South of France. This one hails from Ventoux which is one of the oldest wine-making regions in the country. It’s part of the vast swathe of Rhône Valley vineyards that stretch from Lyon in the North down to Avignon in the South. In these parts, 75 percent of the wine is red and most of the remainder is rosé. Domaine de Fondrèche is described by Jancis Robinson as “a star producer in Ventoux”.

There are different ways of making rosé. Contrary to popular belief, they are not made by simply chucking of bucket of red wine into a barrel of white, at least not any more. The juice from red grapes is transparent or nearly so. The colour comes from the grape skins. When rosé is made, the skins are left in contact with the juice for only short time, maybe a couple of days but sometimes a lot less.

This award-winning wine is made from a blend of Cinsault, Syrah, and Grenache.

Crafted by winemaker Sébastien Vincenti, it’s a delightfully crisp wine: a delicate orangey-pink and a gentle fruity aroma of red berries and peaches, possibly a hint of mint too. The aroma opened up beautifully after about twenty minutes bringing forward a faint reminder of herbs. The taste is fascinating: there’s an initial rounded rush of sweetish strawberry replaced within seconds by a sharper, dryer flavour that fairly fills the mouth. As you’d expect it’s dry and light-bodied. Rosé is a versatile wine and it works well with any light food or snacks. I tried pairing it with a cheese quiche and the combination worked splendidly. It would be perfect with an omelet. Serve it really, really cold. The wine I mean, not the omelet.