Summertime makes certain demands on wine lovers. Those who favor dark, concentrated reds are often disappointed right now when their favorite wines taste different, overpowering a meal and failing to refresh the palate. If you are just such a wine drinker, let me reassure you that your wine has not spoiled in the summer heat. It will taste just fine once we move back into cooler weather. Meanwhile, now is the time to cultivate a taste for white and rosado wines that will cool you down, awaken your appetite and pair well with the full bounty of summer foods.
This is also the perfect time of year to mix up pitchers full of delicious wine cocktails that, in addition to being mighty tasty, are also very friendly on the pocketbook. In place of the usual food recipe, this week I offer you a drink recipe that is quick and easy to make, is infinitely variable, and will give you and your guests a new way to enjoy some of Iberia’s more obscure wines. As with many of my recipes, this is not a fixed set of ingredients and proportions but rather it is a basic concept that you can play around with to get the final product to taste just as you wish.
The ‘Portonic’ cocktail originated in Portugal, up in the Douro Valley where the Port grapes grow, during the blindingly hot summer days. Similar drinks also come from Spain where ‘Vino de Verano’ is a long standing summer tradition. Try the following recipe in its basic form and then let your imagination take you where it will.
Portonic- 3 variations on a theme
Serves 8 (ish)
1 bottle White Port, Rainwater Madeira or Amontillado Sherry
1 bottle Tonic water, sparkling mineral water, ‘Casera’ or other lemon/lime soda
2 lemons cut in wedges
1 bag of ice
Fill a glass pitcher or carafe with ice. Add the contents of one bottle of White Port/Rainwater Madeira/Amontillado Sherry. Add an equal amount of sparkling water/tonic water/lemon soda. Stir to mix and pour into wide highball glass along with a few of the ice cubes. Garnish with a wedge of lemon and serve.
Cune Rosado 2007 When I walk into a little bar in Rioja I always expect to find wines from the popular bodega called Companía Vinicola del Norte D’España displayed prominently and proudly (everybody shortens the name to ‘CUNE’, changing the V to a U, and pronouncing it ‘coo-nay’). We just received the new vintage of Cune Rosado and it is just what the season demands. Starting in 2006 Cune switched from using Garnacha, as is the general rule, to Tempranillo, and this is still true for the 2007. The swap in grape varieties has lightened up the wine flavor-wise (the color is still watermelon pink), creating a less fruity, more balanced wine with smooth red berry fruit and bright acidity. $10.99
Masia de Bielsa Rosado 2007 This newly arrived Campo de Borja region rosado, composed of 100% Garnacha, displays fresh berry and watermelon fruit character, gentle acidity and a quick, quiet finish that invites continued sipping. This is a classic back porch rosado for hot weather. Pair it with simple meals like grilled chicken, coleslaw, potato salad and the full range of American picnic food. Regular price $11.99
Floresta Rosado 2007 This local favorite, from the Empordá-Costa Brava region in Northeastern Spain, just arrived in the new vintage. This blend of Garnacha, Merlot and Tempranillo can be found at numerous Bay Area bars and restaurants. Pale pink color, tangy citrus and strawberry fruit character along with refreshing acidity all combine to make a tasty and well priced wine suitable for a wide range of foods and occasions. $11.99
Dom Martinho Rosado 2007 I bought this wine knowing fully well that many of you have a negative perception of Portuguese rosado based on generations of crummy pink wine from a few producers I won’t name here. Please set these preconceptions aside and try this new product from Quinta do Carmo, a winery in Alentejo that is partly owned by the Rothschild-Lafite group in France. Composed of Aragonez, Touriga Nacional and Syrah, this berry scented pink wine has ripe fruit character balancing tart acidity. Fuller than some of the other wines on this week’s list, Dom Martinho will pair well with spicy food (try it with Thai food…a great pairing!) as well as traditional Portuguese favorites such as grilled sardines. $12.99
Con Class Rueda 2006 Back in March The New York Times waxed poetic about this young white wine, awarding it 3 stars and describing it as “vivacious with enticing lemon, floral and mineral flavors and a touch of honey”. At just that moment our local distributor changed warehouses and this wine got lost in the shuffle for a while. Happily, the wine has resurfaced and is now in good supply. This is indeed a tasty Rueda region blend of 80% Verdejo, 10% Viura and 10% Sauvignon Blanc. At a recent trade tasting I compared this wine with the higher priced single varietal Con Class Verdejo. The blended wine showed more balance and a fuller range of fresh citrusy flavors and is indeed a great value. $11.99
Luis Alegre Tinto Joven 2006 This young Rioja region Tempranillo is made using the maceración carbonica method. Whole bunches of grapes are loaded in tanks and allowed to start fermenting before the grapes are crushed. This ancient method of producing wine has the advantage of retaining color and fruit character while also producing finished wine in a relatively short period of time. The end result is a dark garnet colored wine with lively fresh berry fruit character, racy acidity and mild grape skin tannins. Typically this is a summertime wine. Serve it lightly chilled as they do in Spain and accompany it with sliced cheese, jamón serrano and dry cured chorizo. $12.99