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Three Wines for Your Summer Oases

Vine byLine: Keep it Cool

The gardener’s sip

The strenuous work of the lone gardener is formidable. Seemingly benign to the outsider’s eye, residential horticulture includes a list of back-breaking activities including hoisting unwieldy bags of mulch and scratching out weeds for hours on end crouched in the hot sun, knees locked in painful cramps while sweat-crowned straw hats flop lopsided as yarrow after rain. From early morning to shaded dusk, gardeners quietly persist in their green dreams. In the cool of evening, while holding the watering gun steady to give all that you’ve dug and planted that last soaking, in this contemplative moment, you might consider arming your free hand with an icy glass of white wine. To compliment the beauty of your garden, I recommend a wine made from the Torrontés grape, an extraordinarily perfumed wine from Argentina.

Argentina is one of the largest wine-producing nations in the world. While it has garnered a reputation for its burly reds, predominantly, Malbec, Cabernet, and Bonarda, slight attention has been given to its whites. The aromatic Torrontés, little heard of until recently, is in fact the number one planted white grape in Argentina, impressively outdistancing that invasive perennial, Chardonnay.

Top among Argentina’s wine regions, the famed Mendoza’s warm, dry climate is well suited for world-class reds and possibly tomatoes, but whites need cooler temperatures to preserve their acidity and vibrant flavors. The high altitude region of Cafayate in Salta province, a wine region in the northern part of the country, cultivates vineyards at dizzying heights (4,200-9,842 feet) and produces some of the best examples of Torrontés. Other regions producing elegant examples are La Rioja (not to be confused with the Rioja region of Spain) and San Juan. One of my favorite Torrontés of late is the inexpensive Jelu (retails under $12) from San Juan, which is brought into the US by importer T. Edwards. Just a word of caution—I have found some of the cheaper wines can be overly fruity and bordering on sweet.

If you have a penchant for wines that smell as intriguing as an English garden, Torrontés boasts enticing floral aromas. Flamboyant as one of its parent grapes, the notoriously perfumed Muscat of Alexandria, Torrontés is never an introvert. On the palate, this jaunty white provides a virtual fruit salad of ripe peach, apricot, Seville oranges, and honeysuckle blossoms. Rarely given oak maturation, the wines are clean and refreshing.

Dating back to the Spanish conquerors, Torrontés is thought to have originated in the Atlantic coastline region of Galicia, Spain. Nowadays it is not widely cultivated anywhere outside of Argentina where over 20,000 acres are planted. Torrontés is simply the hottest cool grape from South America.

Fish on the line

On your next fishing trip to a rustic cabin, while packing up the marshmallows and fly rod, you might want to include a bottle or two or three of Muscadet. This light-bodied, energetic white may be the world’s greatest wine companion for fish.

Every year more than eight million cases of Muscadet are produced from the Loire Valley of France near the city of Nantes on the Atlantic coast, where the mouth of the Loire River meets the sea. The Muscadet region, as it is called, is renown for its production of copious quantities of gulpable thirst-quenchers. There are three names or appellation controlee areas that you will find on the label, the first being the most important: Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, Muscadet Coteaux de la Loire, and Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu.

Wine enthusiasts in the know seek out these wines for their modest prices and decent quality. In a word—bargains! Muscadet is light and crisp and tantalizes the taste buds with a surprising spritz. White flowers, lemon rind, and a sniff of anise mark the aromas of this dry white. Though there are splendid higher-priced versions, I recommend testing the waters with one of the many under-$10 selections. Just make sure it is a recent vintage, preferably 2011—Muscadet is at its best when young and fresh.

Not to be confused with Muscat, the grape that makes Muscadet is known as Melon de Bourgogne (Burgundy), which is thought to be the place of its origin. Stylistically, Muscadet also has connections with Burgundy, as it is sometimes referred to as the “poor man’s Chablis.” With its mineral characteristics, breezy acidity, and citrus fruits, many of these wines are a dead ringer for the steely Chardonnays of Chablis.

Reminiscent of sea air, Muscadet is aged for a short time on its yeasty lees (look for “sur lie,” i.e. with lees, on the label), which adds complexity and the telltale slightly salty tang. Traditionally, paired with local seafood and shellfish, this is a white uncannily attuned to the briny taste of freshly shucked oysters. If you are less the fisherperson and more the culture-seeker, oyster bars in Paris are well stocked with iced bottles of Muscadet.

Back at the cabin, Muscadet will work wonders with a platter of pan-fried trout, or, if the fish aren’t biting, pour yourself a jelly cup tumbler with a whack of triple cream brie and triscuits.

Beach baby

Nothing tastes quite so gratifying to me as a basket of hand-cut pomme frites after a day of body surfing, frisbee, or these days hula-hoop and beach blanket lounging. While your sun-warmed skin cools in the welcomed shade of a beach town burger joint, you might take a second look at the wine menu for one of the least expensive and most delicious whites of Spain.

From the Rueda region, Verdejo is Spain’s other great white variety, albeit still in the shadows of the celebrated Albariño. In the Middle Ages, the flourishing vineyards of Rueda were well visited, as the town sits on the main road from Madrid to León. Caves for the wine were tunneled out of the limestone rock below the town. Having fallen out of fashion, the wines of Rueda began to make a comeback in the 1980s and are at present widely available.

Often blended with the lackluster grape, Viura, look for the sort with Rueda “superior” on the label, which must contain at least 85 percent Verdejo. Verdejo is bright and zesty and light in body like a Sauvignon Blanc, which is also a welcomed blending partner for this charming white. On the palate, Verdejo is bursting with ripe stone fruits—nectarine, peaches, and apricots. Floral and vibrant, Verdejo (ver-DAY-ho) is a heavenly match for creamy style cheeses, green salads, cloudless skies—and don’t forget the frites.

Paula Paradise is a freelance wine writer and educator.

More Artvoice Summer Guide 2012:
Intro: Pond Swimming • Events: Summer Musts, Festivals, Garden Walks, and Tours
Enjoy the Waterfront: WNY From the WaterWheels on the Water
Music: Summer Spotify MixtapeFree Summer Concert Guide
Summer Eats: Cool Food for Warm WeatherThree Wines for Your Summer Oases

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