Some people are really into food. Some are really into wine. Sometimes there’s overlap, but as an overlapper myself, I’m often caught off guard by how many people fall into one camp or the other.
Many folks who are masters in any kitchen care barely one whit what sort of liquid accompanies their achievements. Diners who sweat every First World detail of provenance, ingredient, geography and micro-season will wash dinner down with a bottle of whatever, hastily grabbed from the slavery-and-chemical-additives section of their local enormo-mart.
And many oenophiles get so obsessed with Sonoma or Burgundy microclimates that by the time they’ve finished reading enough to bore everyone around them, they’re so hungry they just grab a couple of gas-station hot dogs for sustenance.
Indeed, some well-known wine experts, most infamously the critic Robert Parker, boast that the “super-taster” gene they possess renders them unsuited to eating intricately flavored foods.
For the rest of us, let’s think of wine less as something to accompany food, and more as an integral component of food itself. Wine is food. Everything that matters to you about food (ought to) matter to you about wine.
Ingredients (good wine has only one; most wine has many) ought to be listed. Treatment of crops affects the health of the product’s homeland and laborers as well as its eventual consumer. I have beaten this drum before, and will continue beating as long as I keep encountering people who have never heard of such concerns.
Season matters, too, and the subject for today is wine’s seasonality. One great thing about wine is that while the grapes are always harvested at around the same time (autumn), the fermentation and bottling process allows for year-round consumption.
However, each wine expresses a particular mood and connects with a certain manner of living. As September begins, we move from salads and ceviche to tomatoes and tarts. The transition is from a casual manner, and a need for cooling, to a somewhat more structured yet still refreshing approach. Fresh white wines and light rosés can begin to make room for lively, delicate reds.
Ah, you ask, “What is a lively, delicate red? I thought red wine was deep, smoky and bound in enough leather to sheath the Complete Works of Dickens. Or so tannic that I need to chew my tongue off to restore sensation to my mouth. Or so heavy-hung with ripe blackberry that the bushes drag on the ground. Delicate reds are pretenders or failures.”
If you eat cassoulet or beef stew or chicken noodle soup all year, you’re right. If instead, your table follows the rhythms of the harvest, the weather and the way the air brushes your skin as you reach for a linen long-sleeve shirt, lighter red wines offer a chance to experience the next month of moments more fully and harmoniously. Such an attitude has the added benefit of permitting a redefinition of vinous “seriousness.” Where red wine is concerned, too often personal history and/or unsteady ego mistakes mass for gravity (or gravitas).
But a wine with less weight can bring an experience with more impact. A glass of semi-chilled red wine, drunk with a platter of tomatoes and basil, or cold sesame noodles or peppery greens beneath poached salmon (just ending its season), is as close to the eternal as an early-evening meal in September should offer.
What’s inconsequential about perfume? What of gorgeousness, of grace, causes you to turn up your nose? What’s immature about wines with sufficiently low alcohol (the following all clock in at 12 to 13 percent) to remain flexible and generous around the broadest possible spectrum of meals? What’s childish about a wine you can gulp abundantly with impunity?
This is the moment for food at its ripest – flavors most vivid, land most profuse. Our glasses, like our hearts, ought to be a reflection of such purity and plenitude.
Monte del Fra Bardolino 2012, $14. The Veneto, in the center of Italy’s north, is best known for Amarone, Ripasso and other concentrating expressions of Valpolicella. Which we will drink in December. For right now, enjoy the fun-loving, slightly mischievous cousin, Bardolino. The wine uses the same grapes as in Valpolicella – corvina, rondinella and molinara – but less of the structured, structuring corvina. The slight spritz as first drops touch your tongue hint at what this yields: a spritely, agile wine; a ballet dancer. The fruits are purple, but add on a wonderful grapefruity acidity, floral aromas and so much flat-out charm that the sternest of dark-red wine purists will relent.
Tetramythos Black of Kalavryta 2012, $13. In a severe Bordeaux bottle, with an almost comically death-metal subtitle (it refers to the indigenous grape of that name), comes this gossamer beauty from Greece’s Achaia region. A pure, silken bubble of cherry and subtle spice, this gentle wine from organically grown grapes is like a pinot noir that put together a hobo bag at its home in Burgundy for a road trip to Tuscany. All light strokes and with barely noticeable tannins, its perfectly realized ripe red fruit notes never stop nuzzling you.
Feudo di Santa Tresa Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico 2010, $14. Where Sicilian red wines have gotten to in the past five years is just astonishing. In the past, everything that made it to the United States was dull and cloying; now we have access to some of the most thrilling, acrobatic, vibratory wines in Europe. One of several native grapes of the island, cerasuolo offers easygoing glimpses into this fascinating cornucopia. In flavor somewhat more woodsy and earthbound than the others in this list, fresh red fruit is still the driving force. The Santa Tresa takes beautifully to 30 minutes in the fridge, while you slice the dry sausage, let the bloomy-rind cheese come to temp and compose the salad of green beans and red potatoes.
You’re probably wondering, “Where’s the gamay?” You’re right to ask. Gamay, the special grape of Beaujolais, is the lighter-red varietal par excellence, and in fact everything it represents is the chief inspiration for all I’ve written above. Gamay is so important, and so well suited to our food lives in early to mid-fall, that it requires a column all its own. Which is soon to come, in this space, as we move into the heart of autumn.
Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. He can be reached at: