The wines of summer: Some off-your-radar varietals perfect for blue skies and warm weather

From left, the Nebbiolo Claré J.C. (G.D. Vajra, 2019), Il Rosé di Casanova (La Spinetta, 2019), Pinot Grigio Jesera (Venica y Venica, 2019), Alsace Blanc (Kuentz-Bas, 2018), Little James Basket Press Blanc (Saint Cosme, 2018), and Dolcetto d’Alba (G.D. Vajra, 2019); photo Romolo Tavani

It’s summer. For many of us, that means an opportunity to experiment with something new. Pasatiempo asked wine buyer Barbara Bjorn and Eva Moldovanyi, co-general manager, at Susan’s Fine Wines and Spirits for recommendations that stretch way beyond a go-to chardonnay or pinot gris.

It was a tough job, they said, but the six they chose are very much “in the moment,” though several are inspired by memories of summers past, cycling through regions planted to vine in France and Italy. They said that wine selections here are known for their purity of fruit expression. All are fun to drink and result from passionate, protective winemaking. All have in common accessibility, enjoyable fruit presence, and thirst-quenching bright acidity — a refreshing antidote for summer heat.


2018 ALSACE BLANC

Maison Kuentz-Bas, $14.99

Vintner: Situated in the village of Husseren-les-Châteaux, a steeply sloped high point in Alsace, France, the Kuentz-Bas estate has been producing wines since the late 1700s. In 2004, the estate was acquired by vigneron Jean-Baptiste Adam, who immediately advocated returning to natural methods and soon implemented organic and biodynamic practices. The overriding philosophy is to let the wines reveal the true character of component grape varieties and the geologically complex Alsatian terroir with little human intervention. Grapes are manually harvested, pressed whole, and vinified and aged “without hurry.”

Pick: The 2018 Kuentz-Bas Alsace Blanc is a high-quality estate white wine comprising a blend of aromatic grape varieties, including Sylvaner, pinot blanc, Muscat, pinot gris, Gewürztraminer, and Chasselas. The wine is floral and fruit-driven, with delicate aromas revealing the identity of each component grape variety. The palate is fresh and creamy. Fruit flavors, a hint of spice and bright acidity complete the finish. kermitlynch.com/our-wines/kuentz-bas/


2018 LITTLE JAMES BASKET PRESS BLANC

Saint Cosme, $15.99

Vintner: Located in the heart of the Gigondas appellation in the southern Rhône valley of France, Château Saint Cosme is a leading producer of rich, elegant wines. Current estate owner and winemaker Louis Barruol is the 14th generation to lead the estate, and 20 years into his tenure, he converted to biodynamic practices.

Pick: What makes this wine unique is the unconventional blend of sauvignon blanc and viognier. Sauvignon blanc, the canonical variety of white Bordeaux or Loire Valley sancerre, is typically not associated with warmer southern Rhône climes. Nevertheless, Mr. Barroul finds that sauvignon blanc lends acidity while viognier contributes floral notes and fruity aromatics. The two grapes are fermented and aged in stainless steel, with minor intervention. The 2018 Little James Basket Press Blanc is a medium-bodied wine with a firm acid structure and fruity and floral finish. The wine pairs exceptionally well with a wide variety of foods, including salads, ceviche, and grilled fish. winebow.com/our-brands/chateau-de-saint-cosme /little-james-basket-press-blanc/2018


2019 PINOT GRIGIO JESERA

Venica y Venica, $20.99

Vintner: The family-owned Venica & Venica estate is renowned for its rich, textural, and aromatic white wines produced with little or no exposure to wood. Organic farming practices and a profound respect for the environment are cornerstones of Venica viticulture and viniculture.

Pick: The 2019 Venica Pinot Grigio Jesera is a high-quality wine presenting well-defined floral aromatics and stone fruit flavors. The palate is lively and savory and has a long finish. Note the brilliant pink/coppery color; this is a natural phenomenon resulting from up to 24 hours of skin contact prior to fermentation. Serve the Jesera chilled and enjoy on its own, or as an accompaniment to appetizers and canapés, soups, grilled fish, and white meats. giulianaimports.com/venica-venica


2019 IL ROSÉ DI CASANOVA

La Spinetta, $19.99

Vintner: La Spinetta has been “making wine with passion” since 1977.

Pick: The 2019 Il Rosé di Casanova, a rosé wine produced from Sangiovese and Prugnolo Gentile (a Sangiovese clone), certainly shows Sangiovese’s potential for greatness, not only in red wines but also rosés. The light orange-pink color and fruit-forward style are reminiscent of Provençal wines, yet the 2019 Rosé di Casanova has greater mid-palate complexity and acid structure than typically tasted in Provence. Ripe red strawberry and citrus flavors, subtle floral hints and bright acidity flood the palate all the way to a long finish. This wine stands high on a perch of summer wines. It can be enjoyed alone or paired with poultry, fish, and a myriad of appetizers. la-spinetta.com and giulianaimports.com/la-spinetta-casanova


2019 NEBBIOLO CLARÉ J.C.

G.D. Vajra, $20.99

Vintner: Fruit for Vajra’s Nebbiolo Claré J.C. is sourced from several young estate vineyards. One-fifth of the harvest is placed in fermentation tanks as whole clusters and then topped with crushed fruit. After a week of skin contact, the wine is racked into pressurized tanks where fermentation is completed off-skins, resulting in a gentler extraction. First produced in 2014, the standout Claré J.C. bridges the world of rosé and red wines; it is in a league of its own.

Pick: Bright ruby in color, the 2019 Nebbiolo Claré J.C. bursts forth with aromas of red berry fruit and herbs. On the palate, the wine is equally explosive, a progression of tart red fruit, bracing acidity, rose florals, and a hint of effervescence. One glass begs to be followed by another and another. Serve slightly chilled and pair with appetizers, fried or creamy entrées, and grilled fare. gdvajra.it/uploads/public/913_fs-lnjc18-en.pdf, vinous.com/articles/piedmont-beyond-the-usual-suspects-mar-2020


2019 DOLCETTO D’ALBA

G.D. Vajra, $18.99

Vintner: Like Nebbiolo, Dolcetto is one of many indigenous grape varieties of Italy’s Piedmont region. Dolcetto, which translates from Italian as “little sweet one,” produces medium-bodied red wines of fruity, earthy, and tannic character. In sharp contrast to Nebbiolo, Dolcetto wines are accessible within months of harvest and thus are great for early drinking. G.D. Vajra’s Dolcetto d’Alba is sourced from several estate vineyards, each contributing differently to the wine’s concentration, depth, and fruity softness. Gently vinified in stainless steel tanks, the wine sits in a tank for about six months before bottling.

Pick: The 2019 Dolcetto d’Alba is deep purple in color. The nose is a mélange of aromas of red and dark fruits and violets. On the palate, ripe fruit and sour cherries along with silky tannins provide a juicy counterpoint. Dolcetto wines pair well with pasta, pizza, and grilled fare. gdvajra.it/uploads/public/758_fs-donn15-en.pdf, vinous.com/articles/piedmont-s-affordable-gems-jun-2018

Susan’s Fine Wines and Spirits, 1005 S. St. Francis Drive, Ste. 101, 505-984-1582, sfwineandspirits.com

(2) comments

Richard Reinders

You have a local wine industry with award winning wines of every varietal with local and international awards. Support local wineries.

Peggy Catron

Think I'll call to see if they will make these into a "to go" collection. Delicious way to support a local business.

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