BUSAN, South Korea — Just as some wines are perfectly matched for the right dish or course, these wines seem enhanced by the weather and are an ideal complement to the season. All are affordable, can be found at various locations such as E-Mart, Home Plus and the wine shop in the Shinsegae department store basement.
They’re also all approachable wines to grab out of the fridge and bring to the beach or a party that make lovely pairings for raw or grilled seafood. These wines generally tend to be more popular in the summertime due to their light-medium body and bright acidity; they sometimes express a certain ethereal character, a wet-stone minerality reminiscent of skipping stones pulled from the river or a favorite swimming hole from the water’s edge. Give a few of these a shot.
One country’s wines that I always look for as soon as the temperature creeps up: New Zealand. This is New Zealand’s most exported varietal wine and their most highly regarded throughout the wine world. What makes Kiwi sauvignon blanc sought after are its prominent flavors of grapefruit, lime and tart gooseberries, often with mingling green melons, grass, herbs or sometimes a touch of minerality. All naturally vinified without the obtrusion of oak, fermented and kept in stainless steel to keep it racy and vibrant.
Two to look for are Babich, one of the country’s top producers for 20,000 won, found at E-Mart, and Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc for Tesco Wine Brand bottled and sold exclusively for Home Plus, 16,900 won.
Indigenous Italian Wines
These come from Italy’s northwest corner of Piedmont, home to two of Italy’s most famous red wines and some of the world’s most expensive and long-lived such as Barbaresco and Barolo.
However, there is specifically one white wine to get acquainted with this summer: Gavi. This wine is eponymously named for a village in the Piedmont that produces the best from the native Cortese grape.
Gavi is just north of Genoa and inland near the Ligurian coast. According to Karen MacNeil, director of the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley and contributor to the New York Times, “The area’s proximity to the Ligurian coast has made Gavi a natural partner for seafood.”
Gavi is also known for its lightweight, extra-dry crispness, and has a mineral note slightly similar to the lemon-flavored San Pellegrino mineral water (minus the carbonation) finishing with bracing acidity. The 2010 Tesco Selection Gavi is even labeled with the yellow-green DOCG sticker affixed to the neck of the bottle (like the pink stamp of approval stuck to DOCG Italian reds guaranteeing the wine has been made with traditional grapes and meets a premium quality standard).
You can pick up a nice bottle of Gavi for 16,900 at Home Plus.
A few other styles that are usual summer hits are Soave, Orvieto (both named for their villages) and Pinot Grigio, Italy’s most popularly exported white. However, these wines vary greatly in body and dry/sweetness factors, so look for the better producers: Cesari, Antinori and Ogio.
Another that is quite quaffable for a red wine on a warm summer day is Bardolino. Bardolino is a blend of the indigenous grapes Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara, and Negrara produced in the Veneto, in the northeast corner of Italy famous for Venice, these grapes are grown just to the north and east of fair Verona. From the most prominent producer in the Veneto, Cesari’s Bardolino is a light in color, light-bodied red with aromas and flavors of cherries, plum, earthiness and spiciness.
While it need not be served as cold as whites or rose, Bardolino is enjoyed in Italy and abroad served chilled (Shinsegae basement wine shop, 16,000).
For decades, rosé was a much maligned wine outside of France due to squat, opaque bottles of Lancers or Mateus, often stashed in grandparents’ liquor cabinets; enjoyed as an overly-fruity, sweet, slightly effervescent wine.
These wines, more akin to sparkly White Zinfandel or even closer to Boones or Thunderbird, dominated the export market for a generation before today’s wine lovers have discovered pink juice makes some serious wine, not just in France but in Spain, Italy and all over California. Before speaking of rosé on the palate, I would be remiss if I didn’t recount how I became so intimate with this wine to the point of taking a bath in it.
My Wine Bath
Last year I was working as a lab tech at a winery in Alexander Valley—a stretch of vineyards that lies about 30 miles inland from the Pacific, an hour north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate. It was my third day on the job and the first time I was sent out alone to “Red Cellar”, a large hangar-like facility at the winery that housed a score of stout, 20-foot-tall steel tanks. At first, I was tentative as I diligently made the rounds collecting samples that I would later analyze back in the lab.
The process and its redundancy would have please Henry Ford: Remove the clamp and cap over the sample port, sterilize the valves and fittings, unlock the handle that released the juice, draw the sample, secure it in the organizer on the cart, rinse the equipment, sterilize, re-cap, clamp, lock and move on to the next tank. Repeat.
After an hour or so, I got a rhythm. There was an invigorating chill this foggy morning and the repetition of motion became meditative. That is, until I arrived at tank P-20. Though it was a rotund behemoth like all the others, its hardware used for extracting of the sample was different. For a second, I thought about asking for some assistance, but, being the new guy, I didn’t want to bother the cellar rat vets.
I took a minute, examined it, decided, “It’s just a clamp,” removed it and… Deluge! The cap, the gaskets, the pour handle clanged on the floor while a fire hydrant-like stream of pinot noir rosé blasted me right in the neck. I showered in sticky pink juice as I struggled to re-attach the cap while a river of wine gushed towards a drainage gully in the floor.
Fortunately, someone heard my desperate wails for help between my mouth agape for gulps of rosé (couldn’t let all 50 gallons of juice go down the drain) and they raced over to stop the hemorrhaging by simply placing a hand over the stubby pipe, restoring the seal.
I thought for sure that I would be fired but instead my boss and a few co-workers took me out for beers after work (in my reeking, still damp clothes, of course). Over drinks they shared their ultimate screw-ups, each one trying to top the other. They shrugged it off as a rite of passage, and I knew it was exactly where I belonged until it was time to wander around the world again and settle back in Busan.
Despite the dent I made in Alexander Valley rosé production, I was happy to read recently the New York Times Food and Wine section was led by the article, “France, and the World Drinks More Pink.”
What oenophiles the world over have figured out is that rosé can be made out of any red wine grapes, but the best rosé is still produced in Southern France from the Rhone Valley and Provence.
One light, dry, very refreshing example found here at the Shinsegae Basement wine shop is Famille Castel from Cotes de Provence. Its faint salmon color and notes of strawberry, cherry, watermelon rind and mineral keep it classic for 16,000. Ideal for drinking this summer.
Although it’s too good to bathe yourself in this one. Salud.