DENNIS FRALEY: Italian wines make a wonderful summer sipper | Food & Cooking

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About this time of year, almost every year, I write about the curtain-climbing, crumb-crunching rug rats returning to those esteemed houses of education. I’m certainly referring to those other people’s children, not your little angel. That fact rings true in my life as well; I have a child returning to college and, although him leaving gives me a touch of sadness, writing that tuition check stokes my waxing stimulation to drink.

This month provides us with other “motivators” to imbibe in our favorite adult liquid refreshments. There is a promise, albeit remote, that the cooler weather may yet emerge on the horizon. For now, we will continue to sweat like a meatloaf (singer or food as both are applicable), and swig our pool and porch pourers with complete lack of temperance.

Football also lurks around the corner with the cautious optimism that our teams will perform up to our expectations. More than likely, at least in my case, it will just be another reason to tailgate, consume and curse at the selected color of laundry I choose to root for.

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These justifications along with the heat indexes above the triple digit mark, implore us to look for something light, crisp and refreshing.Some of your ilk will continue to pour those 15% abv full bodied Cabernets down your gob, because anything less is, in your expert opinion, not worthy of your time.

In all fairness, it’s your money and your gob so have at you. I, on the other hand, subscribe to a more seasonally driven methodology of consumption. I certainly will pour one of those larger wines if I am having an aged ribeye at the local hash house, but am otherwise looking for something a bit leaner in nature.

I love Italian white wines for the summer.

Not only are they (mostly) light crisp and acidic but also have a slight pleasant bitterness on the finish. Although we usually associate bitter as a negative connotation with food and beverage, I would challenge that belief. The bitterness adds a certain complexity and balance with alcoholic beverages; look at tonic water, barrel tannins in bourbon and the entire class of craft cocktail bitters. Along with acidity, they seem to add a certain fresh “pop” to the palate of the parched consumer.

Life is a celebration, or so the cliché goes. Whether your mantra runs parallel or askew to this belief is entirely up to you. I would, however, still encourage the presence of traditional method sparkling wine on your table. Oft reserved for “special” occasions, these wines are some of the most misunderstood and misappropriated on the planet.

The misunderstanding comes from the fact that many consumers refrain from using these as an everyday pop-and-pour kind of wine. Granted, some can be quite expensive and that in itself could encourage you to relegate these wines to a cherished event.

For this reason, and due to the recent scarcity of reasonably priced imports in this category, I’ve been feeding my sparkling addiction with domestic selections. Although I have to pay homage to some really good sparklers coming out of the cooler areas of California, the Pacific Northwest seems to give me the most proverbial bang for my buck.

My belief in the misappropriation of these wines stems from the fact that they are used, most often, as an accoutrement to a charcuterie board, to wet the palate of a newly arrived guest or as the base of a Mimosa for brunch.

Before you light your torches and send out the mob, I enjoy and encourage all of these potential settings for tipping these wines. My argument remains that traditional method sparkling can do so much more than the aforementioned circumstances. I relish doing a multi-course meal and using sparkling for every food course, including pairing with a big protein for the main.

For those dug in like a tick on a coon hound in their opinions for needing a red wine, I cannot formulate a compelling argument against that belief. As I will be grilling something red and dead multiple times this month myself, I too will be partaking in some anthocyanin-stained juice. Argentinian Malbec moves to the front of my line for the reasons of value (quality level versus price point), availability and flavor profile (pairs seamlessly with grilled meats).

Although there are some amazing Malbecs and Malbec blends coming out of Argentina, there are a plethora at more than reasonable price points. Many importers and distributers have recognized this and bumped the pricing up a few points to pad their profits, but good value can still be had, so to speak. This eases the sting if you, like me, are writing a large check this month to one of those “higher” education establishments.

Whether you are camped out by the pool with a “mommy-pour” in your cup or brooding over your little prince or princess heading back for some book learning, I hope you enjoy some of the selected liquid assistance. Before you turn your noses up at the attractive prices of some of these finds, please try them. Quality can be found in some of the most unusual places.

Suggested winesAttems Pinot Grigio 2021, DOC Friuli, Italy, $15

One first notices the intense ripe fruit on the nose. There are aromas of orchard fruit compote (pear, apple), tropical fruit (papaya) and melon (honeydew). The palate is dry, with a vibrant up front almost electric acidity, and a medium body that nods to the sur lie exposure. The palate mimics the nose with more of a lean toward tropical citrus. As the alcohol checks in at 12.5%, this makes a wonderful summer sipper but has the sturdiness and body to hold up well with food. The finish has lingering tropical citrus, remaining acid and a slight pleasant bitter nut element. The wine remains a value for this price point. Pair with soft creamy cheeses (brie), linguini with clams, and poolside shenanigans.

Attems Sauvignon Blanc 2021, Venezia Giulia IGT, Italy, $13

The wine has the classic Sauvignon nose of tropical citrus (grapefruit) and the methoxypyrazine pungency. Additionally, there is a hint of white flowers, melon and a slight nuance of dried herbs. The palate is dry with bright linear acidity that gives the palate structure. The palate mirrors the nose with the addition of lime pith and slight tomato leaf. The finish is crisp and clean, working as a beautiful palate cleanser. This wine would pair well with citrus inspired fish dishes, goat cheese, and any kind of shrimp.

Montinore Estate Brut Cuvée 2017, Willamette Valley, Oregon, $45

The wine contains 55% Pinot Noir and 45% Chardonnay and has a beautiful golden appearance. The nose has a beautiful marriage of aromas from the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and elements paying note to the method of production. There are aromas of fresh baked pie crust (three years on the lees), orchard fruits (Rainier cherry, apple), citrus (tangerine), spice (ginger) render layers of complexity. The dry palate has a caressing mousse of bubbles, and a sturdy citrus-laden acidity. There are flavors extending from the nose to include tart persimmon, citrus pith, blood orange with heightened red fruit compared to the nose. The finish is tart, citric and slightly mouth-drying. This wine will make you a believer in domestic sparkling. Pair this wine with roasted chicken, Thai inspired fish dishes, and of course charcuterie. Please, for my sake, do not relegate it to the day after mimosa.

Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec 2019, Luján de Cuyo, Medoza, Argentina, $13

The grapes are sourced from areas inside the Luján de Cuyo region (Vistalba, Las Compuertas, Perdriel and Agrelo). The 12-months aging in 90% French Oak (and 10% French Foudres) is evident on the nose with aromas of cedar cigar box, spice (clove) and a smoky element. The palate is dry with nuances of fruit (blackberry, damson) oak influence (cedar, smoke), celery seed and some unsweetened cacao powder on the finish. There is a gentle warming to the alcohol and evident fine grained but grippy tannins (more bottle age or protein pairings) which seem to have a greater affinity for the gums. The wine begs for foods such as beef brisket, slow roasted pork shoulder or a good old hamburger (75%-25% of course). You could argue there are better Malbec wines but not even at twice this price point. Pour and serve blind to your friends and it will be our little secret.

** All wines provided by respective wineries/promoters as tasting samples **

Dennis Fraley is a local nurse anesthetist by day and a wine and spirits expert by night. He teaches wine classes, hosts in-home educational wine parties and consults for wine PR companies and local wine/food pairing events. Achieving the level 4 Diploma of Wine and Spirits via the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, he now contemplates making a run for the coveted master of wine. For more information about his services and upcoming classes, contact him at [email protected].

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