Wines to Drink This Summer
Summer wine questions answered by sommelier & marketing specialist with Stew Leonard’s Wines, Blake Leonard
Ever felt stumped about the best kind of wine to drink during the summer? You know you like rosé, but which one do you choose? You're cooking grilled shrimp for dinner tonight, but what kind of wine would pair well with it? And what about the barbecue this weekend? You want to serve red wine, but how do you know what will go with the ribs?? Now you're stuck in a swirling whirlpool of confusion and discombobulation! Well, pull yourself together and don't worry. I had the opportunity to ask Certified Sommelier and Marketing Specialist at Stew Leonard's Wines, Blake Leonard, lots of questions about the best wines to drink during the summer. We covered good rosés, the best kind of wine to use in Sangria, her favorite summertime wines and everything in between.
What made you want to become a certified sommelier?
I have always admired a sommelier’s ability to tell the story behind a bottle of wine and educate the consumer right there at the table. The way that a sommelier talks about a bottle of wine at a table is very similar to what people are interested in learning when buying wine in a wine store. Wine enhances any experience- while dining in a restaurant or around your dinner table at home. I was presented with the opportunity to become a certified sommelier at the end of my yearlong Accelerated Wine & Beverage Program at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa. One of my teachers, a Master Sommelier, encouraged my class to take the first two levels.
What was process like and how long did it take?
There are four levels to becoming a Master Sommelier and my class took the first and second level exams right at the end of our program. We were already very focused and in study mode. Each level took a couple hours to complete but it was so nerve-racking, it felt much longer! Within the service and wine industry, it is a very distinguished qualification that shows that the person has great tasting skills, wine knowledge and an outstanding understanding of the service and beverage industry.
What are your favorite wines for summertime?
Anything chilled! Whites, rosés, and sparklings are what my mouth water all summer long. It sounds counterintuitive to chill red wine but it's a great way to enjoy fuller bodied wines in the summer. Try putting heavier bodied reds, like Zinfandel, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, in the refrigerator for a couple minutes before serving. If there's one that I can't get enough of this summer, it’s Fontana Candida Frascati ($9.99).
What is a good summertime rosé?
You can find rosés today from all over the world and made from just about every red grape varietal. Look out for rosés made from grapes like: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Sangiovese, Carignan, Cinsault and Pinot Noir. Styles vary but they all remind me of the clean and refreshing flavors of summer. Drink them as an apéritif or with an array of food, but seafood is my favorite, especially lobster and shrimp. My favorites right now are Mas Fleurey ($9.99), Whispering Angel ($18.99), and Miraval ($23.99).
What summer wines would you recommend for someone who likes a sweeter wine? One on the drier side?
It’s common to confuse sweet and fruity. Most fruity things that we eat smell fruity and taste sweet. With wine, it can smell fruity and taste sweet or smell fruity and taste dry. If you are looking for fruity and dry, I recommend rosé. If you want something that is sweeter, I love Rieslings in the summer. They are really versatile when it comes to food because they have high acidity and cut through any fat in the food to give you a clean finish. I recommend White Cluster Riesling ($9.99) and White Splash St. Francis White Blend ($9.99).
Are oaky chards too heavy for summertime- if not, what would you recommend?
Absolutely not! Chardonnays that have oak influence and are not too overpowering are great summer time wines especially with grilled seafood. I would recommend Hayes Ranch Chardonnay. It's made by the Wente Family, a 6th generation winemaking family from California. When it comes to Chardonnay, they know what they're doing.
What is a good red wine to pair with summer BBQ like ribs or pork?
If your BBQ ribs have a little kick to them, pair them with full bodied reds with well-integrated tannins and spice like Zinfandel or Syrah. I recommend Parnell Napa Valley Red ($13.99), Jeantet Côtes du Rhône ($7.99), and Smith & Son Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.99).
What is a good wine to pair with grilled seafood?
You want a wine that is going to complement and enhance the fish without overpowering it. Citrusy Sauvignon Blancs, Rosés, and Chardonnays are great options. I love cooking grilled shrimp with red pepper flakes so a Riesling with a little residual sugar is my go to. If didn't put any red pepper flakes in, then I would probably go for a crisp white like Chateau Magence, a white Bordeaux ($9.99).
What is the best kind of red wine to use in Sangria?
When you are adding sugar and all that fruit to a red wine, you don't need anything fancy. I would suggest any California red that is under $10.
Are there any summery dessert wines that you would recommend?
When having dessert wines with something sweet, you actually want the wine to be sweeter than the dessert. I tend to like fruitier dessert wines like Moscati D’Asti ($13.99) which is a sweet and delicately fruity wine from the Asti area in North-west Italy.
All wines are available for purchase at Stew Leonard’s Wines in Norwalk
Stew Leonard's Wines
55 Westport Ave, Norwalk; (203) 750-6162