Restaurants share what they’ll be matching up this season.
Sommeliers and wine directors love this time of year. As the weather warms up, fun, versatile ingredients abound—from herbs to fruits to vegetables—with something new appearing seemingly every week.
Chefs’ dishes during the late spring and early summer are fresh, vibrant and flavorful—and in need of wines that can impress without overshadowing the culinary stars of the season. We asked several wine pros to share their picks for the hot wines and perfect matches for the season.
General manager/wine director, Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay, Keauhou, HI
Favorite Summer Bottle: Veuve Clicquot Demi-Sec. “From foie gras to pork belly, carpaccio to sushi, bubbles make everything better. And bubbles with bite? All the better.”
From the abounding sun to the gentle tropical breezes, summer really never ends in Hawaii. So the perpetual forecast means it’s a virtual treasure trove for warm-weather wines. Keith Mallini, general manager/wine director at the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay, Keauhou, HI, says while some guests at its Ray’s on the Bay gravitate towards bigger reds during the cooler months, white is usually king throughout the year.
The challenge is steering diners away from the usual suspects in varietals, so Mallini directs them to wines made with grapes grown in volcanic soils. He loves to pair Hawaiian salmon crisp flatbread with Inama Vin Soave ($11 a glass, $43 a bottle) from Italy. “Garganega from basaltic lava soils sings elderflower and almond; bright fruit yet underlying minerality and high acid to match the pungency of the basil-caper cream and the brininess of smoked salmon and seaweed,” he notes.
Mallini also touts the honeysuckle and pear notes of the Storybook Mountain Vineyards Estate viognier ($17 a glass, $77 a bottle) paired with pork belly atop a fresh pea risotto. He likens the wine to a Condrieu from the volcanic soils of France’s Northern Rhône region—rich and sensuous, yet with ample acidity to cut through the rich pork belly and creamy risotto.
When selecting wines to pair with summer-focused menus—which in Hawaii translates to any menu—Mallini looks for those that meet two criteria. “I look for acid to lift and blend the flavors of the dish, cleanse the palate and leave you wanting for more,” he explains. “And for intense aromas to match and flora and exotic fruits of the island.”
Wine director, Ripple, Washington, D.C.
Favorite Summer Bottle: Loire Valley Chenin Blanc. “The Loire Valley is my go-to for whites during the summer. They provide amazing acidity and brightness that is easy to drink on its own but also complements the food we serve.”
The most challenging part about summer food and wine pairings? “When guests want to drink big, bold wines that overwhelm the subtleties and the freshness of summer food,” says Danny Fisher, wine director of the locally focused neighborhood restaurant Ripple in Washington, D.C.
So for a dish such as hand-cut spaghetti with razor clams, ramps, asparagus and pine nuts, he reaches for a mineral-driven white that will let the dish shine.
The 2013 Vincent Dampt chablis ($15 a glass, $45 a bottle) is bright and crisp, and complements the white wine in the sauce while offsetting the butter. This pairing definitely falls into the “if it grows together, it goes together” theory, Fisher notes. “I typically look for something that stands out about the dish, and then think about where in the world it might come from.”
For example, he says, “if a dish has shellfish as a main ingredient, my mind automatically goes to a place where grapes are grown on ancient river beds that contain fossilized shells in the soils.”
Orange wines—made with white grapes that undergo prolonged maceration with the skins and stems—are increasingly popping up on menus as a fun and funky alternative to rosés. Fisher pairs a crispy Maryland soft shell crab “Caesar” salad with braised romaine and parmesan tuile with the 2013 Biggio Hamina Cougar’s Mark Vineyards, a pinot grigio-based orange wine from Oregon’s Willamette Valley ($13 a glass, $39 a bottle). “The extended skin contact on this wine adds a dryness that helps it stand up to the fried crab and Caesar dressing.”
Food and beverage manager, Mirbeau Inn & Spa, Skaneateles, NY
Favorite Summer Bottle: Txakoli rosé from Spain’s Basque region: “It is a higher-acidity wine that is just so slightly sparkling it’s intriguing. It’s typically paired with sardines and other salty summer pinxtos.”
Guests craving a red wine during the dog days of summer would be wise to look to France, says Erik Thiess-Kusiak, the food and beverage manager for the French-influenced dining options at the Mirbeau Inn & Spa, in Skaneateles, NY. “Summer red preferences tend to lean towards regions like Beaujolais, which can be more flavorful and fruity up front, and overall less brooding.”
Mirbeau offers several, including the St. Cyr and Louis Jadot Château des Jacques Moulin-à-Vent (each priced at $48 a bottle).
Thiess-Kusiak also thinks pink, pairing a grilled scallop Niçoise salad with a dry rosé from the Provence region such as the Château Montaud Côtes du Provence ($32 a bottle).
“Like a lot of the dishes and pairings we serve, it’s an attempt to paint a picture,” he notes. “Fresh seafood on crisp vegetables, light, snappy rosé with melon and strawberry notes almost transport you to the shimmering Mediterranean coast.”
Early summer peas go into a truffle pea soup with grilled prawns, paired with a Bourgogne Blanc like the Jacque Charlet La Crochette ($43 a bottle) from the region’s Macon-Villages appellation. The wine is fresh enough to foil the rich truffle shavings, yet elegant and earthy to partner with delicate early summer peas, he says.
“Summer is one of my favorite seasons in regard to building menus,” says Thiess-Kusiak. “The produce is fresh and local, and the menus are constantly changing.”
Sommelier/beverage director, 2941 Restaurant, Falls Church, VA
Favorite Summer Bottle: “Albariño is a great summer porch white, crisp, and fresh; its old blending mat Godello is richer, more textured and minerally intense.”
The bounty found at farmers’ market stalls tends to dominate summer wine philosophy, according to Jonathan Schuyler. He runs the wine program at the contemporary French-American restaurant 2941 Restaurant in Falls Church, VA, overseen by chef Bertrand Chemel.
There “is an awareness of ripe, ‘vegetal’ flavor on the plate,” especially herbs, squashes, summer greens and so on, Schuyler points out. “Verdancy in wines really helps pair them with these ripe, green elements.”
Schuyler rattles off grapes like garganega, verdejo and chenin blanc for white wines, and cabernet franc, zinfandel and pinotage for reds as being especially synergistic partners. He pairs an egg cassolette with wild Oregon onions, morels, fiddlehead ferns and asparagus with an herbal red such as the cabernet franc-based Domaine des Roches Neuves Terre Chaudes Saumur Champigny ($45 a bottle) from the Loire Valley.
“The greener components in the dish and with the wines neutralize each other—bringing out the fruit—and the egg yolk rounds the tannic textures.”
And Schuyler turns to an Italian bubbly to enjoy alongside a notoriously finicky ingredient to pair: the Wester Ross salmon confit with artichoke, fennel, sun chokes and an herb emulsion with the Azienda Agricola 499 Enigma ($55 a bottle), a dry Moscato d’Asti from the Piedmont region. “Artichoke is famous for its wine-destroying properties,” he notes. “The supremely aromatic qualities of the moscato blossomed in light of it.”
Speaking of moscato, it’s a sure-fire winner with all of the sweet produce options in summer, from strawberries and watermelon to corn and tomatoes. Overly fruity wines such as moscato, as well as those with a bit of residual sugar, are the best bets for dishes that feature these ingredients.
Sommelier, Herons at The Umstead Hotel & Spa, Cary, NC
Favorite Summer Bottle: Austrian white and reds. “The whites are crisp, dry, light and fresh, while the reds (think Saint Laurent, blaufränkisch and zweigelt) are vibrant in flavor, with fresh red fruits, subtly spicy undertones and generally soft structures.”
Summer is a great time to showcase a broad spectrum of flavor and textures in the wine world, says Hai Tran, the sommelier for the signature Herons restaurant at The Umstead Hotel & Spa in Cary, NC.
Herons’ summer menu includes a dish with Dungeness crab, watermelon, basil seeds, guanciale and elderflower. It goes nicely with the vibrant acidity and minerality of the 2013 Hirsh Heiligenstein grüner veltliner ($14 a glass, $56 a bottle) from Austria’s Kamptal region.
“The snow pea or lentil undertones of this wine interplay beautifully with the flavors from the basil seeds while interacting with the watermelon the way fresh herbs do,” notes Tran.
He selects a red blend from Italy’s trendy island of Sicily, the 2013 Occhipinti SP68 Nero d’Avola/Frappato to go with Carolina quail with apricot-lavender liqueur, hakurei turnips and smoked bacon jus.
“The dark, savory, smoky tones of Nero d’Avola meld with the expressive red, floral tones and silky texture of Frappato.” For guests ordering heavier proteins such as grilled beef or lamb, Tran recommends syrah, as it tends to be savory and spicy with a firm structure.
He points out that those from France’s Northern Rhône region tend display more of those savory, meaty and white pepper notes, while New World versions from places like California, Washington, South Africa and Australia will be dominated by blueberry and blackberry fruit, with the spice taking a backseat.
CWE, operating partner/sommelier, Eddie V’s Prime Seafood, a 13-unit chain, owned by the Orlando, FL-based Darden Restaurants
Favorite Summer Bottle: “Riesling is beautifully aromatic, fresh and lean, yet it can pull off residual sugars that just make the wine highly quaffable.”
As the days get warmer, Brian Phillips turns to specific wine regions for the seafood-focused menu, including Oregon, New York, Germany, Austria, northern Italy, Chablis and Champagne. “These cool-climate wines are defined by their fresh minerality and higher acid levels,” says Phillips, the operating partner/sommelier of Eddie V’s Prime Seafood’s 13 locations. “In turn, these higher-acid wines can allow for some residual sugar, but still finish fresh and dry.”
With the Pacific ahi tuna tartare, Phillips opts for the 2011 Selbach-Oster Kabinett riesling ($16 a glass, $64 a bottle). A touch of curry oil and Sriracha add heat, which is tamed by the wine’s subtle sweetness.
Eddie V’s Georges Bank scallops are sautéed with citrus fruit, roasted almonds and brown butter, and require a wine that will both balance the citrus acidity and not come off cloying or heavy-handed. So Phillips selects the 2011 Jean-Marc Brocard Fourchame 1er Cru Chablis ($110 a bottle) from Burgundy, France. “It’s a classic pairing, as the wine’s crunchy acidity, notes of salinity and hints of toasty oak pair both as a comparative and contrasting element to the dish,” he says.
Of course, summer isn’t all about seafood—some guests want that big hunk of grilled meat. Grilled dishes often contain substantial protein, as well as heavier seasonings and sauces, so wines with balanced acidity can fit the bill. Phillips recommends pinot noirs from Sonoma, as well as blaufränkisch and zweigelt from Austria. “These reds can be fresh and bright porch-pounders when kept simple.”
Featured photo: 2941 Restaurant in Falls Church, VA, pairs its egg cassolette with wild Oregon onions, morels, fiddlehead ferns and asparagus with an herbal red like the cabernet franc-based Domaine des Roches Neuves Terre Chaudes Saumur Champigny from the Loire Valley.
Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer and wine educator in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached on her website, kellymagyarics.com, or at @kmagyarics on Twitter or Instagram