Summertime and the living is easy…

(Originally published June 2007)

It’s summertime, not that Hanes ever notices, working in a windowless basement at 55 degrees. Time for a few kind words of advice for summertime imbibing. Things easy to forget, but the price one pays may stain your black heart forever.

First and foremost, while appropriate advice for all seasons, it is most needed during the summer heat. Don’t drink your whites too cold nor your reds too warm. Whether it’s in an ice bucket in a restaurant or in a cooler in some backyard, white wines lose a lot of the bouquet and can deaden the tongue when served too cold. Hanes, what’s too cold? A good rule of thumb is that if the bottle or glass starts to show condensation or moisture on the outside of the glass it’s too cold. Humidity has a direct effect on this phenomenon, the more humid it is the more condensation is likely to appear. It may be a pain in the ass but don’t just leave the bottle in the cooler of ice water nor let the dumbass waiter insist on keeping the wine in an ice bucket. You’re not getting what you paid for if the white wine is too cold. Same thing with red wines, chilling them down in ice or a refrigerator to about 60º to 65º Fahrenheit can ensure that they stay crisp and fresh with more focused fruit flavors. Chilling helps to heighten the perception of acidity, a good thing for food-friendly, higher in acid red wines. It also helps to lower the perception of alcohol, not a bad thing with all the wines being sold these days at 14% or higher. Remember, chill the bottle, don’t put ice cubes in your wine glass. Please.

Warm weather, large gatherings, outdoors fun. What adds conviviality to a soirée more than sparkling wine? Summer is a great time to drink inexpensive sparkling wines. Spanish Cava, Italian Prosecco, Brut Sekt wines from Germany or Austria, sparkling Vouvray, hell, even sweeter wines like Moscato d’Asti or Brachetto d’Acqui can be lots of fun for all. The bubbles help to freshen and cleanse the palate and sparkling wines are more versatile with food than many at first believe. The bottles almost always get consumed quickly enough that their going flat isn’t really a concern. And, hell, if people want they can even add some orange juice and make mimosas. Even the host’s poodle likes to drink sparkling wine during the summer, just ask her.

Not all rosé wines are sweet. Rosés are not made in the exact same manner as White Zinfandel so do not taint the former with nightmares of the latter. There are like bazillions of bone dry rosé wines. They can have great structure with plenty of nuance. If not served too cold! French rosé wines remains Hanes’s faves but there’s excellent ones from Italy and Spain too. The only real downside to experimenting with rosé wines is that the best ones can cost between $15 and $25. But that’s life in the big city. Otherwise, rosé is great because you can bring an expensive bottle to a party and no one else will touch it so you can drink it all yourself!

On that note, summer parties are very useful for experimentation. If it’s rocking and the attendees are consuming at a brisk pace, the bottles will get sucked down pretty quickly. You can reduce your overall exposure to wine-buying risk by spreading it among the assembled. Open a bottle you purchased as an experiment, pour yourself a big glass and let the wolves fight it out for the rest. If it sucks then you don’t have to drink the whole damn bottle. After you finish your glass, go find the other bottles you brought to the party and then hid in the bookshelf and repeat the process. You ensure you get a glass of each wine without having to make a meaningful commitment (never a good thing). Conversely, make sure you open every other bottle you can see and get a taste! Who cares if the whole thing gets consumed or not before the party ends? Why’d they put it on the counter if they didn’t want anyone to open it?

Following up on this, summertime means more parties. A big part of this is the diversity of foodstuffs. The hosts make this and that. Guests bring a little of X or a little of Y. This is a good opportunity to experiment with food and wine pairings. You’re never going to eat a lot of any one thing, it’s much more likely that you’ll take a small portion of a lot of different things. As a result, you can sip wine with a much broader array of choices than were you at a restaurant or in a home eating a more “planned” meal. Have some grilled shrimp with a Cabernet! A turkey burger with a Sancerre! Potato salad with Primitivo! Some of the experimental combinations will suck but, again, it’s not like you have to pair the wine and food for an entire evening. Just plop yourself in a corner, fill 2-3 plates with food and surround yourself with six glasses of different wines and start matching. Works for Hanes every time.

Don’t let the casual atmosphere of summer get-togethers spoil your wine geekery. Whether at a dinner party or outdoors fiesta, always use a real wine glass. Drinking good wine from a plastic cup is lame, as if the point of being with friends or family is to enjoy each other’s company and conversation and not just have more wines available to scribble tasting notes on. Not! You know where the good glasses are kept, don’t be shy about going into the cabinets and getting some quality crystal with which to enjoy your Pinot Noir or Greco di Tufo. If the hosts don’t own adequate stemware, don’t let that deter you from enjoying the party. Bring your own glasses! Hanes likes to use the stemless “O Series” from Riedel for this purpose, less likely to break in transit or if some guest’s lousy brats are running around and knocking into the table. So what if people stare at you as you break out the real glasses, they should have thought ahead too. Losers.