Great new wines are now debuting at area retailers, just in time for the summer cooking season. You'll want a selection of whites and reds, the former for matching with shellfish and light-fleshed fish, and the latter for just about everything else.
At this time of year, with so much hot weather ahead, my advice is to keep to the mid-tier and budget price categories. As complex and great as over-$30 wines can be, they are usually on the heavy side and have too much alcohol for enjoyable warm weather imbibing.
You should still follow the basic rule of food and wine pairing, matching the scale of the wine to the scale of the food (for instance, light wines with light foods). But err on the side of too light, rather than too heavy, in choosing the wine.
The following are my favorites from the latest crop of new arrivals. Since any one store may not have some or anyof these wines, it's a good idea to call ahead to check on availability. The name of the distributor or winery is included in parentheses.
Domaine La Hitaire Vin de Pays des Cotes de Gascogne White Hors Saison 2004 ($10 , Robert Kacher Selections): This reminded me of a racy Sancerre, quite an achievement for an inexpensive wine made in the Gascony region in southwestern France, far from the cool climate and chalky soils credited with making Sancerre special. Made from 80 percent sauvignon blanc and 20 percent Semillon, this wine is fresh and crisp with admirable concentration and a flinty finish. This will be great with shellfish, sushi and crab.
Domaine de la Quilla 2003 Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie ($9, Robert Kacher): Although much Muscadet is short and sharp, Domaine de la Quilla adds a mellow middle palate through sur lie aging -- a technique in which the young wine is allowed to rest on the yeasty sediment (lees) of fermentation for an extended period. This adds nuance, flavor and body, framed by the traditional bracing acidity and crisp finish typical of Muscadet.
Wild Horse 2002 Syrah ($18-$21, Wild Horse Winery 805-434-2541): Though well-known as a producer of first rate pinot noir, especially its Cuvee Sauvage, which sells for $50, Wild Horse is reaching out to the less flush among us with this generously fruity syrah. This wine has the mouth-filling fruit, opulent oak and tender finish usually reserved for luxury-level cuvees. Moreover, because it checks in at an alcohol level under 14 percent, it avoids the bugaboo of many California syrahs, a cloying syrupy quality distressingly reminiscent of cherry-flavored cough medication. Given this wine's full-throttle fruit, an ideal match is outdoor grilled lamb or beef. Vegetarians will also find something special in the unusual brown-sugar note to this wine's finish, which will provide a smashing match for outdoor grilled vegetables marinated in soy, plum or other semisweet pan-Asian condiments, as well as vegetables sauteed in such sauces. The Wild Horse 2002 Syrah is ready to drink now.
Marques de Arienzo Rioja Crianza 2000/2001 ($9-$10, Washington Wholesale): Served lightly chilled, this is a fine choice for a summer red. Unlike the standard such as Beaujolais and grenache, this has some age on it, which provides a dash of sophistication and complexity, especially in the fragrant bouquet. Since this is not an intensely flavored wine, it is best suited to uncritical quaffing on the patio or deck, accompanied by light hors d'oeuvres or cheese.
Trefethen Merlot Napa Valley 2001 ($30, Bacchus): Far from the usual Napa heavyweight, this wine has an Old World seductiveness reminiscent of the ethereal, merlot-based wines made by Christian Moueix in Pomerol and which, like this wine, I find oddly similar to pinot noir. Because this is medium-weight in intensity, like all such wines it's versatile, with red berry and cassis flavors matching well with grilled salmon and seared rare tuna, veal, lamb and grilled duck breast.