Sommeliers following the trends are stocking restaurants all over the U.S. with unique and obscure wine varietals. Gone are uncomplicated days when the job consisted of which Chardonnays or Cabernets to choose. There are over 24,000 names for grapes, from approximately 10,000 actual grape varieties, of which around 150 are imported to the U.S. for wine consumption. With so many choices, it becomes difficult to face the price of exploring new territory.
When your brave new selection doesn’t live up to expectations, instead of tossing the wine into your next cooking project, try spicing it up. Make sangria—also called sangrita. This wine cocktail combines spice and wine and is also aptly dubbed “fix the flaw.”
Here are ideas for your own sangria:
Is the wine too bitter and acidic? Add sweetening agents like a fresh fruit juice, agave, honey, maple syrup or add any flavor to your own infused syrup (1:1 sugar with boiled water).You can kick it up a notch by adding a sweet liqueur, like St. Germain Elderflower or TRU Organic Jasmine!
No complexity in the wine? Muddle in herbs or spices like sage or cardamom.
Flat and flabby? A shot of tequila or cognac and a bitter will do the trick (try The Bitter End, a Santa Fe local).
Hot and astringent? A little fruit juice and soda water will lighten up your cocktail and the wine will add a new complexity not commonly found at your local watering hole.
Not only is experimenting entertaining, but you won’t feel bitter when the purchase doesn’t live up to expectations.
Going Blond for Summer
Aromatic whites are the way to play this summer and there is no better place to start your exploration than with an Albarino from Spain, particularly the Riax Biaxas. With worthy flavors of white pears, peaches, and flowers balancing with acidity and minerality, the chances that you will have to repurpose your wine and break out your bartending tools are quite slim. The popularity of Torrontés is on the rise, and, with winemakers like Susana Balbo creating wines reminiscent of Viognier (one of France’s Rhone Valley’s prestigious whites.), it’s no wonder this star grape from Argentina is stealing some of the spotlight from Malbec. While perusing through Italian selections, sample an Arneis. This elegant full-bodied white is a Chardonnay enthusiast’s treasure. Vermentino, Vinho Verde, Cortese, Malvasia, Trebianno—the possibilities are infinite.
The extreme dry heat of the desert can make reds a bit more difficult, possibly rendering you less willing to experiment. But a dry Lambrusco, even slightly chilled, can be the perfect answer to a red wine aficionado’s mid-day picnic dilemma.When it comes to fun summertime reds, northern Italy wins my vote. From the Veneto region comes Valpolicella and Bardolino. From Piedmonte hails Barbera, Grignolino and Freisa. These wines are light enough for summertime quaffing, as long as you stay away from the expensive barrel-aged ones.For a little more spice and complexity, reach for Cabernet Franc. Coming from cooler regions like France’s Loire Valley, Cabernet Franc can awe even the most discerning palates without leaving them dry and parched.
So, get out your corkscrew and Riedels glass and explore some new wines, and if it doesn’t work out, just dig out that old shaker tin and have some fun!