Sarah Cyr, a sommelier and former co-owner of The Wine Cellar & Bistro, a onetime Columbia restaurant, is an expert on all things vino. Here is her take on summer sips, written while her restaurant was still open.
As the weather heats up, our bodies begin to crave foods that hydrate us. So it makes sense that warm weather produces some of our most delicious, hydrating fruits. Citrus fruits, tropical fruits, peaches, nectarines, plums, grapes and melons are popular at summer picnics and barbeques and on restaurant menus in Missouri all summer long.
It is also common for chefs to use fruits on their menu to add flavor and color to dishes even beyond the summer. At our restaurant, for example, many of our salads, appetizers and entrées have fruit components to the dish. One of our most popular salads, Orange Feta Fête, has oranges, strawberries, feta cheese, candied pecans and an orange-balsamic vinaigrette. The sweet, salty components of this salad are dynamic yet refreshing.
Adding fruit to the menu is great for the chef, the diner, and all your gatherings at home all summer long. But, for the sommelier, pairing wine with dishes that are layered with fruits can be challenging. Many dishes go beyond fresh fruit with preparations such as compotes, salsas, sauces, marinades, vinaigrettes and grilled fruits. And the more complex the preparation and the components on the plate, the harder it is to successfully pair wine with the dish.
I decided to look for a delicious summer white that would beautifully pair with a variety of fruit-inspired dishes. For my testing, I gathered at the table fresh sliced strawberries, pineapple, watermelon and kiwi as well as the salad from the restaurant with oranges, strawberries and an orange-balsamic vinaigrette. I also placed a similar salad dressed only in a tropical fruit and ginger vinaigrette and also a grilled shrimp dish served with brown rice, orange-gooseberry marinated fennel slaw and a mango-red pepper salsa.
The wines I chose were great-valued summer whites, with good acidity and balanced with refreshing fruit notes on the palate. They were: 1) a Vinho Verde from Portugal, which was very light, barely effervescent and simple; 2) an Italian Pinot Grigio that was bright with notes of fresh lemon, lots of acidity and subtle mineral notes; 3) a Chenin Blanc–Viognier blend that boasted flavors of apricot, white peaches and floral aromas; and 4) a Gewurtztraminer blend that had lots of fruit, decent acidity and a touch of creaminess.
Here is the verdict… the first wine, the Vinho Verde, was fine with the more subtle fresh fruit but was lost on the sweeter fruits and the complex dishes. Although I love to recommend Vinho Verde for an afternoon backyard sipper in the summer, food — even simple foods — tend to overwhelm this wine. Stick to fresh strawberries, mild cheese like mozzarella and plain crackers or bread for a successful match.
The Italian Pinot Grigio didn’t really pair with the fresh fruit or any of the dishes. Surprisingly, it did pair with the marinated fennel slaw that would have been amazing on top of a seared piece of white fish with a squeeze of fresh lemon. Save your Pinot Grigio for your seafood matches that aren’t covered in fresh fruit salsas and instead are light and delicate with a touch of herb butter or olive oil.
The Chenin Blanc–Viognier blend was the winner of this tasting. This wine is excellent for sipping on all by its lonesome, but with food it was amazing. It successfully matched with all the fresh fruit, both salads (especially the tropical orange-ginger vinaigrette), and even with the sweetest bite of the mango-red pepper salsa on top of the grilled shrimp. You know it’s a good sign that the wine is a great match when you keep wanting to try it over and over again with many combinations of flavors, and with each new bite you think “wow, that works too!”
The Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc–Viognier was perfect with all our fruit-inspired dishes and I am happy to say it has been one of my favorites at The Wine Cellar for years. Sometimes over time with various vintages, the consistency and quality of a wine can vary. I am happy to say this is not the case for Pine Ridge. This flexible, tasty white would be a perfect pairing with fish tacos, grilled chicken and veggies or a simple cheese and fruit platter.
Lastly, let’s not forget the Gewurtztraminer blend. It wasn’t bad with the fresh fruit, but it wasn’t amazing. It actually paired great with the marinated orange-fennel slaw, and great with the mango salsa, but it wasn’t as enjoyable or as seamless as the perfect pairing of the Pine Ridge.
I just recently read an article on love languages, and how we all speak (in terms of love) very differently. For example, some people want time, while others want affection or show love by providing service. In my love language, the best summer moments are spending time with people I love doing something simple like hanging out on the back deck grilling or even a romantic picnic with simple foods and a refreshing bottle of wine. Sometimes a hunk of cheese, fresh fruits, tasty crackers and a chilled bottle of Pine Ridge are all you need to speak your love language on even the hottest days of summer.