It was a hot summer afternoon at the wine shop and the A/C had broken…again. We coped with the heat and the complaining customers the only way we knew how: by pouring out samples of ice-cold white wine. As I popped open a crisp, thirst quenching bottle of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, I poured a taste for myself, and a little for my fellow manager, Remy.
“No thanks, man,” he said, pushing the cup away.
I almost choked. I had never, ever seen Remy refuse a free glass of wine. The disbelief must have registered on my face, because he responded right away.
“I have a sensitivity to tartrates,” he explained.
He was to be the first of hundreds of people who I have since encountered who have this problem. Tartrates are present in all wine, but a higher amount is usually present in white wine. This is because natural tartrates, which act as a preservative, occur on the skins of grapes. Red wine has tartrates, because the wine stays in contact with the skin, picking them up naturally. For white wine, however, the tartrates must be added. And the levels are therefore usually higher.
For someone with a sensitivity to this chemical, drinking white wine can be a painful experience. Literally. So what is one to do to quench one’s thirst in the middle of a New York City August? Drink red wine! There are plenty of light bodied reds that are just as appropriate for the warm weather of a Big Apple summer as there are whites. You just have to know what to look for.
Starting on the cooler side (because many light reds benefit from being served under room temperature), I can’t say enough good things about the Gelsomina Lambrusco 2007 ($10.49 @ Red, White and Bubbly, 211 Fifth Ave. at Union Street, Brooklyn, 718-636-9463). In the 1970s and early 1980s, Lambrusco became synonymous with the brand Riunite and the bubbly, sweet garbage the label peddled. In truth, most really good Lambrusco is actually fermented to near, if not complete, dryness. It is slightly fizzy, and drunk in the Emilia-Romagna area of Italy like Coca-Cola. It is also best when served slightly chilled. The Gelsomina bursts with ripe, black cherry aromas and more sour cherry and blackberry jam flavors on the palate. You won’t need anything to pair this with to enjoy it to its fullest extent, but if you must eat, it’s the perfect pairing for a roasted veggie panini.
Moving slightly closer to room temp, the Doimaine Chassagne Morgon Cotes de Ruillieres Beaujolais 2005 ($17 at Park Avenue Liquor, 292 Madison Ave. betw. 40th and 41st, 212-685-2442) is a go-to summer sipper. Another area for wine that has been marred by cheaply made product, Beaujolais has suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous winemaking for decades. The swill that washes ashore each November for “Nouveau Week” is almost always terrible, tasting like barely fermented grape juice. Because of this, Beaujolais is one of the most under appreciated regions of French winemaking. Situated at the southern tip of Burgundy, its wine is made exclusively from the super-fruity Gamay grape. The Chassagne is an excellent example of how this underdog can soar, with ripe strawberry and raspberry notes that make this a great red to match with salads and other light summer fare. Be sure to serve it under room temperature, but not cold.
Proving that not all summer reds need time in the icebox, the Zaccagnini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva 2005 ($12.99 at PJ Wine, 4898 Broadway betw. 204th and 207th, 212-567-5500) does just fine at room temperature. From the middle of Italy’s East Coast, the Montepulciano is, and will always be, my number one wine pick for Margherita pizza. Its slight acidity balances the acidity of the tomato sauce, and the fruity flavors of blackcurrant and cherry preserves cut right through the fresh mozzarella of any pie.
So the next time you arrive at your friend’s rooftop soiree, bring a bottle of red instead. You never know who might not be able to drink the white, and you’ll probably make a friend or two in the process.