Good company: Easy-drinking Virginia wines suited to the season

From rosé to vermouth, locally produced wines can take the heat off this summer. Image: Virginia Hamrick From rosé to vermouth, locally produced wines can take the heat off this summer. Image: Virginia Hamrick

As summer temperatures rise, happy hour thoughts turn to wines that refresh. How best to quench your thirst on the deck or by a pool?  What to pair with afternoon picnics or early evening cookouts?

Here are a few recommended local options to help you keep drinking well through the rest of the summer. This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or a list of “best” wines, but rather an invitation to try something different. After all, isn’t the “best” wine often the one you have in a glass on a beautiful day, especially when it’s shared with good company?

Rosé

Rosé is popular in spring, but it can be appropriate for the hotter months as well. The Crosé 2019 from King Family Vineyards is a good pick. Made from merlot, it has a nice lift from underlying acidity and summer flavors such as lime, grapefruit, and watermelon. It’s also available in 187ml (about 6 oz.) cans, the perfect one-glass portion and an easy format to transport and keep chilled ($21.95 available as single bottle or a four-pack of cans, kingfamilyvineyards.com).

The 2019 Rosé from Early Mountain Vineyards ($25, earlymountain.com) is a personal favorite and I’m seeing it on more tables and in more glasses this summer. Produced from a blend of grapes that changes each year, the 2019 is full of acidity and pleasant flavors of strawberry, barely ripe peaches, and white flowers. The lingering finish contains hints of bitter grapefruit that encourage you to take another sip or a bite of food.

Sparkling Wine

Like rosé, sparkling wine is a great choice for summer. Bubbles are always appropriate, but traditionally made sparkling wines, with acidity and bright flavors of citrus fruits, are excellent options for any sunny activity. I’ve written about local sparkling wine previously in these pages, and it’s easy to once again recommend the Thibaut-Janisson Blanc de Chardonnay ($29.99, tjwinery.com) for both its quality and delicious flavors. You may also find Thibaut-Janisson Virginia Fizz in some stores. It’s sold at a slightly lower price point and made in a style similar to prosecco.

Albariño

Best known as a variety that thrives in Spain and Portugal, albariño is attracting attention in California and the Pacific Northwest wine regions as well. There’s not a lot of albariño in Virginia, but the examples I’ve tried suggest it holds great promise for our region. A crisp, refreshing, and high-acid white wine, it’s perfect for a sweltering day. I recommend the Afton Mountain Vineyards 2019 Albariño ($28, aftonmountainvineyards.com), which is fresh and lean with flavors of lime, clementine, and hints of green grass. There’s an underlying salinity, characteristic of albariño, and if you’re not already sitting on a beach, this wine will prompt you to close your eyes and imagine that you are.

Chardonel

Chardonel is a hybrid grape variety, a cross between seyval and chardonnay, developed by Cornell University in 1953. While not all hybrids make great wine, chardonel is known for superior wine quality and cold hardiness, which makes it well suited to Virginia. Locally, winegrowers and winemakers have expressed interest in working more with hybrids, and chardonel is one of the more promising options. The 2018 Chardonel from 53rd Winery and Vineyard ($19.95, 53rdwinery.com) is a crisp and refreshing example with flavors of green apples, white pears, and lime. If you’re a chardonnay-lover, this is something new and interesting to try.

Vermouth

Vermouth may not come to mind immediately when talking about summer wines. Originating in Italy as a medicinal product, vermouth has found its fame as an aperitif. Vermouth starts with a base wine to which botanicals (herbs, spices, roots, etc.) and a bit of brandy are added. In this country, vermouth gets a bad rap because most people first experience inexpensive bottles that have spoiled after they’ve been left sitting on a home bar for years. Vermouth is wine, and just like wine it needs to be consumed relatively soon after opening and before it spoils. Around the globe, vermouth is held in high regard as a versatile and delicious beverage that can be adapted to any occasion and time of day.

Flying Fox Vineyards produces four vermouths, each with different botanical flavors added, one to represent each of the seasons ($35 each, flyingfoxvineyard.com). Don’t feel limited by the season written on the bottle, however, as these can be refreshing any time of the year and you may find your own favorite among the four.

The vermouth from Rosemont of Virginia ($25, rosemontofvirginia.com) is produced in partnership with Capitoline Vermouth in Washington, D.C. (capitolinevermouth.com). It is a bold expression of sweet citrus flavors with a base of local herbs and a satisfying bitter finish.

Vermouth can be served unadorned, on the rocks with a twist, chilled with a splash of soda water, or in a variety of cocktails. Perhaps the most famous use of vermouth is in the classic wine cocktail known as a “spritz,” which combines vermouth with sparkling wine and a splash of soda water. Experiment a bit and you may find that vermouth becomes your mainstay drink for many summers to come.

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Michael Holroyd
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Also the Flying Fox vermouth now comes in cans! :O

crozetian
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Thanks for the shoutout, friends!

Joe Hall
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I appreciate you explaining some things like how Chardonel is actually a hybrid grape that is made from two different strains. My brother is getting into fine wines and I want to find some that he hasn’t tried. Hopefully, we can find a type of wine that he hasn’t had before and buy a bottle for him.