Perfect pairings for all occasions of the easy, breezy summertime
France's southern wine region of Languedoc-Roussillon is the new hot spot for exciting blends. In Roussillon, which spans the Mediterranean coast to the border of Spain along the Pyrenees, I visited Chateau de Jau, a beautiful estate on 350 acres where I discovered Jaja de Jau ($9). This is France’s answer to South Africa’s Goats Do Roam, the ideal summer picnic wine. Jaja de Jau with its nicely balanced fruit flavors comes in three bottlings—Syrah, Syrah Rose, and Sauvignon Blanc.
Also in Roussillon, the biodynamic winemaker Michel Chapoutier has set up shop at Domaine Bila-Haut. “This region has the best varied soils in France,” Chapoutier says. His Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Blanc ($13.50) is citrusy with a touch of saltiness and has “the smell of summer rain on wet stone,” according to Chapoutier. Pair Les Vignes with curried lamb or goat cheese. His spicy L’esquerda ($18), a Syrah blend with black fruit, violet notes and slight smokiness, matches well with barbecue.
So exceptional is the soil of the Languedoc-Roussillon that Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) acquired 1,360 hilly acres and founded Chateau D’Aussieres. Winemaker Eric Kohler took me on a tour of the garrigue with its wildflowers, olive groves and Cyprus trees. Blason d’Aussieres ($18), made from Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carignan, with its intense aroma of blackberries and herbs, exactly expressed the terroir. The winery has a value line, Val de L’Ours ($11) including a Cab/Syrah blend (fruit-forward, a touch of mint) and Chardonnay (tropical, floral, easy to drink).
Another Languedoc-Roussillon pioneer, Gerard Bertrand, owns six wine estates in the prestigious AOCs of the region. I like his vivid flavorful whites. Viognier Reserve Special ($15) shows aromas of flowers, acais and orange blossoms, and notes of honey and hazelnut. Crèmant de Limoux ($17) from Domaine de L’Aigle is a lovely sparkling Chardonnay.
Moving east to the Rhone, winemaker Guy Sarton du Jonchay makes blends of Mediterranean grape varieties at Vidal-Fleury (owned by the Guigal family). Two perfect reds to pair with pasta dishes are the Côtes du Rhône Rouge ($13, made from Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre with cherry aromas and black fruit and chocolate flavors) and Cotes du Ventoux ($13), a Syrah blend showing blueberry, violet and cumin.
Back in New York, I tasted the latest releases of Georges Duboeuf’s Beaujolais crus ($12–$18). Unlike the young Beaujolais Nouveau, Beaujolais crus are fragrant and bright with raspberry, cherry and red currant and are medium bodied, making them ideal for summer cuisine. I suggest the Moulin-a-Vent (with aromas of wild roses), Morgon (the earthiest cru) and Saint-Amour (spicy, with peach notes). Serve slightly chilled.
For purists who feel that only Cabernet Sauvignon can complement steak, Domaines Barons de Rothschild has released an inexpensive line of excellent Bordeaux, Lafite Reserve Speciale Bordeaux Rouge ($15), with voluptuous aromas of dark berries, figs and licorice.
A fine way to greet guests is with a glass of sparkling wine. My latest discovery from the Loire, Didier Champalou’s Vouvray Brut ($18), is a delightful sparkling Chenin Blanc made by one of Vouvray’s top vigneron families. It’s also a good way to end the party by serving a final flute as a nightcap.