It’s party pack time, a six-bottle sampler for a weekend getaway or an extended trip to the beach.
In my mind, the key to any good summer road trip includes a rosé, a crisp white wine, and a punchier red varietal or blend.
Andiamo! (Let’s go!)
THE ROSATTOS: There are simple, good rosés, and then there are the complex, intriguing styles that turn happiness into total bliss.
Two sublime examples are Rosa dei Masi from Italy’s Veneto region and Costaripa Rosamara Chiaretto from the Lake Garda region in Lombardia. (Both are available for less than $15 in New Hampshire.)
The Masi company is one of Italy’s leading wine innovators as well as producer of the prestigious Costasera Amarone — an opulent, powerful, elegant, high alcohol red that undergoes the appassimento process. That’s when grapes are air-dried on wooden racks for up to four months before pressing. As grapes dessicate, they gain in extract.
Masi uses a much simpler appassimento to produce Rosa dei Masi, which is crafted from Refosco, a thick-skinned local varietal. Only a portion of the grapes are dried and for a shorter period. The extracted juice is then combined with a lighter, free-run juice. The result is a dark-salmon-colored rosé with greater raspberry, cherry and citrus expressions. Rosa dei Masi is like the start of a beautiful romance: soft, intriguing, and giddy with excitement. One note: The alcohol is higher than most rosés — 12.5 percent — but the wine stays fresh, fruity and dry.
Costaripa Rosamara Chiaretto is made in Valtanesi on Lake Garda’s western shore. It is the home to the ancient Groppello, a collection of genetically linked grapes exclusive to the area. This chiaretto (the word used in Lombardia and Veneto to describe rosatto) includes native reds Marzemino, Sangiovese and Barbera. Winemaker Mattia Vezzola lets the juice drip from the grapes, vertically, after gentle crushing. He says the process obtains the “heart off the grape.” Is he crazy or a genius? Judging by the Rosamara’s wonderful attributes — floral Mediterranean aromas and sweet fruit flavors — Vezzola’s got a claim to fame with this very appealing rosatto.
THE WHITES — There are many good Sauvignon Blancs, but I’ve grown fond of New Zealand’s Nobilo wines crafted in Marlborough and Hawkes Bay on the edge of the sea. The mineral taste of salty air is a distinction of terroir that makes Nobilo wines pulsate in the memory banks.
Nobilo Regional Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($13) blends grapes from vineyards in two valleys — Wairau and Awaterre Valley. The sunny exposures and cool sea breezes produce ripe fruit and high acidity. Aromas of cut grass and bell pepper spin from the glass, while ripe tropical fruit and crisp acidity make your mouth water.
Nobilo Icon Sauvignon Blanc ($22) is the company’s flagship white, crafted from its very best grapes from five Marlborough vineyards. It’s a richer Sauvignon Blanc in every category — aromas, flavor, minerality — and adds juicy lift and weight in the mouth. The citrusy finish is pleasurably prolonged. Icon captures the best of New Zealand’s terroir — and it’s worth the few extra dollars to experience the passion inside the bottle.
THE REDS — When the burgers hit the grill, or the pasta dishes emerge from the kitchen, there’s Castello di Gabbiano Dark Knight blend ($17) — Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese — from Tuscany to spice things up. The Italians know how to create flavors on a plate or in a bottle, and I loved the range of black, blue and red fruit, sprinkled with chocolate and wild spices, that kept coming in layers with every sip. Compared to other red blends in this price range, Gabbiano’s Dark Knight wins the joust.
I’m close with a new find, Cigar Old Vine Zinfandel from California winemaker Marty Peterson. Like many other talented people, Peterson is elevating the Lodi appellation to greater wine heights every year. Zinfandel is usually reserved for hearty, winter meals, but it’s one of America’s truly great domestic wines. It’s fabulous for summer cookouts. From its deep purple color to superb black fruit flavors, Cigar is a winner — just like the great American champion thoroughbred by the same name. This runs white, red and blue, and I recommend it for Memorial Day grilling. It’s a great bargain now in New Hampshire, where it’s on sale for $14.99.