body heat (thinner suits for the summer)
I have been scratching my head the last few days for the right idea to post. The trouble is, it has simply been too hot to think so much about wine (or think at all really!). For the last 2 weeks it has hovered in the 90s (here in NYC) and the humidity has been dense and oppressive, which has moved me to keep a glass of something in hand throughout the day if more for the benefit of refreshment than something to sit and wonder over. Since it is my everyday obsession, I personally refuse to believe that there can be a time when wine does’t fit, even when brain activity is succumbing to the extreme heat. However, few options in the mental Rolodex presented a solution. So that got me looking into my glass, through the ridiculous condensation sweating down the sides, to try to determine, if it was to be wine, what type would it be. More specifically, what component of wine in general effects our thirsty palate when the heat gets cranking? Running through all the sensations and their various combinations, I suggest that BODY has the most dramatic impact.
I took my clues from what other beverages are offered when summer is at its hottest. First off, it tends to be cold drinks, often poured over ice. That’s no brainer. They tend too, to be highly acidic, like a glass of lemonade. In fact, citrus fruits play a big role in offering that tart voltage that gets the juices flowing, even as generous garnishes to other drinks. So no doubt, ACIDITY is a key factor. With that however, usually comes a fair amount of sugar to balance the equation. People in the southern states, where heat is a constant, know exactly what I mean. Sweet tea is on every menu and shaded stoop. I would bet our earlier lemonade has a healthy dose of sugar too. Not everyone likes the straight attack of pure acid, so SUGAR has to be considered. But how often does sugar suggest refreshment? To me, it connotes the opposite. I want a whistle clean feeling when I am parched, not the cloying sense of residual sugar on my palate. Now, let’s say we reach for a cold beer. That can be refreshing right? A dry (no sugar), hyper-hopsy (citrus-like acidity) would hit the spot more than creamy stout. Something light, watery and (dare I say?) simple. I would think several low-impact lagers over the course of the afternoon would work better than one mighty ale. That, to me, says dilution and in fact, looking back at my melting cubes of ice, I think that nails it. It is the volume, the density, that holds to the key to sipping in the heat. Maybe knowing how rich a beverage is hints at how sippable it can be and thusly keep me hydrated and still functioning.
So, how can we determine what wines are the right BODY weight? Easily enough, we just need to remember what adds texture and weight. Alcohol is the first factor. We may want the bit of summer buzz but consider that it adds volume and can feel expansive in your mouth if it is too high. It may also feel hot, which is the opposite of what we want! Think of the humidity on the outside…that oppressive feeling could register in your mouth as well. So keep alcohol down first. Concentration is another factor, sort of hand-in-hand with BODY. Concentration refers to how loaded the liquid feels with substance and flavor, lasting well past the swallow of wine. Milk is certainly more concentrated than water. Thinner concentration will leave a cleaner feel, perhaps less complexity, but certainly less to work through in the heat. Remember, we are thinking delicious dilution, watery over creamy. Kindly, these two factors help determine the third integral notion, Origin. The choice of grape can be many, but knowing that it/they are grown in cooler climates, where ACIDTY is naturally heightened and ripeness kept in check, automatically implies less heft and density. Even the much-recommended ROSÉs of the world can feel too substantial if not grown in cooler vineyards. Cold wine does not equal cold growing conditions!
Ok. I risk losing your concentration as I type on in the heat. Go get something to drink and relax. But go forth knowing that BODY is the key (with a healthy dash of ACIDITY…the lemon twist). Keep the alcohol low and sugar in moderation, so you can keep refreshing yourself over the long haul. And do not worry that the neighbors will see you sipping a German riesling when you normally only drink full Cabs. The heat will break and you’ll be right back at it soon. In fact, crank up the AC and we talking a whole new wine conversation. That, however, is for another post.