Willis Carrier is generally credited with the invention of modern air conditioning. His engineering breakthrough came a scant 111 years ago. Prior to that, you were on your own to stand up to the fierce face of summer.
Today, we confront summer’s evil twins, heat and humidity, with impunity. We don’t slow down; we see no reason make any behavioral changes at all. For many of us, this includes our choice of wines.
Yes, I’m talking to you, big, alcoholic, overtly tannic, highly-extracted cabernet sauvignon drinkers out there. This is not a column this week. This is an intervention.
Before Carrier described the law of constant dew-point depression (the underlying concept of controlling heat and humidity), we chose our wines not only on taste, but what they were able to achieve physiologically. Now, I’m not referring to the intoxicating effects of alcohol. In fact, I’m talking about wines lower on the alcohol scale and how they make us feel.
We perceive alcohol in a few ways. As anyone who’s submitted to knocking back a shot of liquor can tell you, it feels like your mouth is burning. Your full-bodied cabs with their 14 to 16 percent alcohol levels feel hot in your mouth. Is that what we really want in the summer? You can’t always be sitting on top of an A/C vent.
There is no stigma surrounding wines with 9 to 11 percent alcohol. In the summer, our wine loving forefathers embraced lower alcohol wines. And there are a lot of wine categories to choose from. Muscadets from France’s Loire Valley, dry Rieslings from around the world, vinho verdes from northern Portugal and albariños from northwestern Spain, just to name a few. If you must have a red, consider light-bodied pinot noirs from New Zealand or barberas from northwestern Italy as intermediate steps.
It’s no coincidence that these lower alcohol wines go better with the lighter fare of summer. You are really going to order up a bodacious, 15.5 percent alcohol cab for that chilled potato-leek soup (and other similar summery dishes)? Really!?
OK, I can sense your grip loosening on that bulbous Bordeaux glass you’re holding. So, let me gently introduce what may seem like a scary notion for a big, red wine drinker: You could drink a white wine once in a while.
I know, I know, it’s just not wine if it’s not red. But if Mr. Carrier’s device dies and you’re nearly drowning in your own sweat, wouldn’t you crave a crisp, clean, tart wine that makes you whisper, “Ahhhh”? Whites, especially the ones I mentioned earlier, have slightly higher acidity than reds and no tannins. Wines with elevated acidity act like internal air conditioning. Your great grandparents knew this and acted accordingly.
And there’s nothing wrong with tannins, per se. A tall, cool glass of iced tea has a ton of tannins and is certainly just the thing to beat back the heat. You are, however, limiting your wine selections if you must have the rare crisp red with its attendant tannins. Also, most reds don’t enjoy long periods in an ice bath. You can forget a vinho verde in the ice bucket all night and be rewarded with a glass of utter relief.
We’ve come a long way in the past 500 words. We don’t judge you because you like big, red wines. Heck, in a few short months, we’ll all be diving into our pool of full-bodied wines. You can do this. It all starts with a little, refreshing sip of cool summer white wines.
Gil Kulers is a sommelier and maitre d’ for an Atlanta country club. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Wines are rated on a scale ranging up from Thumbs Down, One Thumb Mostly Up, One Thumb Up, Two Thumbs Up, Two Thumbs Way Up and Golden Thumb Award. Prices are suggested retail prices as provided by the winery, one of its agents, a local distributor or retailer.
— Gil Kulers, AJC Drink blog