Off the Vine: Wine pairings for summer heat

June 20, 2012 

Estancia Winery is in Monterey County in the town of Soledad, a major grape-growing area in the Central Coast region of California. The wineries' name comes from the Spanish word that means "estate," and their philosophy is to "capture the essence of their place of origin." With that in mind, Estancia's goal is to produce wines that take advantage of the soil that is unique to their vineyards.

When someone says soil while discussing wine, my thoughts first turn to the French word -- terroir. Although terroir translates to soil, in wine lingo it relates to the characteristics that a wine contains due to the soil and other geographic factors where the grapes are grown. The soil in wine regions is different than the dirt that most of us have in our backyards. In the vineyards, the soil is usually defined by terms such as gravelly, volcanic, clay or chalky.

Chardonnay and Pinot Noir varietals grow best in regions that have a cooler climate, while varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot crave much warmer climate. Estancia's Monterey vineyards are situated in a manner whereby they take advantage of cooling effects of morning and evening fog, yet once the morning fog burns off, they receive enough sunshine and heat to make for perfect growing conditions for both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes.

The 2010 Estancia Chardonnay Pinnacles Ranches is a good value at $11 a bottle. This wine is creamy with subtle hints of toasty oak and contains tropical fruit flavors. It paired very well with grilled jumbo prawns basted with

garlic butter and served alongside a mushroom risotto.

Although the Pinot Noir grape is red, the juice from it is almost clear in color, with a slight gray tint. So in order to make Pinot Noir wine red in color, the winemaker uses a process called maceration. Maceration occurs by leaving the grape skins in the grape juice both before and during fermentation. The alcohol removes the red color along with tannins and aroma from the skins and dissolves them into the wine.

The 2010 Estancia Pinot Noir Pinnacles Ranches is a medium-bodied wine that starts with a nose of black cherries and plum and, as one would guess, it contains the flavors of ripe black cherries as well as hints of raspberry. This wine retails for $12 a bottle. Although it is the wrong time of the year, this would be a good match to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, so instead I paired it with roasted chicken that had been marinated in oil and sun-dried tomatoes, along with a simple rice pilaf.

With the heat of summer upon us, it is nice to have some wines on hand that are suitable for outdoor dining.

A chilled glass of Chardonnay poolside can be refreshing and on the red side, the low tannin levels of the Pinot Noir varietal makes this well suited as well.

Jim Rawe, a family attorney in Bradenton, is an avid collector of fine wines. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at jimrawe@gmail.com.

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