Wines of Summer

The wines of summer

Story by Sarah Gonzales

Summers in Alaska bring endless daylight, warmer temperatures and plenty of opportunities for backyard entertaining. The snow-free season may be the perfect time to explore the outdoors, but it’s also the right time to embrace the bright wines of summer.

That means choosing different wines to complement both the menu and the season, says Kirsten Dixon, chef and owner of Within the Wild Alaskan Adventure Lodge. “In summer my tastes in wine lighten up,” Dixon says. At her Winterlake, Tutka Bay, and Redoubt Bay lodges she plans to serve New Zealand sauvignon blanc, Champagne, pinot noir and chardonnay, her four “go-to” summertime wines.

Experts say that when the mercury rises, so does demand for lighter, chilled wines. “We sell three-to-one red over white in the winter,” says Larissa Wilhelmi of Specialty Imports. “In summer there might be a fifty-fifty split; white wine sales definitely increase.” It’s not just whites that pair well with summer, there are also sparkling wines, light fruity reds and the one wine every oenophile is raving about: rosé.

Days of Wine and Rosés

Rosés may just be the summer wine – served chilled, they are dry, light and have a cool crispness that is refreshing on a warm day. Europeans have been enjoying them for years, but their popularity is just beginning to surge in the United States. “I think they’ll be an Alaskan trend this summer,” says Wilhelmi. “Rosés are the catchall wines of summer – they go with all foods and they go with entertaining.”

Solomon Loosli, an Anchorage wine consultant with Odom Distributors, also sings the praises of the booming rosé. “My generation associates rosés with mullets and hot tubs,” he says with a smile. “But I can tell you a lot of wine makers in Europe are most proud of their rosés because they are difficult to make.” Since they’ve yet to become a big hit, they are still an “awesome value,” he says. “A good rosé costs $15 from the same high-quality wine region where a Pinot or another red would be three times as much.”

Rosé’s appeal is also in its versatility. “They have the body and flavor of a red wine, but the acidity and fruit of a white wine,” explains Wilhelmi. “They should be served chilled, but not as chilled as whites.” She recommends the Torres Sangre de Toro, a Spanish rosé or Barnard Griffin Rosé of Sangiovese from Washington; both are under $15.

Take Another Look at Whites

If rosé isn’t your preferred quaff, a chilled white – with bubbles or without – is the ideal libation to enjoy in the backyard, on the boat or on a picnic this summer. “I think the whole white section is underrated,” says wine expert, Terri Potter. She encourages customers to spend more time exploring rieslings, pinot gris and the like. “But I’m seeing a trend for the whites start to happen,” she says, noting that the popularity of sparkling wines has been steadily rising at her store. One of her favorites is Moscato D’Asti, an off-dry, fruity, sparkling wine from Italy ideal for sipping over a long afternoon.

Wilhelmi agrees that sparking wine is up-and-coming in Alaska. “Sparkling wine is on fire in the Lower 48, but up here it hasn’t taken off,” she says. “I think people think it’s for celebrations only, but something like a Prosecco is fun to serve because they are effervescent – once you add effervescence it seems more refreshing.”

Tasting and Pairing

Summer in Alaska means fresh fish, crab and shrimp. As Dixon notes, “Alaska seafood is the star of the show in the summertime.” She recommends Champagne to pair with Kachemak Bay oysters, or a lighter pinot noir to complement a dish like Alaska salmon. To her, herbaceous flavors rule in the warm season, and “certainly sauvignon blanc can be very herbal,” she says. “Grassy, herbal, light, bright flavors are all very complementary with Alaska seafood.”

Try a local bottle from the Bear Creek Winery in Homer. Their “Alaskan Chardonnay” is a blend of grapes and rhubarb and made to pair perfectly with Alaska seafood.

Potter encourages hosting a back deck tasting party (in case you need an educational excuse to drink wine). “Pick four different whites or four different Champagnes,” she suggests. Or compare similarly priced varietals from different countries and “do a little write up on the bottles so you can share the info with people.” The bottom line, she says, is that “your tastes are your tastes, so take the time and figure out what you like.”

If you’d rather learn from the professionals, take a trip across Kachemak Bay this summer to Dixon’s new cooking school at the Tutka Bay Lodge. “Each week we have a different style that we explore – like Spanish or Italian or rural French,” says Dixon. The classes include wine pairing.

Of all the reasons we choose to raise a glass to the Alaskan summer – sunshine, gardening, farmers’ markets, barbecuing, fishing or hiking – there’s sure to be a wine that will make every day feel like a celebration.

Three Wine Experts Share Their Top Three Summer Wines under $20
Wines of Summer

RED

WHITE

SPARKLING

Kirsten Dixon’s Picks

Cloudline Pinot Noir (1)

$15.29

Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc (7)

$18.79

Segura Viudas Aria Brut Cava (3)

$10.99

Terri Potter’s Picks

Gloria Ferrer Etesian Pinot Noir (9)

$15.95*

Brancott Sauvignon Blanc (5)

$15.99*

Tre Donne Moscato D’Asti (4)

$19.95*

Larissa Wilhelmi’s Picks

Delas “Saint Esprit” Côtes-du-Rhône (2)

$12.29

Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc (8)

$13.95*

Jeio Bisol Prosecco (6)

$18.95*

*Priced at wine.com
Resources: Within the Wild Alaskan Adventure Lodges (withinthewild.com); Bear Creek Winery (bearcreekwinery.com).