Acid is a four-letter word, and I wish more people would use it. Wines need it, food needs it, music needs it and people need it. Give me a little edge, a little nerve, a little spine, a little something unexpected. I doubt I’m the only one who has noticed that both “obese” wines and “anorexic” wines have been slowly taking up the real estate on most wine store shelves. By “obese,” I mean heavy, overly oaked, one-dimensional wines that could double for a pound of butter. By “anorexic,” I mean little, cheap wines that are mass-produced for volume and loaded with so much cheap, un-ripe – or overly ripe – fruit that you can’t tell if you’re drinking wine from Australia, Italy, California or Long Island. Blah.
Mirroring our culture’s love for the extreme, these wines leave me bored and parched. What happened to the edgy little wines that like to flirt? Ideally, wines should give you enough of what you’re looking for in the first sip and in the first glass to liven up the food, the company and the conversation, but they should also keep you and your palate interested. That’s where the acid comes in.
Say goodbye to wines that drink like a meal. Cut the fat, trim the turkey, get the lead out. You have got to put the heels on if you want to show off the leg. Down with flabby juice!
At this time of year especially, I hear the voices of the wine sirens lulling me toward flirty summer sippers. That doesn’t necessarily mean inexpensive wines, but it can. And it doesn’t necessarily mean pink wines, but it can, and in my house, it’s standard issue. But it does mean wine with a backbone, wine with an opinion, some spice, something unexpected, with balance and great acidity. (I confess – I like my wine like I like my women!)
Acidity is the scaffolding on which we build our best wines and foods. Once you have established the architecture of acidity in a wine, you can layer the fruit and flavor on top of it, but a wine lacking acidity is like a 30-story building constructed without the steel beams. Like using lemon and a dash of salt to bring out the full flavor of a dish, acidity is one of the most important elements in a wine. Acidity seals the deal; it puckers and sends you home with a kiss. But it is crucial that it is not turned in to the Golden Calf and worshiped, rather that it is in focus and in balance.
Summer has arrived, and there could not be a better time to test your thirst for wines with a spine. If wines are your summer playground, acidity is the swing.
Here are a few wines that I recommend you wrap your lips around this summer:
PECAN STREAM CHENIN BLANC
This little South African ringer is a surprise. One hundred percent chenin blanc from Stellenbosh, this is the second label of Waterford. It’s yummy, ripe melon, gorgeous acidity and a citrus glaze. This wine is high in acid and fruit, a great mélange. Sub it for sauvignon blanc the next time you make fish or grilled chicken. If viognier is typically too heavy for you but you like scrumptious wines, I beg you, put this one in the cart. Available in high-end grocery and wine shops. www.yellowwoodwineco.com
ALOIS LEGEDER’S PINOT BIANCO
I’ve been a big fan of this wine for years but after tasting it on site on a recent trip to this fully sustainable, gravity-flow winery in Alto Adige, Italy, I’m sunk. (In Italian, they say “sono fatto” – I’m done, or undone.) Try this wine with fish, especially ceviche or citrus-marinated salmon, wahoo or mahi mahi. Found anywhere good wine is sold.
FAILLA SONOMA COAST CHARDONNAY
This very limited production wine (150 cases) is such a guiltless wonder that I have to mention it. Outside Italy and France, the Sonoma Coast appellation is my favorite for chardonnay. Its steep terraces and cool climate are the perfect incubators for this chardonnay. And winemaker Ehren Jordan, apprenticed under famed Frenchman John Luc Columbo and American cult phenom Helen Turley, loves this estate property. Drink this wine in the bathtub by yourself. Special order from a top shop or order online at www.faillawines.com.
SHOESTRING SYRAH ROSÉ
This little rosé is made up of mostly syrah (shiraz) with a peppering of grenache and sangiovese and is made by the Craig family, who drove to the West Coast with a dream and built the winery on a “shoestring” budget. I can’t tell you how amazing this wine is with spicy foods. Try it with peppered cheeses, jalapeno enchiladas and nachos, or Indian dishes. (Or a spicy date!) Order online at www.shoestringwinery.com.
ELIZABETH ROSE ROSÉ
This whimsical project of the Pelissa family, better known as Napa Valley Wine Co. and Cult Wine Central, this little rosé is again driven by syrah with some zinfandel and pinot noir tossed in for good measure. This rosé is actually tropical but clean and could be the companion to a Texas sunset with Thievery Corporation or Bassnectar fading off in the back- ground. Yummy with life. Special order from a top shop or order online at www.napawineco.com.