We are so ready for a vacation.
With five full weeks to go before the official start of summer, the last few days of sunshine (especially after all that rain) have been damn near torturous. You could say that weather like this brings out the hedonist in us -- and as such, brings on a craving for wines that feel as languid and uncomplicated as a day spent lazing on a beach or enjoying a moonlit stroll through quiet city streets. None of this is incredibly surprising, when you really think about it, because wine drinking (just like eating and clothing) is seasonal. You're not likely to be rocking a fleece-lined hoodie on an 80-degree day; why force your so-ready-for-summer palate to endure glass after glass of heavy, hearty wines? If you're as desperate for a vacation as we are, read on to discover why these four tasty bottles -- from a little known French wine region -- are like a perfect virtual (and vinous) passport to summertime:
Now that we've got you fantasizing about the ideal getaway, what if we told you that there was a place where you could find seemingly endless stretches of Mediterranean beachfront, Roman ruins and rustic farms proffering a bounty of olives, apricots and peaches? An idyllic locale where natives and tourists alike linger for hours over savory plates of duck confit, plump sausages and crusty bread smeared with local goat cheese -- at lunch? And, oh yeah, this bucolic, tranquil destination just happens to be one of the largest wine producing regions in France, where refreshing whites, juicy rosés and berry-fruit packed reds share equal popularity for their incredible value and endless drinkability. That place would be the Languedoc (pronounced "lang-dawk"), and if you ever found yourself lucky enough to visit, you might decide never to come home. Languedoc wines are everything you'd want on a day (or evening) -- that's too warm to face the prospect of turning on an oven; too sultry to do more than find a charming cohort to while away the hours with. They're simple, yet never boring; easy drinking, but infinitely satisfying. In short, they're the kinds of wines you should be drinking every day between now and the first day of autumn -- hell, maybe even beyond that. Get a head start on your summer vacation with these four bottles -- just remember to send us a postcard.
Hugues Beaulieu Coteaux du Languedoc Picpoul-de-Pinet 2010 ($11): Picpoul (pronounced "peek-pool") might as well be French for "porch pounder": It's the quintessential white grape variety of the Languedoc region, tasting of juicy lime, grapefruit and mandarin orange. If you're unfamiliar with its charms, envision something like a pinot grigio...only much, much, yummier. All of those tangy, tart citrus flavors need someone to play with -- er, off: we like the idea of guzzling a bottle or two of this alongside a bowl of plump, chilled mussels fragrant with basil and saffron.
Vignerons d'Alignan du Vent "Cinquante-Cinq" Viognier 2010 ($13): St. Tropez is home to a famous club named Le Cinquante-Cinq ("Club 55"), where jet-setting guests spend scorching-hot days quaffing chilled wine and generally chillaxing in style. We can't help but imagine this wine being served at such a spot (seeing as how it bears the same name) and the fact that viognier is such a sexy, love-in-the-afternoon kind of wine. Aromas of a hothouse bouquet of white blossoms followed by hints of toasted coconut transform into all kinds of lush flavors on the palate -- ripe kiwi and pear, to name a couple. If the Picpoul-de-Pinet was a wine to slam, viognier is a wine to savor. And savor it you will, either on its own, or with a meal of diver scallops drizzled with a creamy Thai curry sauce.
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Hugues de Beauvignac Syrah Rosé 2011 ($7): So. Freaking. Tasty. Those were our thoughts after exactly one sip of this delightfully drinkable pink, made from 100 percent syrah and tasting 100 percent fantastic. If at any point in your life you have enjoyed cotton candy, freshly-picked strawberries or -- work with us, here -- a raspberry Laffy Taffy, then you will want to scoop a case of this wine, stat. By no means should you interpret our somewhat playful tasting note as a sign that this wine is playing around: it is not. Despite its almost comically cheap price, the balanced set of flavors and lovely finish prove that quality doesn't have to be spendy (and that Languedoc wines will rock your face off).
Chateau de Lascaux 2009 Rouge ($14): If you crave red wines no matter how high the thermometer's mercury reading, this bottle's for you. The Languedoc's proximity to Spain means that it's home to acres and acres of grenache (aka garnacha) vines, the grapes from which many times end up in blends colloquially referred to as "GSM" wines for their mix of grenache, syrah and mourvedre. We loved the burst of cherry and smoky tobacco smells that greeted our senses (and immediately conjured up a hankering for some baby back ribs); the mouthful of baked cherry and raspberry fruit flavors we tasted next just made us want an extra side of tangy sauce with our 'cue. Do yourself (and your palate) a favor though, and pop this bottle into the fridge for about 10 minutes before popping the cork -- you'll be amazed at how much more accessible its charms (and how much better it goes with your food).