Wine Ratings: 90
“Summertime and the livin’ is easy.” Well, that’s what Gershwin wrote anyway. When I was a kid, ‘the livin’ really did seem easy. “Be home before the streetlights come on!”, was one of the rules of childhood. It was also, the last thing I’d hear my Mom yell at me as I’d run out for a day of sunshine, mischief and whiffle ball with my friends. The sun would start to set, and we could feel the ‘pre-dusk’ buzz the streetlights would give off, just before they’d burst to life. That was our queue and we’d all head for home. I would come barreling through the front door, by this time my Dad was home from work. He’d be planted in his favorite spot on the sofa with his favorite drink in hand, usually watching the evening news. Dinner was nearly ready, and my Mom would be in the kitchen preparing things that would woo any passer-bye with their aroma. My sister would most likely be in the backyard, swimming in the pool with her friends, where she’d stay until my parents insist she gets out and gets ready for dinner.
From childhood into teenage years, summertime took on a different focus. I’d go to the beach, surf all day, hang out with friends at ‘their’ houses, get stoned, flirt with girls, listen to music, party a bit more, go home, go to bed. Wake up. Repeat. We’d frequently check in with each other and figure out whose parents were going to be out of town for a night, a weekend or better yet, weeks on end and that’s where we’d plan to have our parties and party we did. Since most of our parents went to work, we could sleep in if not sleep most of the day.
From high school, we slid into college, and the joy of summertime mellowed a bit. It became the perfect time to meet up with old friends and reminisce about the days gone by. We were already feeling older. The parties got better, and so did the maturing women. We were maturing, well… sort of. We’d long forgotten about the street lights coming on, about having to be on time. Now, we’d just try to get home before the morning birds began to sing, but only so we could get a few more hours of sleep.
From college came real life, real adulting, the “real” real. Marriage. Career. Kids (or not). Responsibility (for sure!). So these days, when summertime comes home for her annual visit, she drifts in and sadly, I hardly notice, not like I use to. I mean consciously, I know it’s ‘summer’. June. July. August. But that magic, that sensation, the spell she used to cast over me, is gone. What happened, exactly? Where the hell did it go? Did I wrap it up, put it in a box and store it away for a rainy day, along with my Mad magazines and Playboys, my old punk party fliers and noir paperbacks, the love notes from and the unsent letters to the many girls I knew? Well if I did pack it all away, it now sits in my garage, collecting dust?
I wish I could tell you it gets better, but I can’t. That’s entirely up to you. I tend to lean toward a certain level of comfortable misery, so for me, it’s not so bad. As they say, “you get out of it what you put into it.” But what I can tell you for sure, is this. One day things just change on you, it doesn’t’ sneak up on you, but you’d swear that it did. You graduate, get a job, get married, move to a new city, pop out a couple of kids, maybe take a little vacation to try and feel alive, but it’s fleeting. You dig in, grab hold and hang on as the storm of life thunders overhead. The days pass, shit happens, dreams diminish, and then the journey is over. That’s how I feel about it, today anyway. Tomorrow? Maybe the sun will shine. I mean, June is right around the corner.
Okay. Now that I’ve got that out of my system (and thanks for sticking around) let’s talk about wine! I have a few rituals that I love to do during the Summer. It makes me feel connected to the season. First off, there are a couple of movies that I watch every Summer, no matter what.
The first film Jaws. I love this movie. It takes me right back to my East Coast childhood. The smell of suntan lotion, bad bathing suits, not a bottle of sunscreen in site. Watching this movie gives me an unadulterated feeling of nostalgia. Spielberg, in his young days of film making, what a treat.
The second film is the Summer of ’42. The music alone is enough to spend an entire day with. Then, add the breathtaking Jennifer O’Neill and the movies coming of age storyline and “ugh!”. It’s a beautiful film, and it could undoubtedly be hailed as a ‘rite of passage’. I saw it as a kid and have watched it every year since. It’s one of those things that will always remind me and connect me back to that feeling and summer and childhood.
Another summer ritual I have is to pick an actor or director and try to watch their entire film catalog. If they have a biography, I’ll read that as well. I really like to dive into their work, learn as much as I can about them, their process, their loves, their vices because it’s all right there, in their work and when you know that about them, you see it, as clear as day. It enriches the experience and gives me some insight I otherwise might have missed entirely. Over the years I’ve picked some interesting people; Federico Fellini, Woody Allen, Dom DeLuise, François Truffaut, Pier Pasolini, Ingmar Bergman (didn’t finish his filmography, but I’d like to) and a many many more. I can tell you, it’s a lot easier to find films now, with streaming and all the access we have.
Many years ago when I first started this summer tradition, the movies I wanted to see where not always easy to find. I often had to hunt down some obscure VHS copy from some run down movie rental store, but I’d find them. I was relentless, I was on a mission. It was certainly a bit easier for me, being close to Los Angeles as opposed to being in, say, Utah. But still, you try finding the director’s cut of Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage (the 281 minutes version, not the 167 minutes one) without the existence of the internet. Well, I did, and I was pretty masterful and could find nearly anything. Still can!
Over the last few years, I’ve added something else to the mix of my ‘summer passion ritual’. I pick a country and a few times a week I’ll prepare a meal from there. One year I picked France and made everything from Cassoulet to Beef bourguignon, Chocolate soufflé to Flamiche, Confit de canard and from Nicoise salad to a phenomenal Coq au vin, which is still talked about today, even if mostly by me. Cooking is a passion of mine. Learning about each country, then digging even deeper into its various regions really is a blast for me. This year I’m considering Greece as my country of choice. The Mediterranean vibe feels like it could be a fun place to hang out in for a spell.
With summer right around the corner, I will inevitably be going to various BBQs, weddings, picnics and dinner parties throughout the warm summer months. Every year, I pick three wines that will work for any of the aforementioned occasions. Trust me, this is not as easy as it sounds. The excellent wines I have cellared that are sound asleep resting and doing what they do best… age, ‘do not’ come out for swim parties or for vacationing neighbors or distant family taking in a day at Disneyland. Nope! They stay put and will only be consumed over a fine meal. What I’m saying is, “I don’t bring the good stuff to a pool party!” (and you shouldn’t either)
When it comes to my picks for this year’s “summertime” wines, wines I’d really like to enjoy with some friends, there are a few things I’d like you to know.
One: I started looking in April.
Two: I want new wines and do not want to pick the same wines I picked last year.
Three: Even though I’m not pulling out the really good stuff from the wine cellar, these wines need to be “rock stars”, and they need to be “under” $20 bucks.
I start in April, in part for you, because I know I’m going to need to drink through a lot of crap wine to get to a few summertime picks. Any wine under $20 is open for discussion, and many will be called, but few will be chosen. The wines also need to be fairly easy to find and ideally available from multiple retailers, so people have an easy time finding them. Once I’ve landed on ‘the ones’ I buy a few cases of each, and that will last through the Summer.
So, without further ado, here are my top Summer picks for the Summer of 2019.
Cherry Pie, Pinot Noir
I really enjoy this wine. It’s my Monday through Thursday quaff that I have with dinner. Do you know how hard it is to find a decent pinot under $20? Hell, a decent pinot under $50. I believe I’ve tried them all, and Cherry Pie tops my list.
The Nose: berry fruit, strawberries, and Dr. Pepper
The First Bite: strawberry jam, plum, and raspberry
The Finish: strawberry and melon rind
Country or Region: California
Body (Texture and Weight): Medium
Serving Temperature: 64°
Matua, Sauvignon Blanc
This is a fun wine. Open this at a BBQ and people will flock to it. The fruit bomb is really quenching, and if Summer has a taste, this would be it. This is a trendy wine in New Zealand, and for the price, you can’t beat it.
The Nose: lemon, Lime, green apple, and pineapple
The First Bite: ginger, lemon, apple, grass
The Finish: honeydew melon, apple, lemon
Country or Region: New Zealand
Body (Texture and Weight): Light
Serving Temperature: 52°
Cote des Roses, Rose (France)
This is my ‘go to’ host gift when I’ve been invited to someone’s home for a gathering. The balanced fruit and dry earth tones are a perfect Summer delight. The primary fruit is Grenache, so it has an excellent finish. The show stopper is the bottle. The bottom is molded in the shape of a rose. It’s damn pretty, and the bottle itself makes a great table light. They sell LED light kits for wine bottles on Amazon. Get a set and thank me later. Amazon Link: LED Wine Bottle Light Kit
The Nose: plum, spice, and berry fruit
The First Bite: strawberry, vanilla, blueberry
The Finish: ripe strawberry, crisp apple, and plum
Body (Texture and Weight): Light
Serving Temperature: 50°