Charleston’s hot summer days and warm fall evenings are perfect for sipping something cool and refreshing, like a light, bright wine. But with so many options, it can be tough to choose the right summer wine for each occasion. We caught up with Garth Herr, sommelier and general manager of The Royal Tern on Johns Island, for tips on how to choose the perfect summer sipper.
City Paper: What types of wine do you recommend drinking in the summer?
Garth Herr: The short answer for me is Champagne, but, since I can’t afford that every day, I gravitate towards lighter, lower alcohol wines. It’s hot out, and they are more refreshing. Whites, I usually go with dry, crisp, mineral-driven styles. I love dry Riesling, Grüner Veltliner and Chardonnay from Chablis. There are tons of smaller producers with more obscure varietals that definitely make their way into the rotation.
Reds, I love Cabernet Franc from Loire and Gamay from Beaujolais, but there are fun things coming out from all over that have adopted a more refined style. The trend towards brighter, lighter wines appeals very much to my palate. Between, Cinsault, Trousseau, Zweigelt, some Grenache, etc., we really do have endless chances to try something new and fresh.
CP: Most people associate whites and rosés with summer. What about chilled reds?
Herr: Absolutely — chilled reds are an essential part of summer! We have a few on our menu as well. Burgers and barbecue are classic summer time, and I generally enjoy red with them (whites work too), but in the heat, the chill makes it so much more refreshing.
CP: Do different wines work better for different scenarios?
Herr: Definitely. I even pair different wines based on different moods. On a boat? Rosé.
At the beach, I like Fino Sherry (I love the brininess paired with the salty air). Playing Bocce or other games during which the wine is getting warm from carrying it around, I want light, easy white. These activities are all at the beach but are different wine moods.
Am I sitting on the porch alone, with my family or with friends? Alone, I’ll probably think about the wine more, so I would want something worth contemplating. With the family, we just like to try something new. With friends, it would be rosé (or Aperol spritz) in the afternoon, then maybe light red.
CP: The general rule of thumb is that you drink red wine with red meat and white wine with fish. Is this an outdated rule?
Herr: Definitely outdated. It is a simple rule that’s easy to remember, but there are so many options. Salmon and tuna can definitely stand up to red. I love Champagne with filet mignon, especially if it has a rich sauce like hollandaise. Every dish can be changed based on sauces, sides and accompaniments. The protein is just one small part of the pairing.
The reality is, rarely does a table all order the same dish, so when pairing, I’m actually thinking of what goes with the halibut, the tuna and the ribeye, or what will go with the first course of raw oysters yet still carry over to the second course of beef tartare?
CP: What’s your wine of choice in the summer?
Herr: Muscadet. They can be as simple as pinot grigio or as complex as Chablis 1er Cru at a fraction of the price. I think the name sounds similar to moscato or muscadine so people think they are sweet. I assure you, if you buy a bottle of muscadet, it will taste nothing like those.
Other than that, it changes every year. Some of this year’s go-tos have been Gatto Arancio (an Orange Verdicchio), Punta Crena Lumassina (a still wine with trapped CO2 that makes it spritzy), Manuel Moldes ”Afelio” Albariño and Schödl “Rote Erde” Dry Riesling.
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