June 24, 2008

Make a Splash With Fresh, Fizzy Summer Beverages

Some have fizz. Most have pizazz. And, of course, they all have a certain buzz attached to them, and not just the type that imbibing can provide (in moderation, of course).

The weather might not yet be sizzling hot, but these summer beverages certainly are. Whether summer actually ever gets here, or we end up with one of those five-month springlike seasons (works for me!), there's no shortage of cool cooling-off options to whet/wet your appetite.

From roses to rose water and rose petals (as cocktail ingredients), from flavored vodkas to flavor-packed vermentinos and viogniers, it promises to be a spirited season. Fresh ingredients in cocktails, refreshing white varietals, some easy reading and even a new "fishy" beer are on this languid summertide's docks and dockets.



Fresher than ever

Muddling is an ugly word, and one that hardly connotes making something cleaner and more vibrant.

But that's exactly what the process does, breaking down solids and bringing out flavor-packed juices and oils in fresh ingredients.

The use of seasonal or tropical fruits, veggies, herbs and even flowers such as borage remains the hottest trend in the cocktail world, particularly at this time of year.

It's also a stretch in which the clear, "clean" liquids _ including sparkling wines and the increasingly popular South American offerings pisco and cachaca _ grab a firm foothold among cocktail fanciers. There's also a swell new vodka in town: Opulent, bottled in Princeton, Minn., corn-fed (and thus gluten-free).

If anything embodies summertime, it's combining these two elements _ clear and fresh _ either in flavored vodkas (pomegranate, white grape) or cocktails such as caiprinhas, mojitos and cosmopolitans (likely to be enjoying a mini-surge with the recent release of the "Sex and the City" movie).

This summer, there is every reason to get fresh, as the recipes below attest.


Fat, sassy and a little fishy

Truth be known, there's not much new in the world of brew. The worldwide shortage of hops hasn't yet prompted a huge trend toward other sources of the aromas and the bitterness that often give beer its oomph.

Fat Tire hit big here last summer and shows no signs of abating; it is now available in aluminum cans that contain live yeast.

Wheat beers are old news, but still good news for many consumers, whether from Belgium, U.S. craft brewers or "big boys" such as Coors-owned Blue Moon.

There are, as usual, a slew of regional seasonal offerings such as Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy, Summit's Scandia Ale, Surly's Belgian farmhouse-style Cynic Ale (due this month) and Schell's Hefeweizen.

Schell's also has collaborated with fish-luremaker Rapala on a new line of lagers called Lakemaid. A 12-pack features drawings of a dozen freshwater mermaids _ who wants to be Miss Muskie? Miss Crappie? _ in various states of half-dress. Hmm, wonder what demographic they're going for? (The beer's decent, though.)

Actually, there is something truly new under the summer sun: a tiny but swell beer store called the Four Firkins (8009 Minnetonka Blvd., St. Louis Park).


It starts with V's

Seriously, a wine drinker could spend the entire summer exploring emerging white wines that begin with "V."

Start in Italy, and not with Valpolicella. Instead, try vermentino (the spritely Piero Mancini is a good start), verdicchio (Monte Schiavo) and vernaccia from the San Gimignano area in Tuscany.

Portugal's vinho verde (not a varietal but a descriptor: "green wine"), low in alcohol and often infused with a slight fizz, continues to grow in popularity here. Verdejos (Vinedos de Nieva) are joining albarinos as a favored option from Spain.

The Vouvray region in France's Loire Valley provides a wide array of wines made with the chenin blanc grape, from light and lively dry bottlings to swell sweet stuff. Also prominent in France is the floral, often spicy varietal viognier (most notably in Condrieu), which is popping up more often in Australia (try the Yalumba or Nine Vines) and our west coast (Incognito).

But don't limit yourself to vanquishing the V's. Many of us expect torrontes from Argentina to be this summer's breakout white wine; I particularly like the Crios de Susana Balbo, Finca Koch and the Michel Torino Don David.

Equally promising are several Italian varietals, especially falanghina (Taburno), greco do tufo (Vesuvo or Amano, which also makes a spot-on fiano-greco blend) and virtually anything from the northeastern region of Friuli (Mario Felluga's or Tenuta Ca' Bolani's portfolios).

Some lesser regions of France are producing some great reasonably priced whites, including the crisp and zingy Abymes Vin de Savoie and the beautifully minerally Gaillac Blanc Sec, which pulls off the unlikely feat of matching up perfectly with fresh tomatoes.

And what's more summery than that?



Think pink _ and pinot

Man does not live by beverage alone. So finding some potations that match up well with victuals is never a bad idea. A good place to start _ and not a bad one to finish _ is with roses.

Last summer (finally!), roses got past the blush stigma and gained major favor among Twin Cities consumers.

And why not? These wines are seriously food-friendly, not to mention versatile: A party featuring burgers made from beef, lamb, tuna and veggies is tailor-grilled for the pink stuff. Speaking of which, roses, which came to prominence in southern France's Tavel region with grenache-made wines, are now made from countless varietals. That means exploring them _ tasting one made from cabernet alongside another made from gamay _ could occupy the better part of the season for those so inclined.

St. Supery, Etude, Sutton and Coppola's Sofia are among many tasty options from California; other 2007s that I have liked are the almost-too-quaffable Nine Vines from Australia; the Triennes and La Vieille Ferme from France, and the Cacares and Muga rosados from Spain.

Almost as dinner-table-friendly as roses are pinots _ and not just the "noirs." Oregon has started to kick some serious booty in the pinot gris world with the likes of Bethel Heights, Adelsheim and Montinore. And some wineries in California's Santa Maria Valley, including Byron and Alma Rosa, are making superb pinot blancs.

These pinots and pinks have picnic written all over them.


Fun? Duh! Intellectual? Not so much.

Summer readings should be snappy or sappy. They should transport your spirit to a better place, literally or figuratively. Italy, perhaps, or Scotland. Or maybe just to the state known as mirth.

The latter is the inevitable destination for anyone perusing Kingsley Amis' "Everyday Drinking" ($19.99. Bloomsbury, 294 pages), a collection of the late, great bon vivant's rapier-witted essays on intoxicants. For those who want a little bite with their nips, this is essential, laugh-out-loud reading.

Another British sage who's sadly no longer with us, Michael Jackson, left behind "Scotland and Its Whiskies" ($19.95, DBP, 141 pages), a beautifully written travelogue and appreciation of this beautiful land and its distinctive whiskies.

Also enabling readers to waft their way to a faraway land in bellissimo fashion is Sergio Esposito's "Passion on the Vine" ($24.95, Broadway, 284 pages). This witty remembrance overflows with the amore that one would expect from a book subtitled "A Memoir of Food, Wine and Family in the Heart of Italy."

There's a different style, but no less passion, at play in Gary Vaynerchuk's "101 Wines Guaranteed to Inspire, Delight and Bring Thunder to Your World" ($19.95, Rodale, 232 pages). This ever-so-New Joisey merchant brings to the page the same outsized personality that has made his videos must-sees for fans throughout the wine world (sans, alas, those great spit takes).

For those seeking a bit more heft, Charles Bamforth's "Grape vs. Grain" ($27, Cambridge University, 197 pages), shines a socio-techno-econo-historical light on beer and wine.

Another thoroughly researched work, Julia Flynn Siler's "The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty," has just arrived in paperback ($15, Gotham, 464 pages). A history of Minnesota native Robert Mondavi's ups and downs, it's a page-turner and a way better wine-soaked soap opera than TV's "Falcon Crest" ever thought about being.


(c) 2008, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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