WINES TO TRY IN THE SUMMER MONTHS
From lighter to weightier, John Irwin’s guide to the wines to experience from the Maze Row portfolio that will ignite a new love affair with wine
As a matter of course, my work with Maze Row involves a lot of hosting; industry lunches and wine dinners, with the occasional and (thankfully) dwindling virtual session. I consider it a perk of the job to meet strangers around a table that’s been dotted with wine. It’s a rare and precious thing, really; a group of people, all with different backgrounds and experiences, talking about “this wine with this food at this moment”.
It is like we’re all standing in front of little pieces of art, and through our admiration, our criticism, and our attempts to put language to feeling, we get to share ourselves in this unusual and authentic way.
But, If I’m being completely honest, as much as I love chatting about the “art” of wine with colleagues and collectors, it can occasionally get a bit, well, umm, pedantic (I maintain that wine is like jazz; there’s no way to talk about it at a party and not sound awful). And so, sometimes the best conversations I have are at events where I meet people that are just more “new” to wine. It’s more pure, in a way.
To them, wine is not this quotidian luxury; it is an object of fascination, often just out of reach. They want to understand wine, but there’s also this understandable skepticism of us wonks who talk about things like structure, minerality, and crunchy fruit. So, they try to cut through all the language and just get right to it, asking me, point blank: “What’s your favorite wine?”
I get that question. All. The. Time.
And my response is always the same: “Clutch my pearls! My favorite wine? Why, I never!”
After I’ve been fanned back to consciousness, I explain further: that it is impossible to pick. Wine is subjective to your experience, the moment and, most of all, the food in front of you. The guest, of course, rolls their eyes and suspects this is another instance of wine people attempting to trump up their profession through caginess. And, so, I parry with a simple statement: “But, if I could only drink one thing for the rest of my life, it would be white wine.”
This answer tends to grab people. Most (at least in the US where I live) have been convinced that the apex of great wine is solely the domain of Big Reds, so I enjoy being ever-so-slightly-transgressive to capture their attention and maybe shift their lens. And yes, sure, I love Barolo and Brunello and Bordeaux. But, let’s be honest, I’m not eating boar ragú every night (doctor’s orders). So, for sheer versatility, it’s all about whites, and this is doubly true in the summer months, when fresh produce beckons for wines with nuance, and the hot days beg for something chilled*.
So, below I’ve listed a few of my favorites from the Maze Row portfolio, in order from “lighter” to “weightier” to kick off your summer… and maybe, just maybe, a new love affair with wine, not based on high-minded conceptualism, but rather simple pleasures, shared:
JERMANN ‘VINNAE’ RIBOLLA GIALLA 2021 (12.5% alc.) $40
Italian white wines are incredible values, but the astounding quantity of native grape varieties can get confusing. Start with this grape that’s indigenous to Friuli, located in Italy’s northeastern corner. Jermann’s bottling of Ribolla Gialla is fresh, bright, and bursting with white flowers. While the wine works nicely as an aperitif, the refreshing acidity of the wine perfectly offsets the tangy richness of sausage just off the grill (it’s also great with potato chips).
JERMANN ‘DREAMS’ 2020 (13.5% alc.) $75
This culty bottling of Chardonnay from Friuli is rich with golden apple and warm spice notes. But – and this is crucial – the wine doesn’t undergo malolactic fermentation (which many makers of Chardonnay will use to tame acid and bring out a certain buttery flavor). Because of this, Jermann’s bottling maintains this wonderful vertical freshness that offsets an otherwise creamy and supple wine. Pair it with a Lobster Roll after a day at the beach and let the gods of summer smile down upon you.
PIEROPAN ‘LA ROCCA’ 2020 (13.0% alc.) $50
Pieropan’s varietal bottling of the native grape of Garganega (“Gahr-GAH-neh-gah”) comes from a single vineyard overlooking the picturesque medieval village of Soave in Italy’s Veneto region. The clay soils and south-facing slopes give the wine aromas of tropical fruits like mango and pineapple alongside aromatic flowers and ginger. But, it’s the texture of the wine that makes it special; somehow both lithe and broad, it manages to feel powerful but never heavy; a great partner for risotto, poultry, and grilled vegetables. Oh, and, the wine ages beautifully, so maybe buy a bottle for next summer, too.
TORNATORE ETNA BIANCO 2021 (12.5% alc.) $35
This white wine from Sicily captures the Mediterranean coast with aromas of oyster shell and savory herbs. You can smell the salinity (seriously) that carries all the way through to its finish, making it an excellent complement to, well, oysters. But the wine also has a slight natural viscosity that allows it to harmonize with something like, say, an olive-oil-poached-Branzino with capers.
*A note about putting ice in wine – another question I, somewhat surprisingly, get a lot: I’m generally against it since the ice-melt waters down the flavors. But, if it comes down to a wine that’s served too hot versus a wine that’s a bit watered down? I’ll take a side of ice with my glass of wine, thank you very much.
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