My husband and I were lucky enough to spend Memorial Day weekend gazing at the sparkling blue Gulf of Mexico and taking in some spectacular sunsets with two of our best friends at Lido Beach in Sarasota.
Of course, we also sipped a few great summer wines too.
Besserat de Bellefon Brut
Champagne – the real stuff – is not usually considered a beach wine, but I’d been holding onto this beauty since January, and I figured, what better occasion to toast than the first evening of a holiday with good friends?
I love this wine because it is truly a wine, not just a champagne. I find it much more elegant and light than some of the yeastier examples, some of which (sorry) remind me more of beer than of wine.
The Besserat Brut does have a little bread on the nose – it is champagne, after all – but that quality is by no means overpowering. There are lovely notes of lemon that carry through into the palate, which has a nutty quality too.
The bubbles in this champagne are are fine and almost ethereal – they disappear on your tongue. My husband doesn’t like most sparkling wines, but he likes this one, for that reason.
As champagnes go, this one is on the less pricey side, selling for around $50 at my local wine store, Tim’s Wine Market.
Our friends are vegetarians, and for our first lunch of the weekend, they served a tasty cauliflower biryani. To go with the sweet and savory Indian flavors, I chose a chenin blanc that has become one of my go-to whites – Champalou Vouvray, imported by Kermit Lynch.
I love chenin because it has so many faces. It can be bone dry, funky, and cerebral like a Savennières, but it can also be off dry and playful or even sparkling.
The Champalou is dry and tangy but with plenty of fruit – some people might even detect a little residual sugar. It has the acidity that chenin is known for, but it’s well balanced.
This is one of those great wines that are interesting but easy to drink at the same time. It paired well with the biryani and also with a salad with braised beets and walnuts that we had for dinner.
It retails for $23 at Tim’s.
Jaqueline Leonne Brut
After a dip in the Gulf, we were in the mood for sparkling again, so I popped the cork on a wine I’d been eager to try.
Jaqueline Leonne Brut is made in the methode champenoise but hails from New Mexico. The Land of Enchantment also produces Gruet, a sparkling wine I like, so when I saw another sparkler from the state, I was curious.
Turns out, despite coming from a landlocked state, Jaqueline Lonne is a great beach wine. It has a slight pinkish hue in the glass and round fruit aromas and flavors, including a hint of peach.
It was interesting (and perhaps a little unfair) to try the JL in such close proximity to the Besserat. They’re very different of course. The JL’s roundness contrasted greatly with the Besserat’s chiseled elegance.
The JL needs to be served much colder too – it fell apart a bit as it warmed up, whereas we actually liked the Besserat a little warmer so we could fully appreciate its nuances.
But there’s a significant price difference as well – the JL retails for about $15, and for that price, it’s a great choice for the beach or any celebration.
A Tale of Two Rosés
On the second day of our beach holiday, we were in the mood for rosé.
I’m a bit of a rosé evangelist – I think it can and should be enjoyed any time of year, not just in the summer. But I’ll admit, it goes particularly well with warm, balmy evenings by the sea.
I brought along two very different French rosés, which were interesting to try side by side.
Le Charmel 2015 Cotes de Provence
First we sampled a great example of a Provencal rosé, the 2015 Le Charmel.
It is typically light pink in color, with notes of red berries and flowers. It has a good dose of minerality, which calms down a little as the wine warms up a bit – another factor that that makes it a good bet for outdoor summer sipping.
I picked this one up for about $15 at Tim’s.
Side note: The Le Charmel label is part of Master Wines, an interesting family-owned wine company that makes wines in France, Italy, and California. I’ve been impressed with the quality and value of several Le Charmel wines, including the Rhone red blend and the Muscadet from Loire. (The latter is another great summer wine – I have a bottle chilling as I type!).
Fourcher LeBrun Chinon 2014
Next, we opened a very different rosé from a very different part of France.
The 2014 Fourcher LeBrun comes from Chinon in the Loire Valley, far to the north of the sunny Mediterranean coast where the Le Charmel was born.
The two wines are made with very different grapes – the Provencal example is mostly syrah, cinsault, and mourvedre; the Chinon uses cabernet franc.
You can tell the difference between these two wines just by looking at them. The Chinon is a much darker pink than the Le Charmel – it’s almost fuchsia, in fact.
On the palate, the Chinon is much heavier, and the flavors of the two wines are completely different. The Chinon has all the green pepper and grassy flavors for which the cab franc grape is famous – or perhaps infamous.
I really disliked the Chinon when I tried it right after the Le Charmel, but it grew on me over time. It got a rounder as it opened and warmed – this is definitely not a wine that should be served straight from the fridge – and its minerality and green qualities ended up going very nicely with the guacamole we had as a post-sunset snack.
Would I buy the Chinon again? I’m not sure. Probably. It’s a very interesting wine, and I think it deserves another shot, perhaps not right next to its Provencal cousin.
The Fourcher LeBrun Chinon sells for $15 at Tim’s.
This won’t be the last you hear from me about rosé or summer wines. Summer lasts a long time down here.
Cheers for now!