Summertime and entertaining is much easier with refreshing cocktails
Tried-and-true recipes may be easy for summertime entertaining, but sooner or later, tried-and-true gets tired. To add new flair to your old standards, try a simple switcheroo of wine.
Italian-grown pinot grigio, for instance, careened to America's second most popular grape, for its light, dry flavors with lemony acidity -- "crisp, clean with no caffeine!" -- making a perfect complement to lighter foods generally served with lemon or lime, including dips, light salads, pasta, seafood and poultry. Kris Pinot Grigio (Delle Venezie, Italy) is a consistent value, with citrus and floral aroma, easygoing fruit flavors and racy acidity, generally about $12.99; look for sales below $10.
For added richness, switch to pinot grigio's French cousin, pinot gris. Emile Beyer Pinot Gris "Tradition" (Alsace, France) opens with alluring pear aromas. Not bone-dry, the succulent palate combines just-ripe pear and citrusy tang, enlivened even further by delicate spritz (fermentation's carbon dioxide left in the bottle for freshness.) Vineyards are approved organic, with official certification on labels in 2017. Delicious with dishes above as well as richer salads with creamy dressing, grilled seafood, poultry and sausages. About $20.
Oregon gives the nod to France with rich, complex pinot gris, with excellent producers including Ponzi and King Estate, both $15.99. Pinot grigio grown in warm climates, including California, loses the grape's freshness, which this palate does not prefer. California's climate though, benefits thick-skinned, sun-worshipping grapes, like zinfandel. Zinfandel may not be the American-born grape we once thought; turns out the name changed from Crljenak Kaštelanski en route somewhere between Croatia and Dry Creek Valley. Still, Zin's gnash-and-tear power and full-throttle fruit are equal partners to all-American meats, whether barbecued, roasted, smoked or grilled.
The family Cline has been zinfandel specialists since the 1970s when zinfandel wasn't cool. The current Cline Family "Ancient Vines" Zin is ripe, soft and spicy with complexity and enjoyment factor beyond its $13.99 price. Crljenak Kaštelanski also meandered to Italy, taking the moniker Primitivo, with more rustic, unprettified flavors than most U.S. zinfandel. Rocca dei Mori "Briaco" Primitivo (Salento, Italy) has 'more is more' appeal with concentrated cherry and plum flavors, a solid sprinkle of spice and mouth-coating texture. A classic pairing with grilled pork sausage, whether in southern Italy or Chicagoland. About $15.
Prosecco, Italy's fabulous fizz, permitted us to drink bubbly on holidays, on Tuesdays on wash days, any day! Prosecco's not-too-dry flavor balances spice (spicy tacos), its bubbles refresh the palate from the gooiest cheese (pizza) or the juiciest ribs (your favorite cut), and it plays well with others -- add orange juice or peach nectar for a Mimosa or Bellini cocktail. With so many excellent examples available, check with your wine merchant for favorites.
Bubbles Rose from Oregon's A to Z Wineworks combines festivity with the rose rage. Juicy-ripe fruit bowl flavors of strawberry, watermelon and cherry, and creamy texture are outlined with bright acidity for a toothsome complement to sweeter dishes and a cooling balance to three-alarm spice. A donation goes to the Oregon SMART program (Start Making a Reader Today) for every case of 2016 sold. About $15.
Cremant de Limoux is another wine style that turns even a simple occasion into a festivity. Gerard Bertrand Cremant de Limoux "Thomas Jefferson Cuvee" melds flavors of chardonnay and chenin blanc and the yeastiness of fermentation for flavors of apple cider and baked biscuits, with a minerally interest in the finish. It goes down smooth, perks up a tired palate and will complement all the dishes above for lunch, dinner, or a breakfast of leftovers. About $15. My notes indicate to drink up this wine within two days. That will be easy, too.
• Write to Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross at food@daily herald.com.