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Summer Sippers or the Wine Equivalent of the Beach Novel
Copyright 2004 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed August 25, 2004. For more information go to

Sultry summer weather makes the notion of a "summer sipper" wine sound mighty appealing.

The moral equivalent of a summer "beach novel," this concept suggests a cool, refreshing wine - probably white, possibly pink - served ice-cold in a sweat-beaded glass. A wine that neither requires nor deserves serious contemplation but that can be quaffed without much thought or any critical analysis other than a satisfied "Aaaaaaahhhh."

To be honest, I'm not sure that I'm 100 percent comfortable with this approach. Wine is a hobby for me, and I like it when the beverage in my glass is interesting enough to make me stop and think. If I'm looking for a quenching, cooling draft, I'll make it iced tea or bubble water or maybe a good, hoppy beer.

Yeah, right.

As a graduate in English Literature, I'm not 100 percent comfortable with the idea of beach novels either but that didn't stop me from plowing through the latest Grisham epic or The Da Vinci Code.

Nor do I let my wine anorak* tendencies deter me from indulging in the occasional summer sipper wine. But in wine as in literature, I like it to have some substance.

Today's tasting features an excellent example. The just arrived 2003 vintage of a favorite California white-grape blend, it's a mixture of 81 percent Chenin Blanc and 19 percent Viognier from Clarksburg, a somewhat off-the-beaten-path wine region not far from Sacramento, a viticultural area that is proving to be an unusually hospitable home for the Loire variety Chenin Blanc.

*What's a wine anorak? Click here to find out:


This clear, almost watery pale wine shows only a faint greenish hue. Delicious grapefruit and melon aromas waft from the glass, dancing with a floral note that likely reflects the Viognier. Crisp and fresh on the palate, juicy fruit and perhaps just a hint of sweetness are nicely balanced by lemon-squirt acidity, leaving a touch of prickly petillance on the tongue. Very refreshing, it could be a classic "summer sipper" served very cold; but there's enough subtlety here to reward letting it warm up a bit so its interesting and complex flavors will show. (Aug. 24, 2004)

Food Match: Crisp, fresh fruit made it a natural with pan-seared Alaska salmon.

Value: Mid-teens price is pushing it for a "sipper," but still within reason if you value its subtle complexity. Comparative Web pricing indicates that my local price was very high, as at least one California merchant offers this item for only $8 and many have it around $10.

When to Drink: In its native Loire, Chenin Blanc is an amazingly ageworthy white wine, developing remarkable complexity with years in the cellar. Here, it's hard to imagine that age would improve on the ripe, fresh and vibrant fruit ... but if you have good storage conditions, it might be fun to "lose" a bottle or two and find out.

Pronunciation: Chenin Blanc = Sheh-nan BlahN (A French nasal "N" on the end is authentic, but not necessary for understanding.) Viognier = Vee-oh-n'yay

Pine Ridge Winery

Locate Pine Ridge's 2003 offerings on


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