Our wine rep’s shopping list and tips for seaside sipping
Summer. Heat. Humidity. Surf. Sun. Salt. Sand. This city dwelling Wine Rep says, “I want to go to there.” Because even the most seasoned WR cannot subsist on concrete alone. Time to stock up on beach wines and get out of the city, especially in these difficult times.
Dear Reader/Wine Sipper, pack your tote/cooler bag. In this installment of Notes…we are going on a field trip to, yes, you guessed it, the beach. And no beach trip is complete without a varied selection of refreshing, chilled bottles of grape harvested goodness.
Because there are so many wines to choose from out there, let’s first take a look at just what makes for a great beach wine. Easy to travel with comes to mind. (Sorry, but just don’t think that Magnum of Pinot Grigio that weighs nearly a pound is ideal in this instance). Taste and drinkability in a maritime setting always is a consideration. (Don’t think a full-bodied Bordeaux or other equally dense red is going to pair well with what no doubt will be a bevy of oysters, mussels, clams, and the like).
Also, wines that easily feel at home in an ice bucket plunked down in the sand definitely take precedence over those served at room temp, since the beach is rarely, if ever, exactly 70 °F (21 °C). But even if it was, you might be more inclined to want to drink something cooler and crisper anyway. It is summer after all! These are all factors that should be kept in mind when approaching just what types of wines you are going to bring with you on your escape outta dodge. Taking all this into account, I have chosen five different beach wines that I think would make for a great fit. Hope you enjoy!
First up is a bit of a no-brainer: rose. In my humble opinion, no beach trip is complete unless a bottle of this pink juice is resting in that aforementioned jagged mountain of ice. While there are many different varieties of rose, ranging from the cringingly sweet and overly fruity to the mouth puckeringly tart, I’m always one to reach for the classic. By that I mean one from Provence.
In this case, I recommend Belambree Les Ephemeres Rose (2019). Comprised of 80% Grenache,10% Syrah, and 10% Cinsault, having this bottle within arms reach while you’re spread out on a beach towel, eyeing the horizon with no particular place to go or do or see, is the epitome of easy drinking. This rose is a very pale salmon color. Dry and bright as the summer days are long, it drinks like a good beach read that you can’t quite seem to put down. You’ll want to slow down as you sip, so you won’t get to the ending anytime too soon. I’m a huge rose drinker. In a very crowded field with way too many options, the Belambree is a standout both in price and in flavor. (Suggested pairings: charcuterie board, shellfish both raw and/or cooked, assorted fruit and cheeses). Bring it.
Next up is another classic from France. It would also do wonders while you are hanging at the beach and dabbling with building sand castles. And that is Sancerre. Always a crowd pleaser, even if the crowd is just of one, yourself, strolling along the water’s edge collecting seashells with glass in hand. Sancerre is one of those wines that goes well with just about about anything, anywhere. The beach is certainly no exception. A good one to start with is produced by Pascal Balland Sancerre (2019). Zesty, with the slightest hint of grapefruit, this particular Sancerre has just the right amount of roundness, which begs for you to also bring along some cantaloupe slices wrapped in prosciutto. You’ll never want to go near a bottle of Chardonnay again. (Suggested pairings: assorted fruits and cheeses, barbecued meats, raw oysters.)
Switching up country of origin, another beach wine I want to recommend is from Rueda, Spain…and that is Verdejo. A dry white, Verdejo is quite different from Sancerre. Yet it’s equally as perfect as far as being an ideal wine to indulge in while digging your toes in the sand. Another option is the light, bubbly, and crisp white wine known as Vinho Verde from Portugal. The name literally means “‘green wine,” and it’s incredibly drinkable. Snag a bottle of Aliança Vinho Verde and everyone will be happy.
Verdejo is very interesting in that it sits somewhere between both the just touched upon Sauvignon Blanc (Sancerre) and Chardonnay. It’s not as sharp as the Sauv, and not as creamy or buttery or oaky as Chard. All in all, it makes for an excellent alternative to the usual summer wine suspects. It drinks particularly well when one is engaged in a staring contest with a low flying, curious seagull. So remember to bring along an extra glass for you to share with your new feathered friend. (Suggested pairings: ceviche, watermelon, pork and poultry, steak tartare).
Branching out from the usual suspects
The beach doesn’t have to be strictly whites and roses. Even reds have their day in the sun (or better yet, the setting sun). Chilled Pinot Noir, or perhaps Beaujolais, can also make for great beach sipping, since they are inherently light and easy-drinking. Since we’ve already got a few whites from France earlier, let’s go with a Pinot from New Zealand.
In this case, the winemakers from Middle Earth have produced a wonderful and versatile Pinot Noir (2017). It’s all smoky dark fruit, crossed with just the right amount of rustic bramble that makes for great sipping just as the sun is going down, and when that beach breeze is starting to pick up. Chances are you’ve packed some charcuterie or some cheese and crackers, and this Pinot would be just the thing to break out as the break advances. Not to mention, it goes absolutely perfect with that time-honored classic beach activity of playing cards (Gin Rummy anyone?!) after you’ve been tossed around bodysurfing. (Suggested pairings: red meat, pork, poultry).
Lastly, how about a bit of bubbly? Sparkling wine is synonymous with celebration. And what is more of a celebration than a day spent at the beach? In this regard, a fantastic bottle of bubbles to pack is the L’Ormarin’s Blanc de Blanc (2012). Bone dry and highly effervescent, this wonderful sparkling white made in South Africa will tingle your senses and have you grinning from ear to ear. While it is not champagne, if you closed your eyes and took a sip, you’d be very hard pressed to be able to tell the difference. (Suggested pairings: soft cheeses, charcuterie, fish, scallops).
Once you’ve picked the perfect beach destination, packed up your car with chairs, umbrellas, and a cooler full of goodies, the final piece of the puzzle has just been put into place for you: wine selection! Three whites, a red, and some sparkling. Now, go and take a day off, or a long weekend. Or hell, why not go MIA the whole rest of the month, and hit the beach with these five bottles to try out. Before you know it, it will be fall, and then winter, and all the sand and surf and shells collected will be nothing but a distant memory. And the only thing that can help prolong the fade is a good glass—or entire bottle—of wine.
What: Beach Wines!
Location: The place where the sand meets the sea.
Drink: Dry rose, crisp whites, light earthy reds, sparkling whites.
Tips: Wines that are easy to travel with, and are easily at home in an ice bucket plunked in the sand.
Suggested Food Pairings: Charcuterie boards, both raw and cooked shellfish, fruit and cheese plates, barbecued meat and poultry.
Peter “Blue” Zusman is an artist and wine & spirits enthusiast living in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. He places equal importance on both a finely-aged single malt and a medium bodied, earthy red. Summer is always about Provence. He was formerly a contributing wine writer at grapecollective.com.