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Coastal wines the right match for coastal cuisine
On Wine
By Mary Ross | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 6/30/2010 12:00 AM

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"Litorale" Vermentino



Maremma, Tuscany

• Suggested retail and availability: About $15 at wine and liquor shops (distributed by Southern, Bolingbrook)

Like Mediterranean sunshine in a bottle, this traditional Italian grape hangs long on the vine to produce the light, fresh, supple flavors and shining acidity of "Litorale" (translated seaside). Serve chilled for a Pinot Grigio alternative, as an aperitivo to complement antipasti such as sun-dried tomatoes and grilled zucchini, and lighter meals like linguine with clams.

"Cooler near the lake" is a meteorological fact of life that signals summer to sweltering Chicagolanders of all ages.

Grapes, too, like kids playing at the beach, crave the cooling influence of lakes, rivers and seas.

Coastal breezes cool the singe of long days in the sunshine, allowing grapes to ripen slow with moderate sugars (and thus moderate alcohol) balanced by fully developed flavor and the acid wine needs for chemical stability and complexity.

Coastal vineyards have a benefit in the kitchen, too. Over centuries, winemakers and cooks have worked in tandem to insure everyone has something good to eat and drink. The seas' bounty and the vibrant wines of coastal vineyards are a match made in culinary heaven.

So whether you while away the summer on the beach, next to a pool or under a garden hose, here are some classic pairings to enjoy on your personal coast:

Muscadet and oysters: Where the Loire River empties into the Atlantic, France's Muscadet appellation grows the innocuous Melon de Bourgogne grape in soils combining gravel, schist and granite. Muscadet's wine is minerally and tart, like a squeeze of lemon enhancing the minerally brine of local oysters. Look for labels reading "sur lie" (aged on spent yeast cells) and "Sevre et Maine" (the finest region) from producers including Michel Delhommeau with lime, lemon grass and mineral polish. (About $10.)

Albarino and octopus: Spain's northwest is woven with "rias" - fjordlike estuaries drowned in the rising sea. The Rias Baixas region is home to Albarino, a grape pulled back from extinction by dedicated producers. With round, nearly ripe stone fruit flavor and bright acidity, Albarino enriches local specialty pulpo a feira (braised octopus with paprika) or international tapas, pulpo a la plancha (grilled octopus.) Look for texturous and lively Burgans Albarino ($14.)

Sangiovese and salmon: Italy's Tuscany is high-priced real estate, so bargain-hunting producers turned toward the undeveloped coastal region of Maremma. Here, the ocean offers coolness in summer and warmth as winter approaches for longer ripening, fresher flavor and softer tannin than inland Chianti. While local eel and frog specialties may not appeal, newly fashionable ristorantes serve grilled salmon - an international staple from far away seas - with tomatoes and tapenade with Morellino - Sangiovese in local dialect. At home, look for the fine tannin and ripe blackberry fruit of Cecchi's "Val delle Rose" Morellino ($18.)