• by Jenny Benzie, Advanced Sommelier + Certified Wine Educator, Épernay Wine & Spirits •
There is a saying that “Doubling the inches of winter snow equals the number of wonderfully warm summer days on Nantucket.” Thank you Mother Nature! We are due for one heck of a summer!
Think about your favorite beach, how the warm sand feels on the bottom of your feet, listening to the sound of the waves while sitting in your Nantucket Beach Chair and what wine you will be sipping on that stunning summer afternoon. Think of all your Nantucket traditions to be followed and new memories to be created.
Those of you who have been coming to Nantucket for years or perhaps your whole life know that a beach is not just a beach here. North shore beaches have warmer water, gentler surf, and often more sea debris of shells and seaweed. South shore beaches have heavier surf, even riptides at times, and the wind can be fierce some days. And then there is the experience of driving on the beach to reach some far off destination ONLY accessible by the chosen few who have the right type of vehicle and a current beach sticker.
To get back into the summer training mode of enjoying the beach, you decide to drive around to a couple island beaches and assess the current situation. It’s not quite warm enough to spread the blanket on the sand just yet, but a quick walk on the beach or watching a colorful sunset starts to get you in the right frame of summer mind.
You may have your favorite beach that you go to all the time without fail. No one even has to ask you which one, they just know exactly where to find you every day. But you may switch it up and go to a different beach, allowing you the opportunity to explore the island and experience new adventures.
Back to the wine part of the equation: tasting wines can be a very similar experience to your beach habits. You buy a case of white or red and that is considered your staple house wine. You look forward to drinking a glass of it with dinner every night because you know what to expect and it doesn’t fail you. When you dine out on the town, you order something similar to this wine that you know and love, and this is what you drink every time you go to that establishment. As creatures of habit, this makes it nice and easy, and you are rarely disappointed.
A new summer season offers you the opportunity to discover a new wine every time you pop a cork (or unscrew the alternative wine closure). Wine drinking habits ebb and flow with the tides and seasons, always unpredictable and looking to find a new adventure in every wine drinking experience.
For those who want to venture into these unknown “waters” of the wine world, here are a few lesser-known grape varieties to search for that will be perfect summer sippers on the beach with your friends or at your next book club discussing In The Heart of the Sea.
When you mention Riesling, most people immediately say they don’t like sweet wines. The first vines originally planted in California were mostly Riesling – not Cabernet Sauvignon. This was the type of wine that the immigrants who came to America liked to drink. But Riesling doesn’t always have to be made sweet and it doesn’t have to come from Germany. Austria is home to Rieslings that are dry, full of stony mineral flavors, and very clean on the palate. They are refreshing, crisp, and beg you to drink more. Fruit flavors range from lemon/lime citrus to tropical fuits such as pineapple and guava. This is a perfect alternative to someone who likes to drink high acid, mineral driven wines like Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley) and pairs perfectly with your local farm-fresh green salad.
If you are looking for a new world style of wine, Chenin Blanc from South Africa is your go-to choice. Also know as Steen in its homeland, this grape is very versatile and can be made in a variety of styles — from sparkling to sweet and everywhere in between to please any palate. You will often find floral aromas of honeysuckle and orange blossom, along with fruit flavors of nectarine and pear. Substitute a dry style for your favorite unoaked Chardonnay to match a similar weight and profile of the wine. The sparkling version, more often found in the Loire Valley of France, is just as affordable as Prosecco or Cava for your Sunday Funday.
Thinking outside of the usual wine box leads us to grape varieties that may be harder to pronounce than they are to drink. Auxerrois (pronounced Ox-ere-wah) can be a tongue twister to say, but is more pleasant on the palate. This grape comes mainly from the Alsace region in France near the German border and is a sibling to Chardonnay. That being said, don’t think big buttery oak bomb here as it originates from the Old World and is typically made in stainless steel, not oak barrels. Fresh, every day drinking styles from Oregon will out shine Pinot Grigio at a similar price range. They make a stellar accompaniment to the fresh oysters and clams here on Nantucket.
Whatever Nantucket beach or new wine habits you may acquire in the coming months, always keep in mind that trial and error are what experiments are all about. Some days the weather and the ambiance just isn’t right at Fisherman’s Beach, but can be the ultimate experience some other day. Take notes, take deep breaths, and, most importantly, take sips. Catalog your new wine experiences along the way and hone in on them all summer long. By my count, we have 216 days of a Nantucket Summer ahead!