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07.11.2005

Messages in a Bottle: The Dog Days of Wine

Stacked akimbo in the corner of my kitchen table, now leaning at a somewhat crazy angle, is the two-month-old pile of magazines, journals, newspaper columns, and newsletters about wine. My wife has taken to affectionately calling it "The Monster," but she has no idea really how terrifying it is. She doesn't hear it croaking day after day: "It is summer, and thou shalt drink this." Have you heard this call from the magazine rack at the cafe? From inside your daily newspaper? From that pile of literature under your couch?

If not, let me save you the pain, and get it over with in a paragraph or two:

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This Summer bank on Blanc, as chilled Chenin Blanc, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris are hot to trot, and bring the thirst-quenching dimension to wine like none other. But don't forget Rosé, back in style after years on the down-and-out, which is the real wine of this summer in case you hadn't noticed. Think pink (and shades of peach) because it sings with summer dishes, and make sure to have a cold bottle on hand when your lemonade dries up, or when you've run out of all that Sauvignon Blanc that you bought last year when it was the cool wine for the long, hot summer.

If you're not lolling on the verandah as you should be, then there's only one other acceptable place to be, and that's grilling with Shiraz . Did you know that it's the same thing as Syrah and it comes from Australia and it's a cheap date for the family BBQ? Of course Zinfandel is the grill king, because a cheap date could never be king, but we are all left to wonder who is the grill queen, and what would she be wearing to this cast-iron casting party? Could it be Cabernet Franc with her predilection for burgers and franks, or, oh yes, Sangiovese with her sweet match for summer tomatoes? It doesn't really matter, as long as we remember not to say anything to Merlot, who was absolutely, positively, not invited this year.

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Now, please rip out the section above between the perforations and we can get on with enjoying a little summer with our wine, instead of the other way around.

Why the world seems to teem with seasonal wine drinking advice is beyond me, and why it is frightfully concentrated in Summer is even more of a mystery. Perhaps the pulses of wine writers everywhere are attuned to the coursing sap in the vines themselves, and as they explode with green in June and July, so too do our pens runneth over with enthusiasm.

As far as I am concerned, the only advice you need about summer and wine is going to come from the wine itself.

Listen carefully, because the wine is talking.

Our eight-thousand-year-old relationship with the fruit of the vine means that wine knows us pretty well. It has seen us through the toughest of times, providing comfort, consolation, conversation, and, of course, communion. So why not trust whatever is in your glass?

Summer, says wine, is the spirit of what you remember as a child — a freedom borne of a nearly endless day during which imaginary worlds could be created and conquered before dusk finally fell. Summer is slipping barefoot and giggling down narrow overgrown pathways of green.

Summer is where I get my earliest sense memories that are still whispered by wine. The peeled green bark of a willow stick, fresh-cut grass, unripe, mouth-puckering red blackberries, the wet mud of a creek bed, and field stones cracked by the heat.

Wine makes Summer the opposite of responsibility. A bottle becomes the excuse for a conversation that you can stretch over days, wearing the same clothes. A good glass will always sanction jumping in the lake instead of a shower, spinning around while gazing skyward at the stars, or walking along the railroad tracks until they run off the edge of the world.

Wine has always been Alice's liquid looking glass for humanity. It reflects us back to ourselves, making our conversations bright with empathy, sympathy, and understanding, but it also gives us the power to penetrate the surface, and explore a landscape of senses, of memory, and of history.

There is no time better for nostalgia than a warm Sunday in July, and nothing finer to share it with than friends and a bottle of your favorite wine. Pour everyone some memories of past adventures and a few dreams of new ones. We may have much to learn about wine " but we have much more to learn from it.

This article originally appeared in The Gilded Fork.

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.