Wine tastes better on cool, sunny spring days outside. Or maybe I just happened to taste a lot of good wine for this issue, socially distanced from other tasters on my panel, each at our own private table by the pond in my backyard in western Massachusetts. (Those Dream Away folks in the photo wanted to sit together…)
This is the first time in decades that we’ve held our tastings outside of our offices, which were closed due to lockdown orders. And the al fresco tastings may have been prescient, as, by the time you’re reading this, some restaurants will have gone from takeout to limited seating, and many of them will be serving outside. By necessity, that outdoor dining will be limited to fair weather—mostly when the barometer is steady. And when that’s the case, the aromas and flavors of wine are more accessible—or, at least, we are more encouraged to access them. Outdoor dining may turn out to be an upside for wine during the pandemic.
Still, for some of our other editors, tasting for this issue was no pondside idyll. We decided to limit our ambitions and narrow the categories of wine we tasted as we got entirely new systems up and running—and to leave enough space in already-cramped city apartments as boxes of wine began to arrive. The city dwellers among us tasted solo—Stephanie Johnson delivered second bottles to her co-panelist, James Conley of Keen’s Steakhouse, then got on a video call to talk through the wines; others tasted one bottle, then shipped second bottles of anything that could possibly be recommended to a second taster, later comparing notes. We were able to enlist some pretty great tasters for this issue, as most of them were on hiatus from their restaurant jobs (see page 37).
To keep things blind, we bagged and numbered the wines in advance, some of us with assistance—Tara Thomas employed her daughter Ora between Zoom classroom work; Patrick Comiskey employed his wife, Laura, who was also home sheltering in place. I bagged and bottled my wines, then gathered some of the top buyers in the Berkshires to join me in blind tastings.
In between tastings, our team has been researching a range of wines particularly suited to summer drinking: wines that are not quite red—the orange wines, or whites with skin contact, that have migrated from Friuli to Napa Valley; the barely red schiava of northern Italy; the light reds made from valdiguié, a heritage variety in California; the claretes of Ribera del Duero that share none of the power and extract of the region’s contemporary reds. These are seasonally effective in the best sense, fragrant, flavorful and built to chill. We’ve also looked back over our recommendations from the last ten years to highlight the top-performing sparkling-wine producers—25 names you can trust for affordable, crushable summer refreshment.
Welcome to our socially distanced August issue, just in time for great drinking outdoors.
This story appears in the print issue of August 2020.
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