In anticipation of the summer equinox — June 21st — Lou Amdur, owner of LOU: A Wine Bar, returns to Squid Ink with some thoughts on rosés, why a dialed-down acidity profile is good and a few do's and don'ts for backyard grilling season.
Squid Ink: Summer is almost officially upon us. That means rosé season, right?
Lou Amdur: We tend to think rosé season starts in June and ends sometime in September. But in Los Angeles, we should drink rosé all year round because it's always summery here. Rosé is a no-brainer for summertime because you serve it cold, so it's refreshing. They tend not to have a lot of tannins and tend to have good acidity — which is good for food.
SI: What rosés are to your liking?
LA: Two domestic rosés I like — and the reason why I'm stressing domestic is because we don't often make great rosé in this country — are Edmund St. John's Bone-Jolly gamay rosé and a rosé by [a husband and wife owned and operated winery in Berkeley called] A Donkey and Goat. The problem that I have with a lot of domestic rosés is that they're cheater wines, wines that are by-products of concentrating some red wine. One way you make rosé is a process called Saignée where you bleed off some of the juice and make a rosé out of it.. To me, they suck. Bone-Jolly and A Donkey and Goat are not Saignée. They're meant to be a rosé.
SI: How do you pick a wine that is perfect for the summer?
LA: What do people like to do in the summertime? Grill lots of salty food with spicy flavors. Summer is probably the best time of year to enjoy inexpensive wine – wine that's $20 or less a bottle. Unless you're on a prescribed bland food diet you're already eating food with lots of flavor. Is that an opportunity to drink something complex and profound? No. Is it an opportunity to drink a wine that is delicate? No. If you're having a meal that has layers and layers of spice and stuff going on do you want to add a wine that has layers and layers of stuff going on? As Americans we're so accustomed to having our amps turned up to eleven that it's hard for us to accept something subtle.
SI: I stopped paying attention at “wine that's $20 or less a bottle.” Examples please.
LA: I've been enjoying a white wine from the Jura region of France made by a guy named Stephane Tissot. He has a slightly oxidated wine called “Selection” that is crazy good. It has a very distinctive nutty aroma. It itself is kind of salty and I think it goes great with salty foods. It works well with dishes that contain vinegar or lemon juice because the acidity profile is so dialed down. These are wines that have acidity and are all woven in.
SI: Why is a dialed-down acidity profile good?
LA: If you're having simple summer fare – like corn on the cob that's dressed with salt and pepper and butter – don't you just want to enjoy the vegetables for what they are? You want to find a wine that doesn't fight it. One is a white wine from the Loire valley that's a blend of two old white varieties – menu pineau and romorantin — that will be outlawed in 2016, but you can still drink them now. It is called “Originel” and the name of the grower is Julien Courtois. It's a white wine that's kind of gold in color. I've sort of decided that oxidated wines are great for food pairings. They're extremely delicious all by themselves but because of the acid profile being attenuated they work well with a range of foods.
SI: What does one pair with the summer classic known as a grilled Nathan's dinner frank topped with spicy mustard, peppers, chopped white onions and pickles?
LA: If I was going to go with a red, I'd like to eat that hot dog with a wine made by Arianna Occhipinti. She's a great Sicilian wine-maker and makes a wine from an indigenous Sicilian grape called Frappato that is out of this world. There's something about the flavor profile of cured beef and Frappato. It's a light to medium-bodied wine, very juicy and I've it with many different red meats and I've never found one that it doesn't work with.
SI: Yeah, but are hot dogs red meat?
LA: Do they even count as meat?
SI: Whenever I read about wines that go well with barbecued ribs, they're always pushing Zinfandel. Thoughts?
LA: That's just cockamamie! I think that's a horrible combination. Drink whatever you really like to drink but as a food and wine pairing I think it's dreadful.
SI: Not exactly a ringing endorsement. Explain.
LA: What you're doing is taking something that has layers of smoke, fat, salt and spice and drinking it with something that has spice, smoke, alcohol and tannin. It's the same “This amp goes to eleven” mentality. Oh, great. My mouth is not only numb from the spice, but now I'm drinking something that distracts me from the flavor of great barbecue.
SI: Are there no exceptions to no-Zinfandel-with- ribs rule?
LA: Actually there is one Zinfandel that works great – L'enfant Terrible by Anne and Mike Dashe. I push that wine because it opens up a new door for Zinfandel. It's exceptionally food friendly and is a great summertime wine. You can serve it cool and it gives you that gratifying Zin-berry flavor but it's one of those rare Zinfandels that doesn't have a lot of tannins.
SI: What's the wine that Mister Lou Amdur will be drinking all summer?
LA: Jean-Paul Brun has a wine that he's beloved for making: His basic Beaujolais. It's quite crunching and fresh and you can serve it quite cool, but not ice cold. I plan on drinking a case of that wine this summer. The thing about good Beaujolais is that they're extremely flexible food pairing wines. They don't have a lot of tannin and they have great fruit. These are dry wines. They actually work with shell fish or steak frites. The Jean-Paul basic Beaujolais? There's something seriously wrong with you if you don't like that wine. I'm sorry. It's almost depressing for me to drink that wine.
SI: Depressing? Why?
LA: It's so good and so reasonable and there's not a single California wine that's anywhere near the price that has that level of integrity or depth.
SI: So you're invited to a backyard barbecue and it is being hosted by one of those nose-wrinkling wine snob. What do you bring?
LA: I'm not the best person to ask about that. I'm going to bring whatever I think is interesting and fellow wine geeks might appreciate it, but that might be it. But I would look long and hard at a traditional dry Lambrusco. There's a grower named Camillo Donati. His straight Lambrusco is delicious and would be great with smoky foods. It's bone dry, sparkling but not like a champagne. It has much lower carbonation than that. I think that somebody who has a narcissistic personality disorder might look down on that wine because they don't know what it is. Maybe they think it's some sort of crappy 1970's Lambrusco. But it's not. If you have a plate of smoky ribs and a glass of cold dry Lambrusco in front of you and you don't like that together, you need to go immediately to your cardiologist because you might be dead.