A Sea Island sommelier shares some of her favorite spring and summer wines, complete with pairing notes.
By Katie Kelly Bell
As one of the sommeliers for Sea Island, Ryanne Carrier awaits the arrival of the warm spring and summer seasons, since these months are a welcome opportunity to indulge in creative combinations (such as sparkling Burgundy and caviar) and the refreshing pleasures of crisp, dry wines. One of her favorites is pinot grigio, but she’s not talking about your average, limpid versions. Carrier seeks producers who specialize in crafting extraordinary examples of this unjustly maligned varietal.
“Most producers pick pinot grigio well before it’s ripe, which can result in a green, acidic, simple wine,” Carrier notes. “The best ones often come from the Friuli and Veneto regions in Italy. Scarbolo creates an excellent pinot grigio by allowing the grapes to fully ripen.” When pinot grigio is fully ripe, it’s a pinkish-gray color; the acidity drops a bit and you get more fruit tones, richer aromatics and a lovely pinkish blush to the wine. It also possesses more weight in the mouth, making it the perfect porch-sipping wine or an ideal aperitif to enjoy while the sun goes down.
Another option is a well-balanced sauvignon blanc. The combination of high acid with floral and grapefruit tones sings in the glass and holds up beautifully in warm climates. Carrier leans toward versions from the region of Sancerre in France’s Loire Valley, which pose a nice balance, falling somewhere between the intense grapefruit of New Zealand sauvignon blanc and the oakier-influenced styles from California. Some are made using concrete fermenters. Carrier explains, “I love concrete influence. When a wine is fermented in concrete it ups the game a bit. Too much stainless [steel] on a wine leaves metallic edges, and too much barrel contact adds oak influence.”
Carrier is also excited about some New World versions of sauvignon blanc, specifically Grey Stack Rosemary’s Block from Bennett Valley, Calif. “The grapes come within a single block in the dry stack vineyard. They use very little barrel fermentation to help soften the acids; I love the guava and tropical fruit influences,” she says. “It’s a great aperitif wine, but the fresh flavors and citrus notes are also ideal with Mexican food, playing off the green elements of cilantro and jalapenos.”
If it’s lunch with a crisp salad, Carrier reaches for rosé, specifically from the Provence region of France. “Domaine de Triennes is one of my favorites; it is drier in style, with berry fruits such as strawberry, and a nice kick of minerality. I love rosés from Bordeaux as well. Rosés tend to pair beautifully with anything green and leafy. The mineral and fruit tones of the wine play into the green mineral-rich leaves.”
Red wines have a place at the table too, but not the “heavy-duty cabernet sauvignons,” Carrier says. Best to look to regions such as Burgundy for inspiration. “If I’m indulging in a freshly grilled burger with all the trimmings, l love to pair it with a single vineyard or Cru Beaujolais. You get all the benefits of a pinot noir but with a bit more structure going on. Think light-bodied with all the raspberry, violet and black plum notes but framed around a bigger structure … ideal for a burger.”
Carrier also suggests exploring syrah from northern Rhone, which has a cooler climate that results in wines with higher acid and more character. “Red wine lovers will enjoy the tannins, but the lighter style works for summer,” she explains. The northern Rhone wines enjoy more feminine layers of flavor than their counterparts from warmer climates (such as Australian shiraz). “There [is] something unique and special about wines from northern Rhone. The black olive and bacon fat flavors make them interesting wines to sit down with.”
And, of course, there is always a time and place for bubbles. “I’ve been pouring Chateau de Lavernette Granit, a special sparkling from Beaujolais made from 100 percent gamay grapes,” she says. Made in the traditional Champagne method, its dry, mineral aspects give off notes of pear and apple.
Champagne and sparkling wines are a nice match for spring and summer cuisine. The salty brininess of caviar with the high acid, mineral-driven bubbles is a divine match, says Carrier.
For Champagne, she suggests Billecart Salmon Rosé Brut, adding, “Roederer Estate (in California) crafts one of the finest examples of a good sparkling wine.” Her all-time favorite pairing with bubbles was Georgian Room’s Chef de Cuisine Daniel Zeal’s dish of quail encrusted in pretzels paired with Krug Grand Cuvée. “It was an unexpected mid-meal pairing with a game meat and pretzels. I thought along the lines of pretzels and beer, and Krug is the biggest beer-like Champagne I know,” she says. Whether you’re pairing your wines with the climate or a dish, Carrier explains, “When it’s perfect, it is like a chemical reaction, setting off fireworks in your mouth.”