Local Wines Don't Have to Clobber Your Food

Here are a few wines that will listen and respond to, not overpower, your meal.

All over Europe, wine and food have been in a committed, loving relationship for thousands of years. In places like Italy, where food and wine grew up together, the majority of red wines have the same alcohol levels of our whites; and there's a reason 90 percent of Italian whites are dry, light, and crisp—it's what the food wants. I say our local foodstuffs deserve the same treatment. The last thing you want when you've spent your cash on organic produce and grass-fed meats is some heavy, high-alcohol wine dominating the table. Washington wines come from an irrigated desert, so we have no problem ripening grapes. And riper grapes lead to extra-boozy wines, because fermentation science 101 says the amount of sugar in the beginning determines the amount of alcohol in the end. Higher-octane wines clobber food, not to mention your noggin. Not all wines from our state, though, need couples counseling. I cruised a dozen neighborhood groceries to find food- (and head-) friendly local wines to enjoy with the summer harvest—stone fruits, fresh herbs, grilled seafood, and heirloom tomatoes. The following wines are all either lower in alcohol or lighter on your palate; all have decent distribution around the city. I have been a card-carrying member of the Chinook (and winemaker Kay Simon) fan club for years. The lady is one of this state's wine pioneers, and still all of her wines cost less than $20. She's known for her cabernet franc, but bottles of her 2005 sauvignon blanc ($16) should be on ice next to every local fish counter. Sauvignon blanc is a wine that should smell as refreshing as it tastes. Chinook's version has vibrant fruit and a green streak, making me think of nectarines, tarragon, and lime zest, which is exactly what I'd eat with it and a simple fish off the grill. If you want a local white wine to sip with a salad of market booty, in general, pinot gris will always taste lighter than some of its popular white friends, more along the lines of apples and pears than peaches and tropical fruit. Northwest pinot gris can be sweet sometimes, though, so double-check with the label or your wine guy. The 2006 Chatter Creek pinot gris ($13) is a wine whose flavors take you from August's fruit harvest into prime apple season. I can't think of a better local wine for summer—crisp enough for a caprese salad and pretty enough for an after-dinner fruit plate. Maryhill's 2006 pinot gris ($10) also impresses, with a creamy yet tart pineapple note and a great mouth-filling texture to tame the most bitter greens. If you like reds, I think the 2005 Sagelands cabernet sauvignon, at $11 a bottle, is one of the state's best buys. It has all the rich notes of the grape without being heavy, and the balance in this petite cab is the work of winemaker Frederique Spencer, born and trained in France. The Northwest Vine Project's 2005 Red Splendor ($14) is light on its feet compared to the wine plutonium that winemaker David O'Reilly normally releases. The natural acidity of the sangiovese grape makes it the tomato's best friend. Most American sangioveses, though, are monsters compared to their Italian cousin, chianti. The 2005 Cavatappi sangiovese ($11) is one of the best, and cheapest, examples of the grape I've had, tangy red-cherry fruit with plenty of depth and weight. This wine can be paired with a full spectrum of critters, from those who swim to those who moo. When I was a kid, a PSA cartoon that used to run on Saturday mornings told us, "Don't drown your food." That little cartoon guy was referring to mayo and ketchup, but I think the same holds true for overextracted, domineering wines that don't let your food get a word in edgewise. So next time you're out shopping, fix up your halibut with an easygoing good listener with a nice personality. mdutton@seattleweekly.com

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