Sparkling wine for summer: Uncork the Forks

Lenz 2011 Cuvée is a delicious sparkling wine. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

Lenz 2011 Cuvée is a delicious sparkling wine. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

Now that we’re through Thanksgiving and the snow has arrived, it’s time for the annual sparkling wine column that so many wine writers pen leading up to the winter holidays. Let’s talk about bubbly, people!

Wait a minute — It’s mid-August! Summer produce is abundant (hello, tomatoes). It’s in the 80s this week. And the beaches are packed.

You know what? You should still be drinking sparkling wine. I beg of you, don’t hide that lone bottle of bubbly in the back of your fridge until New Year’s Eve. No. Stop reading this story, get up from your laptop or put down your phone and open it. Drink it. And enjoy it.

I know that you’re supposed to drink sparkling wine at celebrations – a new job, a new house, a new baby or some other bit of merriment. I’ve read all of the same stories in all the same wine publications. I used to have that bottle in the back of my refrigerator, too, back behind the milk and the ketchup.

Then, several years ago, my family and I started spending a lot more time with new friends – and we drank bubbly every time we went to their house or they came to ours. Every. Single. Time.

Usually it was just a single bottle while we cooked or over nibbles of cheese, cured meats and the like. But it didn’t take long for me to learn an important lesson: a good bottle of sparkling wine (or even a mediocre one if I’m being honest) can make any occasion a celebration. Even if you’re celebrating nothing more than getting through another Tuesday at the office.

You may not think of it as one, but sparkling wine is also an incredibly diverse category. With a varietiy of sweetness levels, colors and styles, there really is a sparkler for any occasion and food. And we’re lucky to live in a wine region where sparkling wine is not only available, but often quite delicious.

I have some favorites, of course.

For consistent, for classic Long Island sparkling wine, look to the Lenz Winery, which recently released its 2011 Cuvee ($40). Made entirely from pinot noir, it’s fresh, structured and bursts with white cherry and crisp apple flavors. The classics are classics for a reason.

If you like your sparkling wine brightly acidic and piercingly dry, Shinn Estate Vineyards’ 2010 Sparkling Brut ($40) delivers all that and more. It begs for oysters or something with a cream sauce to slice through.

Rosé sparkling wine is beautiful with a wide array of dishes and my local go-to comes from Wölffer Estate Vineyard. The 2011 Noblesse Oblige ($40/sold out at the winery) is fresh and fruity but rounded at the edges with a long, fruity-floral finish.

I was grilling steak at my home not too long ago. It was a hot evening — white wine weather, probably — but I wanted something more substantial to pair with the beef. I wanted red wine. Enter Southold Farm + Cellar’s “Counting Stars,” ($28) a one-of-a-kind sparkling petit verdot that packs a punch of dark fruit and spicy black pepper with mouth-watering acid and soft-but-there tannins. It was so good we drank my last two bottles.

Lenn Thompson