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Tasting Notes with Jim Beauregard: Wines for the waning days of summer

Some months ago, my editor, Tom, suggested focusing on beers that would be ideal for summer. And that got me thinking about summer in general, which was great, because, as I recall, when Tom sent me that email it was cold, dreary, gray day, alternating between snow and rain — generally miserable in other words, and the thought of summer seemed a distant fantasy in the midst of a winter that would not let us out of its grip.

But, we made it, and the warm weather did come, and I started the hunt for light refreshing beers that would be perfect for the season.

There are wines that are also good for summer, and not just whites and rosés. (Of course, I am one of those people who drink red wine year-round, and I’m happy to have a big bold red in August — or a relatively cold glass of Guinness Stout properly poured.) But two wines have come across my path in recent weeks that make for ideal summer drinking, and that’s what I want to tell you about today.

The first comes from just up the road at LaBelle Winery on Route 101 in Amherst. Amy and Cesar have been making a variety of different wines, white and red, for some time now. I was recently given a bottle of LaBelle’s Red Alchemy, and thought I should pass the word along to you. It is a red wine made from a mixture of three grapes. The label doesn’t list the grapes, but it does tell me that it is a “semi-dry” wine, though in fact I’d put it more toward the dry end of the spectrum, which makes for good summer drinking. It is purple with ruby notes, overall, a Pinot Noir-style color presentation.

The nose is rich in red fruit, with cherry and strawberry coming to the fore at different points. It is a medium bodied wine, with a good balance of complements, and flavors of red cherry, hence of mascarpone, strawberry, some earthy hence and sweet spice that stand fast through a long pleasant finish. All in all, very good for summer drinking.

The makers recommend pairing with poultry, beef and salmon, and I couldn’t agree more. Amy and Cesar, if you haven’t done it yet, please come up with a chicken dish in a raspberry sauce because that would pair perfectly with this.

Our second wine for today is not from just up the road; rather it’s from an ocean and a hemisphere away. South Africa has become one of the world’s great wine regions, and one of the grapes they grow there is Cabernet Sauvignon. Now, Cabernet has a long tradition as a “big” grape — that is, one that is known for making big, bold and great wines. It is a standard ingredient in the great wines of Bordeaux. As a single varietal it can, in its California incarnation, explode with currant, blackberry, awesome tannin and not a few other glorious complements. It is also a group that has been experimented with in South America, where it tends to have a more herbal presentation. In South Africa, it is offered as a single varietal, and also as a rosé, as anyone who is a fan of Mulderbosch well knows.

Today, we’re going to take a look at “Ou Kalant” Coastal Region Cabernet Sauvignon from M.A.N. Family Wines, South Africa (14% alcohol by volume; $9.95 at Angela’s Pasta and Cheese Shop in Manchester). The “Ou Kalant” means “old rascal”, and the name of the winery comes from the wives of the three winemakers, Marie, Annette and Nicky.

This version of Cabernet presents itself as a medium intensity red, purple in color, with the nose of black fruit and some herbal hints. The palate is a medium weight with flavors of blackberry and some earthy notes that reflect the nose. The flavors run steady through the finish, and the wine has good balance.

The makers recommend pairing of lamb chops, steak and poultry, and I concur. It’s not a fruit forward wine, as you would find with a California Cabernet, but rather a food wine, perfect for pairing with summer fare on the grill.

So, while we focused on beer a bit for these warm summer days, let’s not forget there are some wines — and yes, even red wines — that blend well with the season.

Wendy was lamenting the fact that it was dark at 8 p.m. while we were tasting these wines. I suppose it’s time to start thinking about fall. But not just yet — not quite.

Contact local beer and wine writer Jim Beauregard at


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