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Grape Expectations 

Summertime is the right time to pair a wide variety of wines with dining.

While summer beverages often convey images of daiquiris, martinis, Planters Punch, Madras, cosmopolitans and other well-chilled if not frosty drinks, spirits that can certainly enliven the cocktail hour as worthy aperitifs -- they just don't go the distance for an entire evening's entertainment.
If dinner is in the picture, or even hors d'oeuvres or light dining, wine rates as the perfect accompaniment to any food. In fact, with the wide variety of wines available -- as well as cuisine -- finding the right food and wine pairings can definitely enhance the enjoyment of a summer evening.
Following are a few suggestions to add to your summer wining-and-dining fun.

NV Gaston-Chiquet "Carte Verde" Brut Tradition Champagne
France
$35-$37

Party pundits say Champagne makes any occasion a celebration, especially this premier selection. Made from 45 percent Pinot Meunier, 35 percent Chardonnay and 20 percent Pinot Noir, the grapes were sourced from vines averaging 25 years old. Each year the non-vintage wine is blended to reflect the house style: the current release is a cuvee of 80 percent of the 1998 vintage and 20 percent of the 1997. A well-structured wine of great finesse and exceptional grace, with oleander, mimosa and pumpernickel notes and silken details. Good with hors d'oeuvres like crab puffs, smoked salmon and shrimp maison. Available at Cork & Bottle and The Wine Seller.

2001 Mason Sauvignon Blanc, Napa
California
$17-$20

Without a doubt one of the best California Sauvignon Blancs on the market. Made from 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc grapes, 85 percent of the wine was cold tank fermented while 15 percent was aged in new French and American oak. Intense aromas of grapefruit and lime with floral nuances, follow-through on the palate with true varietal fruit character and marvelous citrusy, tart flavors. Great crispness, well-balanced acidity. Delicious just for summer-sipping or with a full range of foods from spicy Asian to seafood and pasta. Available at Dorignac's and Hugh's Wine Cellar in Mandeville.

2001 Nepenthe Sauvignon Blanc
Adelaide Hills, Australia
$11-$14

Australia's Adelaide Hills region, known for producing a rich style of Sauvignon Blanc, has another superb wine with this vintage. Rated between 90 and 100 by Robert Parker, this medium-bodied wine's concentrated aromas have a tinge of lemongrass, mineral and citrus rind notes. Fresh and lively, Nepenthe is a nicely textured wine generously flavored with vibrant, lingering citrus, melon and honeyed tropical fruit with a finely tuned acidity. Good with crabcakes, shrimp remoulade and buttery seafood dishes. Available at Dorignac's, The Wine Seller and Hugh's Wine Cellar in Mandeville.

2002 Errazuriz Chardonnay
Casablanca Valley, Chile
$6-$10

Chile's characteristic sunny days and ocean breeze-cooled nights produced a vintage with unusually high natural acidity. Full bodied, with ripe tropical aromas of papaya, guava, banana and a touch of coconut with floral accents, the wine offers juicy pear, tangerine and grapefruit on the palate with vanilla and toasty notes from French-oak aging. Delicious with trout amandine, eggs Benedict and crabmeat au gratin. Available at most Sav-A-Centers and Winn-Dixies, Dorignac's, Prytania Liquor Store, Lakeview Fine Foods, Robert's Fresh Market, Joe's French Quarter Wine Cellar, Breaux Mart, Acquistapace's Covington Super Market and selected Albertson's Markets.

2000 Schmitt Sohne Riesling Q.B.A.
Germany
$5-$10

The classic Riesling grapes for this wine, originating in the wine-growing region Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, experience a longer ripening process, resulting in a much-desired balance of sweetness and acidity. Reisling's pronounced flavor characteristics and elegance are in true flower in this medium-bodied wine, which offers peach and russet apple aromas and a firm, fruity, crisp acidity on the palate. Delicious with an array of foods from boiled seafood to Thai cuisine. Available at Robert's Fresh Market, Sav-A-Centers, Winn-Dixies, Prytania Liquor Store, Lakeview Fine Foods, The Wine Seller, Elio's Wine Warehouse, Dorignac's, Breaux Mart, Cost Plus World Markets, Zuppardo's, Antonio's Wine Cellar, Wal-Mart Supercenter, Wine 'N Liquor Outlet, Habano's of Slidell, Acquistapace's Covington Super Market and Hugh's Wine Cellar in Mandeville.

2000 Clos du Val Pinot Noir, Carneros
California
$16-$20

The amazing Carneros micro-climate produced the fruit in this classic New World style Pinot from Carneros: a red cherry fruit bomb ready to explode in the mouth. Aged 12 months in French oak, this medium-bodied wine offers red berry fruit aromas with hints of toasty oak followed by bursting red and black cherry flavors with strawberry notes on the palate. A well-integrated wine with great balance and complexity. Delicious with salmon, tuna, roast chicken and pork loin. Available at Dorignac's, Old Metairie Wine and Gifts, Habano's of Slidell and Hugh's Wine Cellar in Mandeville.

1999 Poliziano "Asinone" Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Italy
$32-$35

This single vineyard, high-quality Tuscan production, featuring 80 percent Sangiovese, 10 percent Merlot, and 10 percent Canaiolo Nero and Mammolo grapes, was aged in small oak casks for 16 months, followed by an additional 10 months in the bottle. Cherry, blackberry and earthy aromas tinged with dried herbs yield to deep berry and cherry flavors with oaky nuances and well-integrated tannins in this medium-bodied, velvety textured wine. Delicious with roasted chicken with garlic and herbs, veal dishes, pizza, pasta and cheeses. Available at Elio's Wine Warehouse and Acquistapace's Covington Super Market.

1999 San Vincente Tempranillo
Rioja, Spain
$33-$35

An extremely well-crafted wine from a single vineyard, this time from Spain's predominate Rioja region, the San Vincente Tempranilllo -- rated a 92 by Robert Parker -- showcases what an excellent producer can accomplish with dedication, a state-of-the art winery, and proper vineyard management. This lush, elegant and supple wine offers jammy black cherry aromas with nuances of espresso and vanillan. After 20 months in new French (60 percent) and American (40 percent) oak, those toasty notes shift to the palate to mingle with the black currant and black cherry fruit flavors. Delicious with osso buco, filet, seared duck breast and cheeses. Available at Martin Wine Cellar, Uptown and Metairie locations.

2001 Terrazas de los Andes Alto Malbec
Argentina
$9-$12

At nearly 1,100 meters above sea level and with a particularly encouraging micro-climate, Terrazas' Mendoza vineyards provide ideal growing conditions for the grapes destined for this wine. Well balanced, with good fruit extraction and acidity. Rich aromas of dried plums and figs with hints of vanilla and caramel give way to juicy, jammy ripe black fruit with soft, well-rounded tannins on the palate. A fine accompaniment to red and white meats, rich fish and pasta dishes. Available at Whole Foods Market on Magazine Street, Sav-A-Center on Tchoupitoulas Street, Vieux Carré Wine and Spirits, Dorignac's, Cost Plus World Market in Elmwood, both Martin Wine Cellar locations and Acquistapace's Covington Super Market.
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