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Wine Tasting with Food & Wine’s Ray Isle

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For wine connoisseurs, summer is nature’s call for lighter, refreshing wines. It’s their moment to sit back on a deck (or picnic blanket) while lazily, breezily, freely sipping the extraordinary. You might say Ray Isle, Food & Wine’s executive wine editor, is trained to recognize this kind of extraordinary. Isle leads our wine glasses to some of his personal warm-weather favorites, and reveals the winemakers and regions making a splash this year.

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Previews Inside Out What are some of your favorite wines for summer?

Ray Isle Vinho Verde and Txakoli at the moment. They both make you happy to be alive.

Previews Inside Out Everyone reaches for the whites and rosés during summer—but are there any light reds that you like in warm weather?

Ray Isle Sure. Good cru Beaujolais, Barbera, some lighter Pinot Noirs—but even richer reds, if they’re not too tannic, can be good in the summer if you chill them down a little.

Previews Inside Out Let’s go back to whites for a second. Are there any grapes or styles that seem particularly strong this year?

Ray Isle I wouldn’t say “this year” particularly, but I’m heartened by the rise in popularity of dry Rieslings, even if it’s still a minor category in terms of wine as a whole. If you want “strong” across the whole world of wine, in terms of sales, then cheap Moscato is still going gangbusters. Can’t say I have any desire to drink it myself, but there you have it.

Previews Inside Out Which wine-producing regions (domestic and international) have especially caught your attention this year? 

Ray Isle The 2012 vintage in Oregon is spectacular. Farther afield, I spent some time in Puglia this spring and loved the delicious simplicity of its wines and cuisine.

Previews Inside Out Where are the “hidden gem” wines coming from right now?

Ray Isle Greece, particularly for whites; Portugal, particularly for reds.

Previews Inside Out Which winemakers should be on our radar this year?

Ray Isle I think some of the young, ambitious, small-scale California winemakers are doing great things. Dan Petroski at Massican, Graham Tatomer at Tatomer Wines, and Matthew Rorick at Forlorn Hope are a good introductory trio.

Previews Inside Out Are there any new winemaking trends that you think will be particularly impactful in the future?

Ray Isle I think it will be interesting to see what the introduction of genetically modified yeasts will have on winemaking as a whole; it’s already a contentious subject, and my bet is it’s only going to get more so.

Previews Inside Out If money were no object, what would be the ultimate vintage you’d want to acquire for your collection? 

Ray Isle If money were no object, I’d love to have a couple of cases of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet appear in my apartment suddenly. I’d also like some well-meaning soul to give me a castle in southern France. Then I could sit around in my castle, drinking Montrachet and feeling rather pleased about things. Unfortunately, none of this is going to happen. 

Previews Inside Out Any advice for the wine collector who has it all?

Ray Isle Drink it.

Previews Inside Out Do you have a bottle in your wine fridge right now that you’re dying to open on a hot summer day? 

Ray Isle I have one remaining bottle of 2010 Auguste Clape St. Péray Blanc that I look at every time I open the fridge. I am torn between the desire to open it as soon as humanly possible, and the desire to keep it for several years to see what happens to it. I suspect the latter urge is going to lose out.

Previews Inside Out You’ve got a summer salad and a burger on your plate. What are you drinking?

Ray Isle Whatever’s nearby that looks good. I don’t see any reason to worry too much about the whole pairing thing. It would depend more on whether I was outdoors or not, and how hot it was. But, in the “if wishes were horses” realm, how about a glass of 1985 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo?

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Wine Tasting with Food & Wine’s Ray Isle

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