Why do they call it the “dog days of summer” anyway? I can’t imagine dogs liking this heat and humidity any more than we do.
Turns out there’s a stunningly obscure and irrelevant explanation that has nothing to do with overheated pooches. To ancient Romans, these days mark the time of year when Sirius, the “Dog Star,” is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (Large Dog).
Information of little value unless it can win you a bar bet.
Still, Everybody talks about the weather. And, by golly, wine fans can do something about it.
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We can drink low-alcohol wines. Why? Too much alcohol can make a wine (and a wine drinker) feel hot, whatever its temperature as measured by the thermometer.
In cooler weather people, especially Americans, like big, bold, alcoholic wines. A hale and hearty cabernet sauvignon can have more than 14 percent alcohol. So can big, fat California chardonnays. Muscular red zinfandels regularly top 15 percent alcohol, putting them only a point or two below port wines, many of which have 17 percent.
What we wine sippers can do is find wines with less than 13 percent alcohol, which can seem refreshingly cooler than their boozier brothers and sisters. These are mostly white wines, or at least rosés.
How to make wines with lower alcohol? Easy. Pick the grapes less ripe. Extra ripeness creates more sugar in grapes, which ferments into alcohol.
Another way: Riesling grapes are traditionally fermented quickly, stopping before all the natural sugars are turned into alcohol. It makes wines that are 7 to 11 percent alcohol. And, since some sugar remains, lightly sweet.
Champagne, Spanish cava, Italian prosecco and California sparkling wine are routinely made of grapes picked less ripe, because winemakers want crisp acids to add to the prickly effects of the bubbles.
Here are some nice, cool, low-alcohol wines to help you through summer.
▪ 2014 Netley Road Riesling, Frankland Estate, Western Australia (100 percent riesling), 12.3 percent alcohol: citrus blossom aromas, flavors of white peaches, cloves and minerals; $35.
▪ 2014 Martin Codax Albarino, Rias Baixas Spain (100 percent albarino) 12.5 percent alcohol: aromas and flavors of peaches, limes and minerals, crisp acids, medium body; $15.
▪ 2015 Fattoria Sardi Rosato (Rosé), IGT Toscana (sangiovese, merlot, ciliegiolo, syrah), 12.5 percent alcohol: pale pink hue, crisp, light and lively, with aromas and flavors of red raspberries and minerals; $20.
▪ 2013 Stoller Family Estate Reserve Chardonnay, Dundee Hills, Ore., 12.9 percent alcohol: hint of oak, aromas and flavors of ripe apples, lime zest and spice; crisp and dry; $35.
▪ 2014 Apothic White “Winemaker’s Blend” (chardonnay, riesling, pinot grigio), 12 percent alcohol: floral aromas, flavors of ripe peaches and tropical fruits, slightly off-dry; $14.
▪ 2015 SIP Rose (100 percent pinot noir) 11.5 percent alcohol: light pink hue, aromas of camellias, strawberry flavors, crisp and dry; $15.
▪ 2015 Mouton Cadet Rosée, “Cannes Film Festival Limited Edition,” (merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon), 12.5 percent alcohol: bright pink hue, aromas and flavors of ripe cranberries and herbs, hint of tannin; $13.
▪ 2015 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc “Regional Collection,” Marlborough, New Zealand (100 percent sauvignon blanc), 12.5 percent alcohol: light green hue, crisp and lively, with aromas and flavors of green melons and minerals; $13.
▪ 2015 Mirassou Moscato, Calif. Pale hue, quite sweet, with aromas and flavors of ripe peaches and oranges, fruity finish, 7 percent alcohol; $12.
▪ Nonvintage Champagne Forget-Brimont Brut Premier Cru (40 percent pinot noir, 40 percent pinot meunier, 20 percent chardonnay), 12 percent alcohol: lots of tiny bubbles, dry and delicate, with aromas of white flowers and green pear flavors; $45.