Don’t be afraid to admit it: you’re a red wine snob. You’re cuckoo for cabernet, super-fond of Super Tuscans, mad about merlot.
In the summer, it can get pretty lonely out there, can’t it? Picnics and parties are an endless round of buttery chardonnays, sweet rieslings and (God forbid) rosé, which you dismiss as little more than pink Kool Aid with a bad aftertaste.
I’m here to help. There are a number red wines that drink perfectly well in warm weather. Many somms use a simple rule when recommending summer reds: stick with the thin-skinned grapes. The most common ones are pinot noir, grenache, sangiovese and tempranillo.
Nebbiolo is also a thin-skinned grape, but it doesn’t behave like one. It’s the main ingredient in barolo and barbaresco. It’s powerful, tannic and hard to tame.
But the other four can be fashioned into light-bodied, fruit-forward wines that often benefit from being chilled or at least served at what I can “northern European room temperature” – 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit.
The most popular wine in the light-red world. For summer, stick with Burgundian-style pinot – light in color and body, often barnyard-ish and funky when you sniff it, dominated by cherry notes and very light on tannins at the end.
The Burgundy region of France is obviously the first choice for pinot noirs, but Oregon and New Zealand also make excellent Burgundian-style pinots. In California, the northern regions produce the best light-bodied examples of pinot: Anderson Valley, Russian River, the Santa Lucia Highlands. ($19, BUY HERE!)
Go for the 2015 Cloudline Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley – THE region for Oregon pinots.
A Spanish grape that also does well in France’s Southern Rhône Valley, where it’s called grenache. It’s the backbone of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines. But they’re often pretty meaty; far better in summer to go with lighter Côtes du Rhônes grenache. Or, if you want to save some green, go with Spanish granachas, which often have more backbone than their French counterparts.
From Italy’s Tuscany region. Makes an excellent, all-purpose barbecue wine. Some are blends; Montefalco Rosso, an inexpensive mélange of sangiovese and sagrantino, carries delicate flavors of strawberry, tart cherries and white flowers. Most Chianti is made with 100 percent sangiovese grapes. It’s medium bodied, with crisp acidity and light tannins.
Another light-bodied Spanish grape, medium ruby in color. It delivers tastes of cherry, plum, tomato and sometimes dried fig, with mild to medium tannins.
New World tempranillos from Argentina, Mexico and the U.S. usually deliver more fruit than their Spanish counterparts – a taste profile highlighted by cherry and tomato sauce, followed by tannins and earthy notes. Crianza rioja tempranillo, which spends a minimum of one year in casks, has long been prized by fans of the grape because it finds a sweet spot of quality and price – it often tastes more expensive than it is.
Made in France, generally from the Gamay grape, it’s a wonderful wine for summer barbecues. It’s not at all tannic and has a strong acid backbone, and it’s ready to drink as soon as it’s put in the bottle.
But if you’re tired of the late-summer Beaujolais habit, consider a similar grape that’s unjustly overlooked: Austria’s Blaufränkisch. It can be spicy and juicy yet elegant and structured – and it’s seldom expensive.