by Maxine Hendry
Fellow winos — what wine do you drink when it’s 94 degrees outside? It’s easy to suggest a crisp, cold white or pink wine, but sometimes you just feel like a red. And that’s okay. There are some fun possibilities for drinking red during summer’s heat, which won’t “blow out your palate” and also pair well with warm weather fare.
So, what red wine matches nicely with the excessive warmth we’re having? Full-bodied, high alcohol options will usually fatigue your palate and leave you more lethargic than refreshed. Fortunately, there are countless wines that won’t leave your taste buds defeated during the 90+ degree temperatures on the horizon for the next month or two.
Remember these tips: sticking to wines with lighter body, lower alcohol, and less tannin with fresh fruit profiles will be your best bet. Stay away from fuller-bodied, oakier wines with higher alcohol levels and more tannin – they are much less refreshing. You can also give reds a slight chill in the fridge which adds a nice, refreshing quality.
How can you tell if the wine is lighter? Well first off, just look at the color of the wine. If you can’t see through the wine in its glass, chances are it might be a little heavy for summer. Wine can be lighter or heavier bodied naturally, or intentionally. Certain grapes are characteristically more subtle. Grapes with thinner skins will yield a less tannic wine, and when from a cooler region, they will usually have lighter body and more acidity. The flavors will be a little less heavy-handed too: wild fruit is complemented by notes of flowers, earth, herbs, and spices; and the flavors are not weighed down by heavy use of new oak aging.
Lots of tannin can be mouth-coating and dense tasting, and that will weigh down your taste buds and totally overpower delicately flavored foods. The higher acidity in a red is good for palate cleansing and increasing the “refreshing” factor of a wine. It also means more tart fruit versus ripe fruit flavor, which is generally more appetizing when it’s blazing hot outside.
If that sounds like the opposite of everything you know and love about red wine, don’t worry – there are “lighter” red wines that still pack lots of personality, flavor, and complexity. They are just more drinkable than some of their heartier cohorts. It’s like comparing a meal of grilled chicken on arugula to shepherd’s pie. Just as we eat lighter meals when it’s hot outside, we can also drink lighter wines. And since a lot of summer meals will have lighter flavors and fresher ingredients, matching them with a wine that enhances those qualities will make the best pairing. So, simply said, lighter wines better complement the food and agree more with our palate during hotness. Just imagine a light French Pinot to a big Argentine Malbec. Right now, something that’s lithe with more energy sounds much more quaffable.
Okay so which wines are lighter bodied? We’ll list some general grapes and regions you should check out, and why.
For a quick, basic go-to, Pinot Noir is always a great (but obvious) choice for a summer red! It’s usually medium-to-light bodied, lower in tannin and balanced with alcohol. The flavor is usually soft and easy to like with cherries, berries, exotic spices and earthy undertones. If you like flashier styles, Central Coast California Pinot Noir is always a safe bet. Expect to pay anywhere from $15 to over $50 for solid choices from Monterey and Santa Barbara. My favorites are from Sta. Rita Hills. (like Ampelos for only $32.99!) If you like the classic, more refined styles, there are plenty of options from France you will love. We have options from Burgundy at all price points but we also have excellently priced gems from Languedoc like organic Moulin de Gassac Pinot Noir only $13.99. And we feature plenty of choices from Williamette Valley in Oregon. If you want to try something a little different, I would suggest you try a Pinot Noir from New Zealand! They are delicious and a little more spicy/savory. If you usually love big California blends and such, might I suggest Sineann’s Pisa Terrace Pinot Noir from Central Otago in New Zealand for $25.99.
For the category of Pinot Noir, there are many options for you to try besides France, California, and Oregon too — try a funky one from Germany like Koehler-Ruprecht Pinot Noir ($21.99); or maybe a natural wine from Italy, like Movia Pinot Noir ($54.99); an Austrian like Höpler Pinot Noir ($22.99), one from New Zealand like Paper Road Pinot Noir ($23.99), or even a peppery South American one like Chilean Terrapura Pinot Noir ($11.99). They’re all a little different, and all definitely perfect for this nice weather. Try them with meals like garlic roast pork tenderloin with mustard cream sauce, wild mushroom bruschetta with goat cheese, grilled eggplant with pine nuts, vegan enchiladas, glazed ham with sweet potatoes, Chinese spiced pork lettuce wraps, or different types of simple pizzas and pastas.
On to some non-Pinot Noirs you might be over looking, which include many great wines from Italy. Try reds made from the varietal Barbera, from the Northern Italian region of Piedmont. This grape makes a likable red you can find at many price levels that’s slightly fuller than Pinot, and usually less earthy and without oak. We have Iuli Barbera for $19.99 and Tiamo Barbera for $11.99. Both are organic and very tasty. Also hailing from Piedmont, there are 3 exotic varietals I know you would love if you could try one: Grignolino, Freisa, and Ruché. They are very uncommon but really charming. Schiava from Alto Adige is another great red for picnics and warm weather, if you can find it. A Northern Italian wine you will enjoy and can actually find at most shops, including ours, is a young red from Valpolicella. The wines, made from blends of native grapes, including Corvina, are lovely with a slight chill and served with cured Italian meats, mild aged cheeses, dried fruit, roasted chicken or duck with polenta, different types of pizza, lighter pasta dishes, and anything with ham. There are also a few red grapes from Sicily that might be of interest, including Nerello Mascalese and Frappato. They can be done in a style that’s great chilled and served with summer BBQ’s featuring grilled meat or seafood, vegetables and rustic side dishes. We have options for both at the store!
There are also many options from France you might enjoy besides Pinot Noir. Notably, the long-standing summer favorite–Gamay-based wines from Beaujolais. These lighter bodied, fruity, dry red wines are quaffable and pair up nicely with grilled chicken, grilled pork, roasted turkey, quiche, big salads, seafood and hard to pair meals like Chinese food, Moroccan and even Indian! It’s delicious slightly chilled as well. A decent Beaujolais-Villages should cost between $12-$15 and a good Cru Beaujolais from areas like Morgon, Brouilly, or Moulin-à-Vent $20-$30. While Gamay can be simple and fruity, we sell one that has a funkier, earthier style that will totally impress you–Lapierre “Raisins Gaulois” Gamay for $19.99.
Some other lighter French reds you might like to try, and are easy to find, include varietals like Grenache, when done if a fresh, fruity style. You can find this grape from areas all over South France including simple Grenache-based blends from Côtes du Rhône for around $15, which will be more medium-bodied and spicy but soft and quaffable. In addition to Grenache, look out for other Rhône varietals such as Carignan and Cinsault. They’re all great chilled with grilled food! Likewise, many Cabernet Franc-based wines from the Loire Valley will give you a nice, medium-bodied red with spicy green and black pepper notes. Wanna try something even cooler? Look for red wines from the Jura region, made with the grapes Trousseau or Poulsard. You can find Trousseau in our store for instance; we have a few options from renowned maker Michel Gahier. It’s a lighter-bodied red with a little more tannin than you expect and bright acidity. A unique wine that’s all natural and really fun to drink.
Speaking of easy to drink (but hard to pronounce), there are a few grapes from Austria you will want to check out for something a little spicier! These fantastic native options include St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch. They are a bit fuller than Pinot Noir, and more peppery than earthy in flavor. Very tasty! Then there’s Zweigelt (pronounced TSVYE-gelt) which is a crossing of Blaufrankisch and St. Laurent, much the same style. I love this grape and it’s not uncommon to find a great bottle for around $15. What to eat with Austrian reds? You’ll love these wines paired with all types of barbequed meat plus Hawaiian or Korean cuisine, pad thai, sausages, pork asado, kebabs, seared tuna, swordfish, and pungent cheeses. You’ll recognize most of the bottles because of their red-and-white Austrian flag topped closures, and often times the bottles come in 1 Liter, which means a few extra glasses to enjoy!
From Spain you can find soft, fruity, easy-drinking, really affordable Garnacha wines from all over the country $10-$15. And while many Tempranillo-based reds can be earthy, bold, and/or oaky, you can also find enjoyable expressions that are fresh, light and juicy in Joven or Crianza style for $12-$20. Try also medium-bodied, peppery wines made from the grape called Mencia in the Bierzo region for around $15-$20. All of these are great with all sorts of tapas like olives, chorizo, tangy aged cheese or salty nuts, plus chargrilled sausages or eggplant, and other Mediterranean fare.
Lastly, we should probably mention a few other options you might enjoy that are made domestically. A lot of the grapes mentioned above have made their way to the US and also make wonderful warm weather reds. Aside from California and Oregon Pinot Noir, try soft, juicy styles of Grenache from California and Washington like my favorite, A Tribute to Grace Grenache from Santa Barbara for $36.99. (Or we have their even better priced Land of Saints blend for $19.99. ) Or try any red from Hiyu/Smockshop for something lithe, funky, and incredible — like the Spring Ephemeral Red, which is a gorgeous Grenache blend. We would also like to you remember: not all Zinfandels are huge, jammy oak monsters. One of our favorite wines right now is a California Zinfandel-Carignan blend from female winemaker, Martha Stouman. Not only is it a refreshing 11.3% abv, it’s all naturally made and low in production. We love that, and it’s only $25.99.
Well thank you for reading and I hope this finds you experimenting a little this summer when it comes to grabbing a red for your next grill out, picnic, or charcuterie plate on the patio. Think outside the box and try something other than your usual Cabernet Sauvignon, you’ll be totally delighted. I know I mentioned it about 9 times already, but try a chilled red — you will be really surprised what 15 minutes in the fridge will do to freshen up whatever choice you make.