Summer is a party. Maybe because most people have carefree memories of summer vacation, great family barbecues and picnics or great local festivals and events, summer is not only a time to shed your clothing but your cares as well. As the song says, “Summertime and the living is easy”. So, it’s a good idea to find some great wines to help make that happen.
The good news is that summer is not the time to drink expensive wine. Since summer is the time for larger gatherings, you should have lots of refreshment on hand and serving fancy high-end wine is going to break the bank. Save those special bottles for later in the year when the groups become more intimate and the food more hearty and comforting.
Also, when there are large groups, it usually means lots of pot lucks with a great number of dishes, so you need versatile, food-friendly wines.
Second, you should choose wines that will take a chill. Of course, white wines fit the bill very well, but there are many lighter red wines that are great when served chilled.
When choosing white wines for summer drinking, think of wine with a nice level of acidity. Most wine salespersons and labels refer to this as “crispness”, rather than acidity. As there are bound to be lots of salads with summer fruits and vegetables, a crisp white wine will complement these flavors.
One of the best choices is Sauvignon Blanc. This tangy wine with its famous hints of citrus, green apple and stone fruit is a great party starter and goes superbly with any salad, especially when there is a little soft goat or sheep cheese. A salad of field greens, walnuts, fresh fruit or berries and a little cheve is fantastic, but just as good with tangy pasta or potato salads.
If you like a smoother Chardonnay wine, look for unoaked, steel-tank aged varieties for the simple fact that they will be slightly more crisp than oak-aged Chardonnay. If you like your seafood with lots of butter and lemon, this is the wine for you. Of course, California has thousands of great examples. For summer, try the hotter climate Sonoma Chardonnay, or there are many similar styles from Chile for a reasonable price. Try the Concho y Toro and Montez.
Good Italian whites can be found from $8 to $10 and have universal appeal. Beside the popular Pinot Grigio, Orvieto is generally a little lighter and wonderfully refreshing. Vernazzia is slightly more floral and delicate, which makes it perfect with crab.
If you are a fan of German wine, like Riesling and Gewurztraminer, they tend to be a little sweet and are excellent with spicy food, like Mexican and Thai. But these same varietals from Alsace are much crisper and a great choice with any poultry. There are well-priced options from King and Umbrecht. The wines of Alsace are becoming more popular and are really worth a try.
What is summer without a barbecue? And that means a variety of meats and fish cooked on the grill. Though rich and potent Cabernet Sauvignon from California might be great in an air-conditioned steakhouse, you will more than likely be outside in the heat. In this case, your guests may enjoy a lighter red wine with enough flavor to stand up to a chill.
One of the best choices is Malbec from Argentina. There are lots of good ones for under$15, and they are exotic enough to give your party a “wow” factor and are just delicious with any grilled meat or hearty fish, like salmon or tuna steak. This is why you’ll find many Malbecs in Brazilian and Argentine steakhouses, where beef eating and hot weather go hand-in-hand. One of the tastiest and least expensive is Caetena, which can be found in many supermarkets and price-club stores for around $12. Phoebus, made from 80-year old vines, is a steal for under $20. Even the cheaper Malbecs are very drinkable, as the wine industry in Argentina has made great strides in the last 10 years.
Other inexpensive options are the South African red wines made from Pinotage or blends with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and others. The Pinotage variety has a unique Smokey characteristic that is just wonderful with barbecued foods. There are many in the $10 to $12 range. There is a cute wine from the region called Goats do Roam, a play on Cotes du Rhone, made with grape varietals famous in that Southern French region, and can be found for under $10. If you’d like to spend a bit more, try one of the best, Stehlman’s, which is consistently one of the best South African wines.
The final summer red recommendation is Beaujolais, which is a sub-region of Burgundy, in France. This wine is made from the Gamay grape, which is very fruity and light-bodied, but still completely dry. It can be chilled to the same degree as white wines, and goes great with any food. This is a nice wine to start with, if you are just beginning to explore the world of fine wine. There are many for under $10, but it’s worth it to spend a little more for one that specifies “Beaujolais-Villages” on the bottle. This indicates a local wine of smaller production, which is always more interesting and desirable. A very recent discovery is Chateau des Tours, a Gamay/Pinot Noir blend from Broilly, for $10. This wine had the easy drinkability along with the tang and cherry fruit of a Pinot Noir, and was thoroughly delightful at a great price.
These wines should be kept on ice, separating the reds from whites for easy identification. Since these wines are all made to drink young, there is no need to fuss with them, just open and serve. As a rule, white wines can be served ice cold, and reds are best when the bottle feels cool to the touch, but the red wines suggested above are very good cold. Anyway, it’s hot outside and cold wine will taste great!
Of course, you can just buy whatever is on sale and put it on ice, but it just might be completely wrong for summer food. Early experiences with low-quality, cheap wines has done a lot to turn off many to drinking wine. However, in this day and age, cheap doesn’t have to be bad. These above mentioned wine suggestions will enhance any summer gathering, whether a big crowd or a quiet moment on the old porch swing. Get summer started right with good friends, food and great summer wines.