It’s hot. That’s not news. You are sweating right now on the subway, waiting for a bus or in a taxi. Or you are freezing in your office because you are dressed for the weather but your office air conditioner is barely hovering over double digits. But do you know what is coming? Only a few days away? THE WEEKEND! And nothing, nothing beats a summer weekend. Sandy, steamy beach vacations, outdoor cookouts, weekends with friends and a general feeling of excitement and optimism. What is the psychology of it? Is it a hold out from when we had months off of school for summer vacation? The longer days? The vitamin D? The warmer weather? Who knows the answer, but along with cookouts, fish tacos, and weekends with friends comes a need for great summer wines! I always get so excited to see the recommended wines for the season, the new grapes, the new regions and the new trends. The challenge comes when I take that list to the wine shop only to find out they don’t stock any of the wines I am looking for. I thought about this for a while and realized the simplest way to do a wine guide isn’t to recommend specific brands of wines but instead kinds of wines for which there will be many producers.
So that’s what we have here. A list of which wines you should stock up on as your weekends and beach holidays get into full swing. These are all kinds or regions that will serve you well – along with some pairing suggestions. Feel free to weigh in, I’d love to hear what wines you are serving and loving this summer!
Sparkling wines are the first thing you should add to your basket when wine shopping for the summer. They go great with cold seafood, oysters on the half shell, smoked salmon, and hard to pair things like salads with vinaigrette. Plus opening sparkling wine is just plain cheery! You can always buy Champagne but if you want to save a few dollars, look for sparkling wines from Burgundy or the Loire Valley, both also in France. Because they can’t be called “Champagne” you can expect to pay a significant amount less. You can also look for Italian Prosecco which is generally less complex (read: easier drinking) than Champagne and mixes well with juices or cordials.
If you are in the US, and on a budget, look for Gruet sparkling rosé, which is a sparkling wine made in New Mexico of all places and is really outstanding for about $16/bottle. Look out, also, for La Marca Prosecco for about $13 a bottle and both can frequently be found at grocery stores or odd ball places like World Market.
White wines are frequently associated with summer because they usually served with fish and vegetables and are usually the kind of wine you want to drink during the day. I’m not sure why but I do know that drinking red wine during the day makes me very sleepy and drinking white doesn’t. No idea why. In general you pair white wines with white meat like seafood, chicken and pork but keep in mind that the most important thing is to consider the whole of the dish, meaning what it is served with or how it is cooked. For example you wouldn’t pair coq au vin (a classic chicken dish) with white wine. So here are some white wine suggestions for the summer of 2014:
Sauvignon Blanc….poor Sauvignon Blanc. It really peaked in the 00’s and with popularity of Cloudy Bay came its demise. No one can like something if EVERYONE likes it. So Yogi Berra, right? If you aren’t an anti-SB person look for Sauvignon Blancs from the Marlborough or Martinborough regions of New Zealand. This region showcases the grassiest of Sauvignon Blanc. Or less grassy French Sauvignon Blancs — which are usually the white wines of Bordeaux, Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé. This is the best wine to pair with oysters on the half shell, other raw seafood or foods with lots of herbs or, specifically, cilantro or lemongrass.
Picpoul de Pinet – This is a grape that has only moved out and started living on its own in the past few years. The wines that come from it are grapefruity, very acidic and absolutely bone dry – which means they are not sweet at all. They usually come in tall green bottles and usually from the Languedoc region of France. These wines pair great with fish, cold seafood, oysters on the half shell, and super briny seafoods. If you are throwing salmon on the grill, this is what you want to open.
Chardonnays. Chardonnay is the red wine of the white wine world. It can have extremely high alcohol content and so can be an absolute belter of a wine. Your best bet for general like-ability, drinkability and matchability is to look for unoaked chardonnays. These match with buttery seafoods, lobster rolls, clambakes, bbq chicken, sausages. This is what you want to find sitting at your table if you are serving any kind of hot buttery bubbly seafood like broiled oysters. Yummmm.
Dry (meaning not sweet) rosé wines are, or should be, a summer staple. They are great wines to pair with grilled fish or chicken or vegetables and things with a cream sauce go well with a rose – not that you usually have a cream sauce on grilled foods but hey, it could happen.
France and Spain are the two countries that probably take rosé wine making most seriously. From France you can expect wines that are lighter in color and mouthfeel, more crisp, more refreshing. Spanish rosés are more full bodied, darker and just feel like they fill the mouth more. Think about food in these countries – in Spain you would pair the wines with salty fish, fatty meats and preserved vegetables. In France you would pair them up with grilled fish or picnic foods like sandwiches, deviled eggs, chicken salad – those kinds of things. Wines can run from $10 to $50 and are varying degrees of good. Domaine Ott is my favorite for an easily accessible and high-end French rose, but the same wine makers also produce a less expensive version called Les Domaniers which isn’t complex but is a very easily drinkable, light and floral wine. Also from France look for rosé made in Sancerre. If you are in the UK, try the Tesco Finest one. You’ll be surprised how good it is.
Pinot Noir is the classic red wine for summer because it is light in body and light in alcohol (usually), but good ones are expensive and inexpensive ones can be overly light, almost watery. If you can find a good one, hang onto it! If you don’t have a stash, here are a few other reds to pick up:
Beaujolais: This is a region that produces light red wines made from the gamay grape. Among other reasons Beaujolais is a thing because they are mostly enjoyed fresh from the press, not aged. As a matter of fact there is a big “Beaujolais Nouveau” PR event that happens at Thanksgiving each year where people race to France to buy and consume the very first Beaujolais available for the season. But look beyond that and you can find some really spectacular, light red wines that are extremely reasonably priced. There are 10 grand crus of Beaujolais. That means there are 10 regions within Beaujolais that produce the best wines. Look for these and you improve your odds of having a like-able one. Look for Beaujolais from Brouilly, Régnié, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Saint-Amour, Chénas, Juliénas, Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent.
Beaujolais wines pair well with sausages, pork, chicken with light sauces, lightly grilled fish and heavier passed hors d’oeuvres.
Barbera d’Alba or Barbera d’Asti: These wines are both from the Piemonte region of Italy. They are known for being acidic with cherry, raspberry, blackberry and a slight amount of oak – which makes them a lively and rich choice without getting too heavy for warm, summertime consumption. These will pair really well with grilled meats like lamb, beef, pork and sausages or anything grilled and then served with a heavy red sauce (rare, I admit, but possible).
Going back to the top, if you can afford to splash on pinot noir for the summer stock look for Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon or Pinot Noir from New Zealand (specifically Martinborough, Marlborough, Central Otago and Waipara Valley). Of course Burgundy is the royal elite of the Pinot Noir grape and one that you can generally get your hands on is Faiveley, a winery I had the good fortune to visit a few years ago with my friend and wine expert Anne Dowling who owns Breckenridge Wine & Cheese in Breckenridge, Colorado. Faiveley is one of the largest vineyard owners in Burgundy so you are more likely to find them and be able to afford them than some of the more obscure recommendations I could give you. They go up the price scale from the wider geographical regions to the most specific where they, even though they are mass market, are likely to cost at least three figures.