The first principle of wine in summer is to chill everything. That maxim about serving red wine at room temperature is not even true in winter anymore, and definitely not when the mercury is pushing 100 degrees. You’ve probably stocked your wine cooler or that second refrigerator in your basement with white wine and rosé. While you’re sipping on one of those, stick a bottle of red in the refrigerator door or a bucket filled with ice and water. I use a product called Rapid Ice, by VacuVin. Similar to those gel packs you have languishing in your freezer to keep food cool when needed, Rapid Ice is a round sleeve that fits over most wine bottles. Straight from the freezer and onto a bottle, its cools down a red wine in just a few minutes, while a white is chilled in about 20. They’re also great for refreshing a white or rosé that has warmed up too much. I consider them an essential wine gizmo, and they will last for years — I recently had an old one spring a leak, so I bought a pair of replacements on Amazon for $27.
The second summer principle is to drink light. This is not to say you can’t have your big honking reds with your big honking grilled steaks, as long as you chill the wines slightly. There’s always air conditioning, after all. But this is the perfect time of year to explore lighter wines that are lower in alcohol and aren’t aged in oak barrels. And since many winemakers have been shying away from the oaky style in recent vintages, we have lots of lighter reds to try.
The third summer principle is rosé. Rosé goes with just about anything, especially garlicky or spicy foods. And summer is the rosé season.
Now that we’ve gone over the summer drinking principles, here are some suggestions for styles of wines to pair with traditional summer fare.
Tomatoes: Match acidity with acidity. Crisp whites and rosés are your best bets with salads. For fresh tomatoes, try a txakoli from Spain or a slightly spritzy vinho verde from Portugal. Cooked tomato sauces on pasta are great with a pinot grigio or lighter Italian reds such as sangiovese (chianti) or montepulciano d’abruzzo. Gazpacho is often made with sherry, so try a dry, nutty fino to accompany it.
Fish: Grilling wild salmon? Try a pinot noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, or the Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast or Santa Barbara County in California. Actually, pinot might be my choice for any grilled fish. Or riesling, for white-wine lovers.
Shellfish: Lobster roll? The richness suggests a chardonnay, but one not dominated by new oak barrels. A chablis or Macon from France would be nice, or go regional and try a Long Island chardonnay. Or again, riesling. If you’re picking steamed crabs in bay spice — well, here’s where I’d concede the table to beer. But crab cakes or other preparations would pair nicely with an albariño from Maryland or Virginia (or, more traditionally, from Spain). A chenin blanc from South Africa would also be fine. As would riesling.
Fried chicken: Taking a bucket on a picnic, even in your backyard? Bubbles! Sparkling wine is the ideal partner to crunchy, salty foods such as fried chicken, potato chips and popcorn. You can choose to splurge on champagne or save with cava or prosecco, depending on your budget and occasion. Otherwise, try gruner veltliner. Or — wait for it — riesling.
Barbecue: Smoked and grilled meats present an opportunity to open your richer, savory reds, preferably at cooler-than-room-temperature. Fruit-forward zinfandel is a natural choice here, as are cabernet sauvignon and merlot or Rhone-style wines from grenache and syrah. Your left-field choices are: sparkling red wines, such as lambrusco from Italy, a bubbly shiraz from Australia, and the trendy fizz called pétillant-naturel, or pet-nat. Norton would also work here, for fans of Virginia and Missouri wines. Nebbiolo, as well.
What about all that fruit? Dessert is the ideal time to crack open a moscato, especially the low-alcohol, spritzy moscato d’asti style from Italy, with your cherry pie or peach cobbler. If it’s the weekend, save some to enjoy with blueberry pancakes the next morning. And while you savor those final sips, you can ponder what wine to open for dinner.
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