Following on from last week's post about great summer white wines, I thought I'd talk about the abundance of summer reds that are equally refreshing and perfect for warm summer days.
Chill a Red Wine? Why Yes!
While I can appreciate the quality of a powerful, muscular, extracted wine these are typically not my go-to wines at any time of the year, so even outside of summer I am always on the lookout for juicy, mouthwatering lighter reds.
More red wines than we think work well during the summer. Just chill them. It is a well documented fact that most of the time we drink our red wines too warm, so in the summer heat put your red wine in the refrigerator or on ice for 30 minutes or so before serving. It can make such a difference to the enjoyment, especially during these rather hot days.
Chilling aside, there are other factors that contribute to making a red wine perfect for summer drinking. The specific characteristics of the grape variety are important as well as where the grapes are grown, how they were cultivated, vinified, and matured, as they all influence the eventual style, body and weight of a red wine. Less tannic varieties such as Gamay (especially Beaujolais), Barbera from Piedmont or Schiava from Alto Adige are easier to pair with fish and vegetarian dishes. Red grapes grown in cooler climates such as the Loire Valley, Alsace, Germany or Tasmania will make lighter, crisper wines. Less extraction during fermentation and less post-fermentation maceration will result in lighter-bodied, less tannic wines. Finally no oak to only minimal oak maturation makes for a fresher, fruitier wine more suitable for summer days and fare.
The Pleasure of Trying Something New
It would be impossible to give an exhaustive list of wines or grape varieties that are best for summer, as so much depends on your individual taste. If you are a die-hard full-bodied Cab or Shiraz person, don't worry, they can also work — just chill the wine slightly before serving. It can make quite a difference.
What I especially love about looking for summer reds is being able to explore the wealth of lesser-known varieties from all over the world. Some of these varieties were almost discarded or relegated to second class status ten to fifteen years ago, when all we wanted were wines from the wellknown international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Now, so many of these varieties and wines are making a well-deserved comeback as our jaded palates seek something different.
Since I was a teenager, I've carried in my head two important lines from my favorite Robert Frost poem "The Road Not Taken"
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
And thus I have discovered so many more amazing wines.
Below I've listed some of the summer gems that I've discovered over the past few weeks. And most are under $15 a bottle.
13 Refreshing Summer Red Wines
• 2008 Hého Le Rouge, Red Loire Wine, Serge Batard, Vin de Pays de Loire Atlantique, $10 — A gem of a wine from the cooler Loire valley. A blend of Gamay, Cabernet Franc and Grolleau Noir. Light ruby in color with aromas and flavors of spicy strawberry and raspberry. Light-bodied with lots of juicy fruit and soft tannins. Perfect chilled.
• 2009 Red on Black, Nemea, Peloponnese, Greece, $13 - Made from the local Agiorgitiko grape variety. I've tried this wine often, and it really came into its own in the warm weather. Full of really bright, fresh cherry fruit. Crisp, mouth-watering with lovely supple tannins. Hints of pepper and smoke on the palate. Long succulent finish.
• 2008 Tsantalis Mount Athos Agioritikos Red, Regional Wine from Mount Athos, Greece, $15 — Made from the indigenous varieties Xinomavro and Limnio. Deliciously fruity yet bone dry with lots of bright ripe cherry fruit, savory notes, supple tannins and crisp. Only 12% alcohol.
• 2006 Rapsani Vineyard Red Blend, Greece, $13 — A blend of local varieties – Xinomavro, Krassato and Stavroto. Really succulent. Packed with juicy, fresh ripe berries, lots of earthy minerality. Crisp, medium bodied with smooth, supple tannins and a long finish.
• 2007 Rosa Del Golfo Primitivo, IGT Salento Rosso, $15 — Deliciously spicy, like mulled wine. Flavors of damson, bramble fruit and lots of earthiness. Soft tannins and slight smoky note on finish. I just crave for smoky ribs.
• 2008 Porca de Murça Tinto, Douro DOC, Portugal, $9 — Made from traditional Douro grape varieties, this wine had lots of bright forest fruit flavors, black plum, Bing cherry with some sweet spice and earthy notes. Medium bodied with supple tannins.
• 2008 Jean-de-Roze Cabernet Sauvignon, Vin de pays d'Oc, $11 — This was a surprise for me. If I was expecting a typical big, full-bodied Cab I'd be disappointed, but for summer drinking, this wine is great. Light to medium bodied, with ample baked and jammy black fruit, warming spice, smooth tannins.
• 2008 Barbera d'Alba, Produttori di Govone, Piedmont, Italy, $10 — Made from the Barbera grape, known for its low tannins and high acidity, this wine is delicious. Lovely fresh forest fruits with some spice. Mouthwatering, lively and juicy cherry-berry flavors persist across the palate. Nice length.
• 2009 Beaujolais, Domaine Dupeuple Pere et Fils, AC Beaujolais France, $13 — Beaujolais is often an overlooked wine, but it is coming back into its own so much now. This is a particularly lovely wine. Juicy and delicious and packed with ripe black fruit, wild strawberry and raspberries and savory earthy notes. Medium-bodied with smooth, supple tannins.
• 2006 Burlotto Langhe Freisa, Piedmont, Italy, $18 — Made from the local Freisa grape variety, this wine is full of juicy wild black fruit – blackcurrants, blackberries and black cherries with lovely floral notes. Vibrant, and lingering.
• 2008 Grignolino "Poggeto", La Casaccia, DOC Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese, Piedmont, Italy, $12 — Another gem from Piedmont, made from the Grignolino grape variety. Aromas and flavors of dried red cherry, savory herbs and earthy minerality. A perfect match for pizza or air-dried meats.
• 2009 Guímaro DO Ribeira Sacra, Spain, $15 — Made from the Mencia grape variety, more well-known from Bierzo, this is a delicious wine filled with bright jammy blackberry, raspberry fruit with floral notes. Supple tannins, light-bodied, crisp and lively.
• 2009 San Pietro Schiava, DOC Alto Adige, Italy, $15 — Made from the local Schiava grape, this is a lovely fruity, easy-drinking wine, but bone dry. Pale color but very succulent and packed with dried cherries, some earthy, new leather notes and a hint of savory spice. Light-medium bodied, smooth tannins and extremely refreshing.
This is but a small snapshot of the great value, lighter style reds on the market. Would love to hear what your favorite summertime reds are.
Until next week!
Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She holds the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.
(Images: Mary Gorman)