Picture the scene: Blue sky, green grass, soft picnic blanket below and, in one hand, a vibrant pink wedge of watermelon (preferably salted). In the other hand, of course, is a glass of wine. But what kind? That part is less straightforward.
If you’ve ever been disappointed by artificial watermelon flavor, you know that the fruit is incredibly complex and hard to reproduce. It’s often used as a descriptor in tasting notes, so it feels like watermelon tastes only, and distinctly, like watermelon. But there are plenty of nuances to play with when you reach for a bottle. Stick to something light-bodied, chill it well and read on to initiate your own watermelon-pairing experimentation.
A good, ripe watermelon (look for yellow spots on the rind and a melon that feels heavy for its size) has a rich, lingering, honeyed sweetness. You want a wine with a similar character but that’s also light in body, to match the melon’s ethereal texture. Look for a crisp wine with some residual sugar; off-dry Vouvray is a good option.
In addition to that long honey characteristic, watermelon has a bright, fruity sugar rush that hits you right up front. A pale Provençal rosé will have a complementary candy-watermelon flavor, but it’s balanced by enough acidity to keep the combination from being cloying.
If you’ve ever enjoyed watermelon in a salad with feta and mint or basil, you know that the fruit has an herbaceous quality that loves salty, savory flavors. Mimic the bracing tang and salt of the cheese with a white wine that has some salinity, like Greek Assyrtiko or Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand’s Awatere Valley, which also has well-matched herb notes.
The deeper the color of the watermelon, the more lycopene it has. This is a chemical that naturally occurs in some fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes. It can break down into flavor compounds reminiscent of lemon or lime. Pairing it with a citrusy sparkling wine, like a Cava or Corpinnat from Penedès, will make a cool, refreshing treat.