Cool Summer Sips
Whether you’re hosting a picnic party or throwing a backyard barbecue, you’ll need the proper pours to add punch to the affair. Everything from an electric Chenin Blanc from Vouvray to a Pinot Noir-based rosé from Champagne and even a robust red (what else would you pair with a succulent grilled burger or steak?), has a rightful place at your party table. Here’s a guide to the best summer bottles.
When the mercury rises and you’re seeking a white wine to cool down and enjoy with summer-friendly fare, this Spanish variety can do the trick.
Marimar Torres, a native of Spain who crafts an Albariño at her Marimar Estate winery in California’s Russian River Valley, says the grape is ideal with foods like raw or grilled seafood, sushi and tapas.
“It’s very refreshing and delicious, minerally, with classic notes of key lime, white peach and a floral accent of hyacinth,” Torres says. “It’s long in the end, with a zippy and crisp finish.”
The Place: Russian River Valley, California
While Albariño hails from Galicia in northwest Spain, the grape is now creating profound expressions in the Russian River Valley.
Compared to the Russian River Valley, Galicia is very rainy, with temperatures warmer than that of Torres’s Sonoma vineyards.
“Our climate is heavily influenced by this huge mass of cold water, the Pacific, which has no parallel in European viticulture,” she says.
Thanks to the cooling marine fog layer, many of Russian River’s Albariño bottlings have plenty of acidity and a pleasurable sense of flesh.
“Our resulting wine is not as lean as the Galician Albariños, but just as aromatic and fragrant, and I’d say in general, a bit rounder,” says Torres.
Due to its light-bodied frame and crisp acidity, this elegant Italian white is excellent for evenings on the patio.
“The mineral character of the wine adds to its lean structure and great fruit, making it ideal for summer sipping and pairing with the bounty and heat of the summer,” says Shelley Lindgren, wine director and owner of California’s A16 and SPQR restaurants.
Lindgren recommends having Arneis as an apéritif, and also alongside foods ranging from watermelon salads, stone fruit and goat cheese, and linguine with clams.
The Place: Piedmont, Italy
Arneis creates some of its finest expressions in Roero, an area within Italy’s northwest region of Piedmont.
Although Arneis can be a difficult grape to cultivate—its name translates to “little rascal”—the chalky, sandy soils of the region give the grape its acidity and fine aromatics.
“In Roero, Arneis really shows an optimal expression of white flowers like gardenia and jasmine along with citrus like pomelo and mandarin, and an almond character as well,” says Lindgren.
With Piedmont’s hot continental summers, Arneis can become overripe by harvest. But Lindgren says that the landscape’s rolling hills create beneficial microclimates well-suited for the grape.
“Chenin Blanc is one of the greatest whites in the world,” says Lindgren. “It’s one of the white wines that usually red-wine-only lovers can really get behind.”
The grape often produces wines with bracing acidity, with builds that range from middleweight to heavyweight. Lindgren notes that aromas and flavors of quince marmalade, honey and lemon zest are typical.
“It can be a really fun wine to bring to guests or add to a collection of go-to wines for a weekend of fun in the summer,” says Lindgren. “This is a wine that will go great with the potluck scenario.”
She pinpoints oysters and mussels as well as sheep’s milk cheeses and cured meats as winning pairings for Chenin Blanc.
The Place: Vouvray, France
If you were to visit Vouvray in the Loire Valley, you’d find many cellars carved into the limestone subsoil. That limestone is integral to the region’s expression of the grape, says Lindgren.
“The flavors that are able to be absorbed by these vines are complex—mineral, flinty, wet stone—and add an important character to the personality and a sense of place,” she says.
Vouvray’s cool climate also makes Chenin Blanc ideal to combat the summer heat. The mild temperatures allow the grapes to maintain high levels of acidity, rendering a crisp wine.
Rosé is the summer wine—especially when it’s made with Pinot Noir. When the wine has bubbles, it’s even better—it commonly features succulent red-fruit and flower flavors. With its moderate alcohol, indiscernible tannins and effervescence, it’s the perfect punch against the sun. Plus, this style of Pinot Noir matches beautifully with summer cuisine.
“Sparkling rosé is an excellent pairing with lighter dishes like fresh fish and seasonal salads,” says Dominique Demarville, Veuve Clicquot’s chef de caves. “Yet, it also has the structure to stand up to heavier dishes like grilled meats.”
The Place: Champagne, France
If you’re looking for a Pinot Noir with plenty of verve, Champagne provides the perfect conditions to create wines with electric acidity and bright fruit flavors. Champagne’s combination of chalk-based soils and cool climate helps to shape light, fresh wines.
“Thanks to this freshness, our Champagnes are perfect for summertime,” says Demarville. “Champagne is the drink of celebration, and during the summer, we have often good opportunity to celebrate.”
While whites and rosés are go-to summer quaffs, reds shouldn’t be shelved. Give your red-wine-loving guests a glass of this Italian favorite at your next cookout.
“Sangiovese, when expressing its red fruit and delicate vibrant nature, is a versatile, smooth and ideal summer wine,” says Lindgren. “Sometimes, there is a smoked meat, leather character to the wine that is a classic for the famous bistecca fiorentina, so bring on the barbecue.”
Beyond grilled meats, Lindgren suggests pairing this powerhouse with vegetable-based pastas, especially where cherry tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant are involved.
The Place: Tuscany, Italy
Sangiovese, the most-planted red grape in Italy, is grown in regions like Le Marche, Umbria and, of course, Tuscany. For summer consumption, stock up on selections from Chianti Classico, a zone that falls between the Tuscan cities of Siena and Florence.
In Chianti Classico, the dry, hot summers and soils derived from marl and sandstone contribute to Sangiovese’s summer-worthy expression. Lindgren describes versions from this area as often being elegant, complex and smooth.
“The balanced dance of fruit and acidity makes for a red that lighter-bodied and fuller-bodied wine lovers both enjoy,” she says.
- 2The Grape: Albariño
- 3The Grape: Arneis
- 4The Grape: Chenin Blanc
- 5The Grape: Pinot Noir
- 6The Grape: Sangiovese