One of the greatest wine canards is that red wine is cool-weather wine, as if you’re committing a major faux pas by drinking red between Easter and Labor Day, or white any other time. True, nothing takes the edge off the dog days of summer like a crisp, refreshing white. But the foods we drift to in late summer—the burgers, ribs, and steaks we fire up on the grill—are incongruous with white wine.
So which reds are best for summer? Surely not the expensive, hard-to-find trophies some wine writers extol, which seem tired in the season’s heat. Look instead to balance big, smoky flavors from the grill with wines of contrasting weight and body—wines that will revive the palate rather than dominate the conversation.
Cool-temperature wines are one answer. Temperate climes such as Austria or France’s Loire Valley and Beaujolais region produce reds with crisper acidity that can cut through strong flavors and refresh the palate. And sunnier locales—Spain, southern France, Italy, and Greece—offer a variety of well-balanced wines with flavors that complement lighter Mediterranean fare. Look for Grenache from France (called Garnacha in Spain) and Barbera, Merlot, and Sangiovese from Italy.
Here are summer-worthy reds good with grilled foods, listed from lighter-bodied to medium-bodied. Let the wines chill in the fridge or on ice for a half hour to bring out the fruit flavors. That’s good advice for any red any time of year, but especially now when the cool temperature is welcome. Plus it gives you time to chill while the coals fire up—and knock back a crisp summer white to get the night started.
Burgers, Sausages, Pizza
Wine regions and types: Austria; Beaujolais; Sangiovese and Merlot from Italy; Merlot and Carmenere from Chile.
Recommendations: Anton Bauer Zweigelt 2005, Donauland, Austria, $15; Barone Fini Merlot 2005, Trentino, Italy, $12; Terra Noble Carmenere Reserva 2005, Chile, $13.
Tuna, Salmon, and Other Fish
Wine regions and types: Shiraz from Australia or South Africa; Syrah from California or Washington state; Pinot Noir from California or Oregon.
Recommendations: Al Muvedre 2006, Alicante, Spain, $14; Langmeil “The Long Mile” Three Gardens 2005, Barossa, Australia, $20.
Wine regions and types: Barbera and Sangiovese from Italy; Garnacha and Tempranillo from Spain; most reds from Portugal and from Côtes du Rhône and Languedoc in southern France.
Recommendations: Alamos Malbec 2005, Mendoza, Argentina, $10; Jean-Luc Colombo, “Les Abeilles,” Côtes du Rhône, $12; Planeta, La Segreta, Sicily, Italy, $13; Domaine du Fontenay, “L’Authentique,” Côte Roannaise, $13.
Hunks of Meat
Wine regions and types: Malbec from Argentina; Côtes du Rhône and Languedoc from southern France; Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile; Shiraz from South Africa or Australia; Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah from California or Washington.
Recommendations: Domini 2003, Douro, Portugal, $15; Cousiño Macul Antiguas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Maipo, Chile, $14; Wild Horse Merlot 2005, Paso Robles, California, 2005, $20; Dry Creek Vineyard, Old Vine Zinfandel 2004, California, $25.
Dave McIntyre posts his weekly wine picks every Thursday on Washingtonian.com.