The other day, I opened a bottle of Saxum James Berry Vineyard Syrah based wine from the Paso
Robles region of Central California. While this wine was an excellent red wine with loads of
concentrated ripe dark red fruit with hints of pebble and earth and would pair nicely with braised
short ribs, it almost felt like honey on the palate in the 90 degree heat. As it were, like wearing
flannel trousers in the dead of summer.
Though most sommeliers try to pair the perfect wine with each dish, there is also a seasonal
pairing with wines, especially in the tropics where summers bring almost intolerable heat and
humidity. So keep those hearty red wines in storage until the leaves turn color, this is the time
for summertime sippers.
Starting At Your Neighborhood Market
For starters, many of these summertime sippers can be found right in your local supermarket.
Let’s start with Pinot Grigio (in Italy) or Pinot Gris (in America). This reddish grape that
produces white wines is one of the many relatives of Pinot Noir. In the states it produces floral,
fragrant wines that pair well with most white meats. In Italy, the same grape produces citrusy-
lemony wines with lighter body than the American counterparts. However both styles are great
with summer salads and grilled seafood. Most labels can be purchased in the $10 to $20 range
and I know your supermarket carries Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio (the commercial with the
slim brunette admiring herself in the black evening dress).
Moving along, one of my favorite hot weather wines is Sauvignon Blanc (or Fume Blanc ala
Robert Mondavi). I highlighted this grape varietal about 1 year ago (The Forgotten Sauvignon).
With a lighter body than Chardonnay and no palate coating oak or butter or vanilla flavors, this
refreshing white wine with its herbal qualities and nice acid is the perfect partner for all seafood
and grilled veggies. Once again, most Sauvignon Blancs run the $10 to $20 range so they fit
Finally, Rieslings are also a favorite summer wine with their combination of fruit flavors
(apricot, litchi, melon), fragrant aromas (honeysuckle, tropical flowers), mouthwatering acidity
and pleasant sweetness that refreshes the palate with every sip. An added bonus is that the best
summertime varieties are the CHEAPER Rieslings. You don’t have to and really don’t want to
purchase those $50 plus German Spatlese and Auslese Rieslings for those summertime gatherings.
What you do want are domestic Rieslings straight from the Golden State or farther north in
Oregon and Washington. Again, they run in the $10 to $20 range and pair perfectly with spicier
foods like Thai, Vietnamese or grilled poultry slathered with spicy, sweet barbecue sauce.
How About the Neighborhood Wine Shop
If you already live in wine country or one of the ritzier Bay Area neighborhoods, you might be
able to find some of these wines in your neighborhood market. For the rest of us, it might be
easier to peruse the local wine shop for these selections.
For starters, a favorite hot weather white wine is Chardonnay. What?! Chardonnay that coats the
palate with buttery richness, vanilla, oak and ripe rich fruit that makes your mouth feel 10
degrees warmer than the surrounding sun drenched soil. NO, not THAT Chardonnay. The other
Chardonnay from Chablis. And not that $75 Premier or Grand Cru Chablis on the top shelves of
the wine shop. Nor am I talking about that $10 box of “Chablis” from the bottom shelf of the
supermarket (which has as much in common with real Chablis as a Hyundai has to a Lexus). I’m
talking about every day real French Chablis – which will only set you back about $20.
Chardonnay from the Chablis region of France is made clean and crisp with lots of citrus and
hints of mineral. Your palate will be refreshed with every sip since it won’t be weighed down
with tons of oak, butter or fat fruit. Perfect with chilled seafood!
Several wineries in the United States and Australia are following Chablis’ lead and producing
Chardonnays that see no oak or are minimally oak aged and produce that same clean, crisp
minerality seen in Chablis. Since those “wintertime” Chardonnays dominate most of the shelf
space, you may have a harder time finding these unoaked Chardonnays.
If you local wine purveyor has a nice selection of Italian whites, I would suggest an Arneis,
Vermentino or Soave. Arneis wines have a subtle perfume of apple, pear and herbs and pair nicely
with traditional antipasti like proscuitto wrapped melon, salami and hard cheeses. Vermentino
wines have apple, citrus and stone fruit flavors and are great with any type of seafood, especially
shrimp. Finally, Soave is actually the name of the wine, not the grape itself (made from
Garganega and Trebbiano di Soave). This wine has hints of almonds, tropical fruit and flowers.
Whether you venture to try one or all three, they are all food friendly wines and all three are
usually priced below $20 per bottle.
Just Gotta Have That Red
For those of you who just can’t bear to look at a glass of white wine, simply close your eyes
while sipping. Just kidding. Just browse the Italian section of your local wine shop and look for
Dolcetto or Barbera. These are light to medium bodied red wines with predominant cherry and
other red fruit flavors and lighter tannins. You won’t find rich, ripe fruit that might overwhelm
your palate on a hot day nor will you find mouth stripping tannins. Barbera does have enough
acid to cleanse fat off of your palate and invite you to take another sip. While Dolcetto doesn’t
have the palate cleansing acid of Barbera, it does have sweeter fruit aromas that pair nicely with
sweeter barbecue sauces. Since both are red wines, they naturally pair with meats and cheeses
better than white wines. Since both aren’t really meant for extended cellaring, I usually purchase
a couple of bottles at the start of summer for consumption through that summer. And if the
temperature is above 80 degrees, it wouldn’t hurt to chill these wines in the refrigerator for
about 1 hour.
I previously highlighted my other summertime favorites such as Prosecco and Rose so you can
look back at previous columns (“What A Bubbly Personality” and “Will the Real Rose Please
Stand”) on my website and blog site. I didn’t cover those slightly sweet sippers with very low
alcohol and nice fragrant fruit such as Bug Juice and Birbet. But that’s another column.