Defy tradition and replace those summer whites with a light-bodied red.
Convention suggests one ought to uncork only crisp white wines between Memorial Day and Labor Day, in part to cope with humid outdoor temperatures.
Yet a savvy wine drinker knows this does not always hold true. It’s completely possible, and in fact decadent, to sip a red wine with summer salads, grilled foods, seafood, and highly anticipated in-season ingredients like tomatoes and asparagus.
Some of the best summer food-wine pairings debunk the summer-whites trend. For example, consider a glass of Pinot Noir from Burgundy, France, with a Margherita pizza where the wine’s subtle herbaceous quality matches the chopped basil and sliced tomatoes. Or a French Rosé sipped with a Salade Niçoise, a pairing I enjoyed immensely at a new hotel (Beach House) on Providenciales, Turks & Caicos.
The key is to look for a red wine light in body and low in tannins, as well as soft and fruit-forward, and with very little oak on the palate.
French wines are rich with possibility. “Gamay is a favorite of a lot of sommeliers for summer reds,” says Jason Wagner, sommelier and wine director at Henri and The Gage in Chicago. “Loire Valley reds are underrated. Beaujolais is a great introduction for a lot of people. It’s kind of a ‘gateway drug’ to the reds.”
Haley Guild-Moore, wine director at The Stock and Bones Company (Town Hall, Anchor & Hope, Salt House, Irving St. Kitchen, and Corners Tavern), completely agrees, especially if grilled meats—a summertime staple—are involved. “Cru Beaujolais and grilled pork are always a delicious pairing,” she says. She also turns to Bugey Cerdon, a sparkling Rosé from Eastern France as a meat match: “It’s awesome with charcuterie and cured meats. It’s really floral and aromatic.”
Rosé Rules the Summer
Crisp, chilled Rosé is a natural choice to suggest to diners who aren’t heavy red-wine drinkers. “Rosé is a big summer wine and what’s nice about it is that it’s refreshing but also structured like a red wine with a long finish,” says Josh Cafasso, sommelier at Penrose Room, a restaurant at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “I still think the U.S. market doesn’t understand how great Rosé is.” He prefers Rosés from the South of France, such as Provence, and enjoys sipping them alongside Salade Niçoise.
Susan Lueker, winemaker at SIMI Winery in Sonoma County, California, loves to drink Rosé—along with Pinot Noir—with Salade Niçoise during the warmer months too. Also, she notes, “We do a pizza here at the winery’s café that has feta cheese and strawberries and it goes well with Rosé. The little bit of fruit helps pop the flavor.”
Wagner plans to extend Henri’s Rosé offerings come summer, particularly as a tie-in to the restaurant opening its patio for the season. At another Chicago restaurant, The Boarding House, owned by Alpana Singh—one of only 18 female master sommeliers— Rosés will rule this summer, she says, particularly since red wines have dominated the wine list since the restaurant opened in December. The wine list, which features 500 selections, is heavy on classic wine regions in Italy, Spain, and France. Because many diners seek out The Boarding House for a celebratory occasion, they instinctively turn to red wines. Singh hopes to steer them into Rosé or even lightly chilled red wines. “I have Rosé on the menu all year long, from a pale blush to a deep cranberry color,” explains Singh.
“Don’t forget to chill your red wines in the summer: That’s the best advice I can offer,” says Singh. During the summer months, Dolcetto and Barbera—two Italian red-wine grape varietals—when slightly chilled “have an edge.”