Summer's best reds are soft, smooth, juicy gulpers that can even be chilled
The big chill: For summer's red wines, seek out those that are moderate of tannin and alcohol, buoyant of fruit flavors and edged with a bit of acidity. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)
It's summertime; the drinkin' is easy. Red wines, by and large, are winter warmers.
But if it just has to be red, here's to the reds of summer: soft, smooth, juicy reds that you'll want to gulp rather than sip. Even reds that can take a chill.
Most red wines just don't work well with either summer's heat or food.
Choosing a warm, molar-purpling merlot to accompany a fridge-cold chicken salad isn't merely un-yummy; it's stupid. Such a combo doesn't refresh and if eating at this time of year is about anything, it's about refreshment. Less "hoo-hah"; more "ahh."
For summer's red wines, seek out those that are moderate of tannin and alcohol, buoyant of fruit aromas and flavors, and edged with a bit of tangy acidity. In truth, large swaths of the world's wines include such reds.
The grape gamay (full name: gamay noir au jus blanc) is natively low in tannin and so pretty of fruit that a glass of it is the red wine with a paper parasol. It undergirds all the delicious, aromatic reds of the Beaujolais district of southern Burgundy, perhaps the most underrated red wine region of the globe. You'll find it elsewhere too, including other parts of France such as the Loire.
2010 Domaine des Braves Regnie Beaujolais Burgundy France: Regnie is one of 10 villages allowed to use its name alone on the label, recognition of higher standards and quality over and above simple "Beaujolais"; here's picture-perfect gamay, nearly sapid with fruit. $20
Of pinot noir
Vine scientists trace gamay's heritage back to the pinot noir. Indeed, for summer's purposes, Daddy Pinot offers gamay's same effusive aromas and finesse of palate, but with even more persistence of flavor and come-hither seduction.
Try pinot with anything grilled, from white to pink proteins, ending just into the red meat family. Pinot noir and grilled salmon has a cult following in the Northwest.
2009 Aberrant Cellars "Carpe Noctem" Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Oregon: Wow, what a wonderful new offering, so layered in aromas and flavors that it's a tapestry of dark red fruit, earthy, forest floor-like depth and flecks of chalky mineral, all swaddled sensuously. $50
From all over
You may fling your net far and wide to capture summer reds, from cooler climes such as northern Italy (made from the grapes dolcetto and barbera); some pockets of Tuscany (humbler Chianti and sangiovese-based reds); regions along the perimeter of Spain and Portugal (Alentejo reds; wines from the Spanish grapes mencia and some tempranillo, especially from Bierzo and Rioja); and many a Cotes-du-Rhone, grenache-based reds with lower profiles than what the same grape produces in Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
And ferret out hitherto overlooked wines such as Cerasuola di Vittoria from Sicily, zweigelt-based reds of Austria and dry and off-dry Lambrusco from Italy's north.
2010 Planeta Cerasuola di Vittoria Sicily Italy: A blend of two Sicilian red grapes with an enchanting red cherry candy aroma, soft tannin, snappy acidity and gobs of flavor and juiciness. $15
2009 Biohof Pratsch; zweigelt Weinviertel Austria: A hefty bottle size is nice counterpoint to the medium-bodied, refreshing dark red fruit aromas and flavors (currant, black raspberry); low tannin, zesty acidity. $13 1-liter
No season better favors a certain category of red wine than does summer; the wines are slightly sweet. No pooh-poohs necessary; off-dry wines such as moscato are the fastest growing segment in the market. Many like them. And they are terrifically inexpensive.
2011 Santa Julia "Dulce Tinto" Mendoza Argentina: This mix of bonarda and sangiovese is just slightly sweet, a juicy wrapping for buckets of red fruit flavors (strawberry, cherry, watermelon), with nice cleansing acidity; it's delightfully refreshing. $10-$11
You'll find, at a lunch under the boughs or at a picnic dinner, that any red wine served at the ambient outdoor temperature (80-90 degrees) really tastes awful. Its fruit is dulled. Its tannins are harsh. It's just too much in the mouth.
That's why it's OK to cool many a summer red to about 55-60 degrees, the temperature of well or spring water. Your food and your palate will thank you for it.
Here's a trick to bring your reds down in temperature and even to keep your white wine bottles with a chill on: Soak a kitchen towel in water, wring it out and drape it over or around the wine bottle. Evaporation (even on a humid day) will help keep the bottle cool or bring down the temperature of a warmish red wine.
If your wine store does not carry these wines, ask for one similar in style and price.
Bill St John has been writing and teaching about wine for more than 30 years.