I suspect that most people this time of year (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) are experiencing the full on heat of summer. Here in Montana the heat is usually mitigated a bit, but over the last 2 weeks even we have crept toward highs in the 90s! Compared to places I’ve lived previously it’s actually still quite cool, but the direct sun in this high desert climate still feels pretty hot. So it is definitely the time of year when it can be tough to drink those big, tannic, higher alcohol reds like cabernet, merlot, nebbiolo, etc. Sure I still try to fit one in every now and then because I do love those wines, but when I get home from work what I’m really craving is something crisp and cool to knock back with some cheese or some other light appetizer. So with that in mind I’ll let you in on a few of my summer go to options to help you beat the heat!
Sauvignon blanc: these wines come in various forms, but all can be flat out delicious with the high acidity and citrus/mineral tones that they bring to the table. Sure, sauvignon blanc may be a little “boring” as it isn’t a weird or hip wine, but the bottom line is it’s damn good!
Sancerre/Pouilly Fumé: these are two areas in the Loire Valley of France that producer excellent sauvignon blanc. In fact, these are probably the reference points which most other areas are measured against. They will be high acid, low to moderate alcohol and deliver lime zest, fresh cut grass/hay, pyrazine notes (the “cat pee” note often mentioned), gooseberry, and grapefruit. My favorite producers include Domaine Vacheron, Gerard Boulay, Paul Cherrier, Hippolyte Reverdy, Francois Cotat, Henri Bourgeois, Marc Deschamps, and Regis Minet.
New Zealand: generally people think of Marlborough on the northern tip of the South Island although Martinborough and other areas around the country producer solid wines as well. These are without a doubt great values as you can often pick up NZ sauv blanc for $10-12 a bottle. These tend to be a little riper and maybe slightly higher alcohol than Sancerre (though still moderate at 12.5-13%). These wines are known for a more tropical profile of ruby red grapefruit, passionfruit, mango, and papaya. There is still a lovely crispness and often times an herbal note to balance these ripe notes. They are very enjoyable in the warm weather. Good options here are many, but a few of my favorites include Dog Point, Clos Henri, Matua, Greywacke, and Villa Maria. In general though there have been few that I have been disappointed in.
Chablis: this is another classic wine, and while it may not be the rage of somms in San Fran and New York will rarely disappoint. This is the wine that I serve people that tell me they hate chardonnay. Invariably, they love Chablis and when I reveal that what they just had is 100% chardonnay, they are flabbergasted! Often Chablis has more in common with sauvignon blanc than what most people consider when they think about chardonnay. The nose leans more towards stonefruits of apple, pear, and sometimes peach, though there are still usually some citrus hints. Very floral with lilac, honeysuckle, etc. The defining note for me is usually described as sea breeze, saline, or even iodine notes. This comes from the multitude of fossilized sea creatures in the soil and is just a beautiful and classic note that I have found in no other wine. The palate may be a bit rounder than sauvignon blanc with slightly more depth, but is still very crisp and thirst quenching. Producers to seek out here include William Fevre, Sebastian Dampt, Louis Michel, Drouhin, Droin, Charly Nicolle, Christian Moreau, Lavantureux, and if you feel like spending more $$ Dauvissat and Raveneau.
Albariño: these wines, which are mostly, from Northwestern Spain are a bit more under the radar than the above, but are simply delicious. Also produced in Portugal and included in Vinho Verde, these are again high acid, low alcohol wines that are beautifully minerally and taut. Citrus, herbs, and crushed stone emanate from these wines that can be fabulous just to sip or great with seafood. A few of my favorites include: Bodegas del Palacios de Fefiñanes, Morgadio, Pazo de Señorans, Martin Codax, and Burgans.
Rosé: if you’ve been anywhere near a wine shop in the last 2 years, you will know that the rosé trend is in full throttle. It blows my mind actually how many pink wines there are for sale in the spring and summer. 6-7 years ago when I first started really being able to afford to buy wine regularly there was a paucity of rosé available due to the stigma of the sweet white zinfandel that for so long was what people considered rosé in the US. Luckily we’ve been pulled out of those doldrums and there are now literally oceans of rosé everywhere. Producers like to make it because it doesn’t require much aging so provides quick cash flow and consumers clearly are soaking it up. All rosé is not equal, however, and what you want will partly depend on your palate. I personally tend to gravitate to the Bandol rosés of Mediterranean France which are consistent, reasonably priced, and delicious. The best of the best for me is and has been for the last 5 years Domaine Tempier. You do pay a premium for their rosé, but year in and year out it is the best one I try. I have also had good success with Bastide Blanche, Gros Noré, and Terrebrune. There are other very good rosé wines in Provence that are generally cheaper than the Bandol wines. Domaine de Triennes, Commander de la Bargemone, Miraval, and Chateau de Peyrassol are all very good and excellent values. I also enjoy many rosé wines made from pinot noir or gamay. Eyrie Vineyards in Oregon makes a lovely pinot noir rosé. I have had excellent Sancerre rosé from Hippolyte Reverdy and Daniel Chotard. And Chateau Thivin makes a killer Beaujolais rosé that is very well priced. Finally, I’ve been impressed with several of the rosé offerings from Corsica; Domaine de Marquiliani, Comte Abbatucci, and Yves Leccia have all been thoroughly enjoyed. There are stellar rosés made in Italy (rosato) and elsewhere though I have less personal experience to provide recommendations. Josh Raynolds from Vinous Media puts out a very helpful and thorough review of pink wines each year which is well worth reading if you want more info. Bottom line is, these are often reasonably priced ($15 or less) and delicious, so try a few and see what you like!
Riesling: this may win the title for most underrated grape by the general wine drinking public. I think that has begun to change somewhat due to the efforts of sommeliers and importers, but I still frequently find people who don’t want to try a riesling due to the perception that it will be overly sweet and simple. The truth is that good riesling is as good as it gets! I can’t say I have a ton of experience with dry (trocken) rieslings, but these are slowly growing on me. At this point I’m still partial to the classic style of off dry riesling made in Germany. A good kabinett (the level of ripeness of the grapes) tastes nearly dry and is simply fabulous with so many cuisines. Fish, Indian, Chinese, Thai, seafood, and of course classic German and Alsatian cuisine can all be perfectly enhanced by a good Riesling. It’s also worth nothing that many kabinett level wines are only 7-7.5% alcohol so they can be perfect aperitif wines. JJ Prum, Markus Molitor, Dönnhoff, Dr. Loosen, JJ Christoffel, Schäfer-Fröhlich, and Fritz Haag are a few producers that I recommend trying. For dry Riesling I often venture into Alsace or Austria, though Germany is producing more and more of this style. Alsatian riesling is richer and more full bodied than German and is essentially dry. Go to producers here are Zind-Humbrecht, Ostertag, Weinbach, and Agathe Bursin. In Austria, the wines are like pure chiseled stone, laser like in precision and can be stunningly good; my favorite is Prager, followed closely by FX Pichler, Rudi Pichler, and Schloss Gobelsburg. I recently picked up some Nikolaihof, but have yet to try it so I can’t give it a full endorsement quite yet.
Grüner Veltliner: this is a grape that definitely still flies under the radar outside of the wine “scene”, but has been growing in popularity. Primarily produced in Austria, these have a lovely herbal and peppery note reminiscent of a summer garden. This is balanced by citrus and peach/apricot, gobs of mineral, and lovely jasmine/honeysuckle hints. These are also really taut and mineral on the palate. Producers of great grüner are similar to the Austrian riesling list above. Prager, FX Pichler, Rudi Pichler, Schloss Gobelsburg are all fabulous. Bernhard Ott is also very solid. Gobelsburg’s entry level wines are exceptionally good value, often available for $12-15.
Bubbly: this is of course a given. Bubbly is good year round. It’s a party starter, a great food wine, and a lovely summer sipper for picnics or aperitifs. It is incredibly versatile and sipping a nice cool glass in the heat can be extremely entrancing. I’ve given multiple prior recs regarding sparkling wines so feel free to refer to them for more specifics. The range of styles is nearly as big as the price range these days so trying different types is fun.
If you have been struggling thinking about what to drink this summer, hopefully this will help a bit. Cool and refreshing, these wines will quench your thirst and keep you coming back for more. I hope you all get plenty of time on a deck, patio, or backyard to sip some of these great wines!