With welcome warm weather upon us, most wine and food enthusiasts think about light wines to pair with light foods. And when we think “light,” most often we also think “white.” Makes sense. Fresh greens and veggies from the garden, and fish and chicken hot off the outdoor grill all cry out for white wines, right?
No doubt whites like Sauvignon Blanc, dry Riesling, and Viognier strut their stuff when paired with lighter dishes. Likewise Vinho Verde from Portugal, Albariño from Spain, Vermentino and Falanghina from Italy, Muscadet from France, and Moschofilero from Greece are wonderful accompaniments to the low-intensity/high energy foods we like to eat outdoors in the sunshine or indoors during the moderate cool of the evening. And if there is one white wine and food pairing that should probably be the gustatory signature of the Hudson Valley, it’s our local sweet corn with local Chardonnay; wow, what a treat.
Admittedly, I, like most of us, think of whites as my go-to wines in warm weather, but in the back of my mind, I’m “thinking red.” Here’s why: there is a plethora of lighter red wines that can successfully, even excitingly, cross over into the territory usually reserved for whites. These wines are lighter and simpler, fruit-driven, with only moderate tannins but with plenty of thirst-quenching acidity. And now for the really good part: these wines tend to be so inexpensive that they can’t help but under-promise and over-deliver. In other words, you get true bang for your buck and at the same time you get a memorable food and wine experience.
So, where to start? How about with rosés, dry but bursting with red berry fruit accents. True rosé is true red wine, made only from red grapes with minimal skin contact during fermentation (the skin is where all the color is). I say “true rosé,” because outside of the wine-producing nations of Europe, it’s legal to make rosé from a blend of white and red wine, so I suggest sticking with European rosé or with a New World producer known for the quality of its rosé, or, easily enough, a New World rosé that you like. If you’re grilling kebabs, poultry, fish – especially salmon – rosé is a great match. A backyard burger is a real crowd pleaser with rosé, as well as a sandwich of grilled vegetables and mozzarella, turkey with a sweet/savory cranberry relish, or roast beef served with local potato salad.
If you’ve never tried cool, crisp rosé with foods you love to eat when the weather turns warm, you’re in for a surprise and a treat. If you already have experience with this style of wine and therefore crave rosé with this kind of food, you’ve got some great choices available to you. My advice is to focus on wine regions of the world that are known not only for the quality of their wines, but specifically for the quality of their rosé. This leads me first to Provence in France, where rosé rules. Next, I would look for wines from Navarra, Spain. There are fine rosé wines from other parts of the world, but if you’re looking for a wine redolent of strawberry, raspberry, and cranberry all wrapped up in a dry, refreshing package then look no further than Provence or Navarra. This time of year there should be a terrific selection of these wines available in good wine shops and there’s absolutely no reason for you to pay more than about $15 for the best of these wines. In fact, you’ll probably be able to find some of these gems for less than $10.
What about “real reds,” wines that look dark in the glass, but are light on the palate? We have such a tremendous selection of warm-weather reds to choose from that the only hard work we have to do is choose one (or two, or three, or…). Some of these wines will be recognizable to you but you may never have thought of them as thirst-quenching warm weather wines. Some of these wines may not be so familiar, but believe me, they’re worth trying. And for those of you who are old hands at enjoying lighter reds with lighter foods, maybe there’s a couple of new wines to consider. What do these wines bring to the party?
Well, first of all they are great guests. They don’t fade into the background. They are spicy and zesty; they bring the fun and excitement, but they’re not too loud and not self-centered. They virtually sing for their supper, but in perfect harmony. These reds remind us that wine is food; it just happens to be in a glass. As if by magic, these wines create another sauce, another spice, and undiscovered flavors so dramatic that it becomes hard to imagine the food without the wine, the wine without the food.
Here are some ideas for great red wines that will accompany/pair/rendezvous/consummate/marry/honor the wonderful aromas, flavors, and textures of the food we love when it’s hot outside. Any of these wines will add a thrilling dimension to foods prepared and served al fresco – fish, poultry, leaner cuts of red meat, served with seasonal greens, veggies, potatoes, and our extraordinary local tomatoes (botanically it’s a fruit, but according to the Supreme Court [Nix v. Hedden, 1893], it’s a vegetable).
But first… A service note: just chill. No, seriously – chill these reds for about a half-hour or so before pouring to bring out the red-fruit freshness in the wine. Certainly not mandatory, but highly recommended in warm weather.
A buying tip: Do not spend a lot of money on these wines. It may seem counterintuitive, but you are not looking for the most complex examples of these wines; quite the opposite. You’re looking for good, eminently drinkable, simpler versions of these wines. Especially when it comes to California’s versions of these wines, this is where popular varietals and national brands (Woodbridge, Smoking Loon, Fetzer, Pepperwood, etc.) perform a highly useful service. Same goes for Chile (Concha y Toro, Santa Rita, etc.)
California: Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel, and Syrah are the go-to choices for me. Pinot Noir and lighter versions of Merlot will work wonders with both fish and meat dishes. I’d reserve the Zin and Syrah for white and red meats, and roasted or grilled veggies. With these wines, observing my buying tip (above) will serve you well. You’ll create a winning wine and food pairing with simpler versions of these reds and save some serious money in the bargain. A good, local/regional alternate choice: Hudson Valley or Finger Lakes Pinot Noir.
• Beaujolais-Villages is made from 100% Gamay grapes. The wine is driven by the aromas and flavors of red berries, with moderately high acidity. A good local alternative: Hudson Valley-produced Gamay Noir from Whitecliff Vineyard.
• Bourgogne is made from Pinot Noir, or maybe a Pinot Noir/Gamay blend. Either way, this is a lighter, simpler version of the best Burgundy has to offer.
• Côte du Rhône is a blended wine anchored by Grenache, that will perform perfectly with simply –prepared white and red meats.
Italy: Valpolicella is a Corvina-focused red blend that adds a saucy, spicy flair to summer meals, as does its geographical neighbor in Veneto, Bardolino. Chianti is an elegant expression of Tuscany’s Sangiovese grape, which turns earthy when paired with simple foods, No need to seek out the more complex and more expensive Classico or Riserva versions. Keep it simple. Dolcetto d’Alba and Barbera d’Asti from the Piedmont region are ideal choices for meat-based dishes, and Barbera’s high acidity resonates perfectly with tomatoes.
Spain: Rioja can take on many guises based on age and style. For uncomplicated summer dishes you’re looking for the simpler Cosecha, Crianza, or Roble versions: young wines with a spicy attitude and more than a little bit of soul.
Chile: Carmenère is a juicy, straightforward red with pungent berry overtones. An easy match with the fresh flavors of summer. In a pinch, lighter, inexpensive versions of Chilean Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon will work, but Carmenère, which is now widely available, is the more exciting choice.
Argentina: Malbec is synonymous with beef in any and all of its manifestations. Look for a young, lighter, less expensive style. A bottle that fits the bill perfectly and is widely available: Trapiche “Oak Cask.”
So, next time you’re getting ready to fire up the grill, and you start to think about the wine you’d like to drink with the flavors of summer, why not “think red”? By choosing warm weather red wines with your meal you’ll provide good food with good wine at a good price, and hopefully with good company. A balanced equation for both your wallet and your senses.
Here is a list of some warm-weather rosé and red wines that are sure to please; all of the wines retail for less than $25, and most are less than $15. This list is by no means exhaustive, just a jumping-off point for your own favorite selections.
Rosés: USA: from Long Island: Channing Daughters or Wölffer Estate; from California: Bonny Doon Vin Gris, Gundlach Bundschu, Hendry, Amador Foothills, Fritz, Tablas Creek, Quivira, Foppiano, Bonterra, “Sofia” by Francis Ford Coppola.
France: from Provence: Mas de Gourgonnier, Mas de la Dame, Commanderie de Peyrassol, Château du Rouet, Corail, Cape Bleue, Château Routas; from Tavel in the Rhône Valley: Château d’Aqueria, Domaine Lafond, Château de Trinquevedel.
Spain: from Rioja: Muga, El Coto, Marques de Caceres, Marques de Riscal, CVNE, Faustino; from Navarra: Chivite “Gran Fuedo,” Vega Sindoa, Ochoa.
Italy: from Veneto: Bardolino Chiaretto Cavalchina or Tre Colline; from Sicily: Planeta or Regaleali; from Campania: Mastroberardino; from Tuscany: Banfi “Centine,” or Coltibuono “Cetamura”.
Reds: USA: from the Hudson Valley: Pinot Noir produced by Millbrook, Robibero, Oak Summit, Bashakill; Chelois produced by Hudson-Chatham, Genoa produced by Cereghino Smith; from California: Light, simple Pinot Noir from value-driven producers, such as Pepperwood, Woodbridge, Mirassou, Smoking Loon, Fetzer; Zinfandel produced by Bogle, Edmeades, Rancho Zabaco, Dancing Bull, Ravenswood Vintner’s Blend, Rosenblum Vintners Cuvée, Seghesio, Renwood.
France: from Beaujolais: Beaujolais-Villages or any of the “Cru” Beaujolais (Morgon, Fleurie, Juliénas, Moulin-A-Vent, etc.) from Georges Duboeuf, Sylvain Fessy, Michel Tête, Jean-Paul Brun, or Louis Jadot. Great Hudson Valley alternative: Gamay Noir from Whitecliff Vineyard; from Côtes du Rhône, Côtes du Rhone-Villages, or Côtes du Ventoux: Jean-Luc Colombo, Guigal, Jaboulet “Parallèle 45”, Perrin Réserve, or La Vielle Ferme; from Burgundy: Bourgogne, Cote de Beaune-Villages, Côte de Nuits-Villages, Hautes Côtes de Beaune or Hautes Côtes de Nuits from Jadot, Drouhin, Bouchard, Bachelet, Mortot, Rion, Michel Gros, Thevenot Le Brun & Fils.
Italy: Chianti produced by Malenchini, Coltibuono, Banfi, Antinori, Castellare, Gabbiano, and Melini; Valpolicella and Bardolino produced by Allegrini, Masi, Tomassi, Zenato, Bertani, Boscaini, Accordini, Guerrieri Rizzardi, Le Fraghe, Ronca, and Bolla; Dolcetto and Barbera produced by Marcarini, Pio Cesare, Chionetti, Einaudi, Vietti, Vigne Regali, Renato Ratti; Barbera produced by Boeri, Cascina Castlet, Chiarlo, Borgogno, Icardi, Braida, Marchesi di Gresy.
Spain: Rioja Crianza produced by: Vivanco, Montecillo, Conde de Valdemar, CVNE, La Rioja Alta, Marqués de Cáceres, Marqués de Riscal, Faustino, Bogegas lan, Marqués de Arienzo, Muga, Marqués de Murrieta, Viña Izadi.
Chile: Carmenère produced by Emiliana, Arboleda, Casa Julia, Casillero del Diablo, Errazuriz, Carmen, MontGras, and Santa Rita. Argentina: Lighter, simpler, inexpensive versions of Malbec produced by: Luigi Bosca, Trapiche, Norton, O. Fournier, Trumpeter, Alamos, Yellow+Blue, Finca El Portillo.