Red Wines for Summer

(Originally published June 2000)

Well, Hanes sat peacefully at home Memorial Day weekend while the rubes sat in traffic on the way to cancer-inducing sunburn and frat boys doing jello shots while screaming and chasing skirts... It's summertime! Which means summer wines... Many of us have favorite summer whites wines such as crisp Sauvignon Blanc or buttery Chardonnay. And it's no secret that this is the time of year to enjoy a nice rosé on the deck with friends and lovers as the sun sets and the breeze blows. Ah, but what about red wine? Just because we are in t-shirts and shorts must we abandon ourselves to drinking naught but the white and pink stuff? Prithee, Hanes says thee nay! While some hearty Zinfandels or Syrahs may prove too stout for the overheated masses and lighter food fare during the summer season, there are quite a few choices available that will wet your whistle without weighing you down.

The first and most obvious choice are Beaujolais wines from France. Made from the Gamay Noir grape, they are light-bodied and fruity, providing simple pleasure with a touch of bracing acidity. These wines should be served slightly chilled to maximize their refreshing nature and fruit, say to around 60 degrees or so. If you want a Beaujolais with a little more body to it, go for those with the designation "Beaujolais-Villages" on them. Or, even better, one of the ten Beaujolais Crus (individual communes/villages): Morgon, Chénas, Saint-Amour, Juliénas, Fleurie, Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Chiroubles, Régnie and Moulin-à-Vent -- these cost more but are still relatively inexpensive and great summer fare.

Next, Hanes would advise trying some reds from the Loire Valley of France. Made mostly from Cabernet Franc, they possess nice acidic balance, some pleasant herbaceousness and light red berry and cherry fruit. Again, when slightly chilled they gain some zing and can be quite invigorating. In the Loire section of your local wine store, the names most pronounced on the bottles besides the winemaker will be the sub-regions such as Chinon, Bourgueil, Saumur-Champigny or Anjou. Look for these names and you should be able to find a suitable wine for under $15.

A surprise choice to some might be red wines from Austria. These can be similarly clean and stimulating to drink, even if more difficult to locate. The wines are dry and forward with a good dose of earth and bright cherry and berry fruit. The grape varietals to look for are Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt and Blauer Portugieser. The prices shouldn't be too bad and you'll be the hit of the party for bringing this crazy wine no one has had before! Watch your friends all run out and buy a case or two the next week...

Other alternatives with perhaps a bit more body include Spanish wines made from the grape varietal Garnacha (aka Grenache), wines from Provence (especially Bandol) made from Mourvèdre (aka Mataro) and some lighter Californian and Pacific Northwest Pinot Noirs. Again, any of the wines listed above should be served chilled to maximize your pleasure. This is a great time of the year to try some new wines while letting your Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz age a little bit more for those autumn football tailgate parties!