Maybe I have a seasonal affective disorder, since I always veer away from red wine during the hot months. It's hard-wired into my DNA, and I find it more thirst-busting to lace my fingers around a chilled glass of rosé or white wine when the mercury hits 85. But there are a lot of red-wine-etarians out there and I occasionally desire something ballsier even as sweat drools down my face. Enjoy reds in the summer? Sure.
The best way to overcome the summer heat? Chill it.
Most people drink reds too warm. When something reads "drink at room temperature" it doesn't take into account the oppressive summers in the southern U.S., where average indoor air-conditioned temps hover around 75 degrees Fahrenheit. That deceptive two-word description actually indicates room temperature in French wine caves, which feel more like 60 to 65 degrees. But what's the ideal? Above a comfortable 72, the alcohol in red wine rises to the forefront, reminiscent of dollar shots in college. You could store bottles in the fridge, but here's the rub: chill a red too much and the cold steals any semblance of fruit, creating a tannic, astringent mess. To solve that quandary chill your reds down for 30 minutes in the fridge, or 10 minutes submerged in ice water.
Will this solve all the summer red woes? Not really. Although there's nothing wrong with drinking big wines in the summer, full-bodied reds — cabernet sauvignon, merlot/cabernet blends and burly Italians — simply don't quench. But plunge a lighter, lower-in-alcohol red wine into a tub of ice and magical things happen. Red quaffers — as I've affectionately coined light, fruity red wines — possess similar personalities: soft, approachable tannins; berry flavors; and enough acidity to complement food. Many come from year-round, wine guzzlin' countries like Italy. They have cherry bomb Dolcetto, a widely grown grape from the Piedmont region that produces a mildly tart, juicy, low-tannin red. It's easily cultivated, resulting in plenty of acceptable producers, so feel safe buying a generic label. Two other Italians, Montepulciano and Nero d'Avola, have gushing, vibrant flavor and some spicy spunkiness similar to syrah. Or run over the border into France, where slightly chilled Beaujolais — the quintessential summer drink — flows like water in the cafés. And I'm not talking Beaujolais Nouveau — the simple, first wine of the harvest. By summer, Nouveau is no longer fresh and new, but old and tired.
Look for Beaujolais Villages or "cru" Beaujolais from Chiroubles, Morgon or Julienas.
Other summer lovin' options are malbec from Argentina, lower alcohol (under 13 percent) California zinfandel and Aussie shiraz. Speaking of which, how about a budding wine concept that's been imported from Down Under: sparkling shiraz (or syrah). Served cold, it's essentially carbonated dry red wine that tastes rich, spicy and cherry-laden. Drink it with some salty cheese or meats and it might convert even red-wine-etarians.
Altos Las Hormigas 2007 Malbec Mendoza (Argentina) The name, Las Hormigas, translates to 'the ants' since the vineyards are covered with critters that eat everything except the vines themselves. The protected fruit results in a wine oozing with mouth-filling black cherry, plums, licorice and soft leather. It's dry with medium tannins and a lush, earthy finish. Sw=1. $10. 1/2
Shooting Star Black Bubbles Syrah Lake County (California) Blackberry, cherry, bittersweet chocolate, and a slight warming tinge of vanilla, washed down with a tannin structure worthy of a cabernet. This American take on sparkling shiraz is refreshing, and even tasty when warm. Sw=1. $15.