By Brian Freedman
It’s easy to get stuck in a wine rut this time of year: Summertime inevitably brings to mind images of lounging by the pool, guzzling glasses of cheerful rosé, and tucking into picnics at tables adorned with sweating bottles of Sauvignon Blanc. While classic summer sippers will never go out of style, there’s an entire world of wine that’s every bit as delicious and perfect for the Dog Days.
Here, then, is our guide to discovering your new summer favorites, across the color and price spectrum. Some of these will be familiar, others less so. But what they all have in common is a sense of surprise, vivaciousness, and an uncanny ability to pair with the types of foods that so many of us enjoy as temperatures rise.
If you love Sauvignon Blanc, Try an Italian White
For the Sauvignon Blanc fan who wants something a bit different, it’s an easy transition to the crisp white wines of Italy: Verdicchio is a fine option with its mouthwatering citrus flavors often anchored by a sense of nuttiness, as are other refreshing Italian whites like Vermentino, with its citrus and orchard-fruit notes. Similarly, Arneis—often considered the great white grape of the Piemonte region—whose slight aromatic lift makes it particularly friendly alongside lighter seafood dishes, is an excellent choice. The best of them are from Roero, and will say “Roero Arneis” on the label.
Austria is likewise a white wine lovers paradise—look for Grüner Veltliner, with its telltale lime-like acidity and hints of lentils (yes, lentils!) and wet stones minerality. It’s a perfect match for summer staples, and ideal by the pool!
If you’re a Chardonnay Enthusiast Sip a Spanish or Rhône White
Chardonnay fans typically gravitate toward their favorite variety for its combination of plush texture and generous fruit notes. To change things up, check out the whites wines of the Rhône Valley, where grape varieties like Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier typically lend a sense of creaminess to the texture and adds toasted, nutty flavors to the mix. White Rioja also often accomplishes this, too: Depending on the blend and age, the wines can show herbal notes alongside hints of melon, apple, honey, and nuts. Bottles labeled “Reserva” will tend to be weightier as a result of their added age and wood, and ones with “Crianza” on the label will generally be on the lighter end of the spectrum. And because they’re not all that well-known, you can often snap up a great one for a remarkably reasonable price.
If You’re a Rosé Lover, Try Bubbly Bottles
Few wines are as emblematic of the season as rosé and chillable reds, but why stick with the same old bottles year after year? This summer, check out one of the great new examples of Lambrusco that are making their way over to this side of the Atlantic: Though most Lambrusco in the United States was historically sweet and not terribly complex, a new generation of producers from the best parts of Emilia-Romagna are now exporting dry, layered bottlings of this gently sparkling red whose linear acidity and cherry-skin flavors, occasionally kissed with a hint of flowers, are incredible as an aperitif of paired with classic grilled dishes like hot dogs (trust us here…they’re amazing together).
There are also some fantastic pink sparklers from Burgundy and the Loire Valley worth exploring as well. The best of them typically will have the word “Cremant” on the label, which means they were produced using the traditional method, with the second fermentation taking place in the bottle. This generally leads to a richer, more complex wine.
BBQ Devotees, Zinfandel & Chillable Reds Are For You
Finally, just because it’s summertime doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy a bottle or three of red with dinner. Few wines pair better with classic barbecue, from saucier styles to those focusing more on smoke and dry-rub spices, than a good Zinfandel: Ripe berry fruit and spice are made to go with BBQ! Dry Creek Valley is one of the classic homes of the variety, but it’s always eye-opening to pop the cork from a bottle of Primitivo—essentially the same variety—from Puglia for comparison’s sake alongside the Zin.
Still, on hot days, chillable reds are a great call, and for that, you’ll have a hard time beating a great bottle of Beaujolais-Villages or, for a few dollars more, a bottle of Beaujolais Cru, which won’t even say Beaujolais on the label but just the name of the cru from which it comes, like Brouilly, Juliénas, Moulin-à-Vent, and more. For something a bit spicier, Zweigelt and St. Laurent, both from Austria, are surprising and delicious, especially alongside peppery dishes hot from the grill.
Whatever you drink, make this the summer when you break free from the received wisdom of what you’re “supposed” to drink and try something new. The rewards are endless and the summer is just getting started.