When the mercury rises, many of us reach for a chilled beverage such as white wine or a cold beer to quench our thirst, reserving red wines for the cooler months. While a full-bodied, tannic Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah, or a high-alcohol Zinfandel or Amarone, may seem soupy and unpleasant in the hot summer sun, there are some reds that can be quite thirst quenching.
When choosing a red wine to enjoy in the summer, look for lighter bodied versions that are low in tannin, higher in acidity, and full of fresh fruit flavours. And don’t be afraid to stick these wines in the ice bucket, as wines with this profile have structures similar to that of white wine, making them suitable candidates for chilling.
Hailing from the southern part of Burgundy, Beaujolais is the quintessential summer red. Beaujolais is made with the Gamay grape and is naturally light in tannins and body, and a method of production, called carbonic maceration, helps make wines bursting with fresh berry flavours. Look for wines labelled as Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages, or Beaujolais Nouveau, although the latter will probably be very difficult to find by the time summer roles around. Beaujolais labelled with the name of one of the ten villages known as Crus Beaujolais, are typically bigger and fuller and won’t be as refreshing in the heat.
Wines made from the Barbera grape in the Piedmont region of Italy can also be light enough to enjoy in the heat. There are two styles of Barbera; the young, light, and fruity version, and the dark and serious version. When choosing a summer wine, choose the former. If you’re unsure of what to choose at the wine store, look for the less expensive versions as these are usually the younger versions that have not seen much time in oak, if any at all.
Pinot Noir comes in a myriad of styles from light and refreshing to deep, dark, and brooding. When choosing a Pinot Noir to enjoy in the summer, look for the lighter styles with lots of cherry and red berry flavours. Pinot Noir can also be found at a huge range of prices. Don’t put an expensive one in the fridge as these are typically more complex and chilling it will only dull some of its character.
Many wine regions around the world produce good quality Pinot Noirs. Keep an eye out for some good value ones from countries such as Chile and Argentina. The lesser-known French wine region of Languedoc also makes some good examples of lighter Pinot Noirs. Don’t forget about Ontario where some excellent Pinot Noir is produced.
Care needs to be taken when choosing a Cabernet Franc, as this grape also makes a range of styles of wine. The Loire Valley in France produces very tasty, lighter-styles of Cabernet Franc. Look for the reds from the appellations of Chinon and Bourgueil for some cool options.
Cabernet Franc is also very successful in Ontario where it can make some big, full-bodied wines, and some lighter versions as well. Ask the product consultant at your local wine store for recommendations or lighter-bodied versions if you intend to chill them.
Valpolicella and Bardolino
Valpolicella and Bardolina both come from the Veneto region in Italy and are made with a blend of the same grapes: Corvina, Molinara, and Rondinella. Valpolicella is the better known of the two and can be readily found in wine stores throughout Canada. When purchasing a refreshing summer Valpolicella, avoid the ones that say Amarone, Recioto, or Ripasso on the labels as these are the more robust versions, and Recioto happens to be a sweet wine.
Bardolino is made with less of the Corvina grape and a higher proportion of the more neutral Rondinella grape, producing an even lighter-bodied wine than Valpolicella.
Pairing Light Red Wines with Food
Light-bodied red wines, such as Gamays and Pinot Noirs, that are full of fresh fruit flavours are the perfect pairing with picnic foods such as ham or turkey sandwiches, cold cuts, fresh cheese, fish, and even hot dogs.
Cabernet Franc tends to have more body and tannins and are great when paired with barbecued hamburgers and even grilled steaks.
Serving Reds Chilled
If you are chilling a red wine, serve it slightly warmer than you would a white wine – ideally at about 12 to 14 degrees Celsius. About an hour in the refrigerator or half an hour in the freezer should chill it enough. When putting wine in the freezer, be sure to set a timer to avoid cleaning up a big mess if you happen to get distracted and the bottle explodes.
Putting the bottle in an ice bucket filled with water and ice for about 20 minutes will also bring the wine’s temperature down to a nice chill. Adding a good dose of salt to the ice and water mixture will cool the wine even faster.
It isn’t recommended that you put ice cubes directly into the wine as this will only dilute it. Dropping a couple of frozen grapes into the wine will help keep it sufficiently cool on a hot summer day.