Serious Grape: Cool Summer Wines

On Fridays, Deb Harkness of Good Wine Under $20 drops by with Serious Grape.


Photograph from SLR Jester on Flickr

The dog days of summer are upon us, and the heat is on. Many of us reach for beer or mixed drinks when the temperature climbs and we are in search of something icy cold and refreshing.

But you don't have to give up on wine. Instead, you need to make summer-savvy choices. Before the cool weather hits, check out some of these recommendations for cool reds, rosés, and whites that will quench your thirst and match beautifully with the simple, fresh foods of August and September.


If drinking red wine, go for lower alcohol choices. Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon can be hard to take when the temperature soars, given their tongue-puckering tannins and high alcohol. Instead, reach for a French Beaujolais or a red wine from a Mediterranean region such as Sicily. I've found that these wines can be chilled slightly (to around 60°F) without losing their flavor, which makes them even more refreshing. I am particularly fond of Sicilian reds made with Nero d'Avola or Frappato grapes. Look for the Valle d'Acata Frappato, with its floral aromas and fresh cherry and strawberry fruit (find this wine), or the Dievole Fourplay with its cherry, licorice, and blackberry notes (find this wine).


Robust rosés can stand in for red wines. Rosé wines are not the sappy, sweet wines you might remember. They're all grown up now, and pair well with burgers, roast chicken, other grilled foods. A chilled glass of rosé is one of the most refreshing, iconic summer drinks for me. Two I've enjoyed recently are the 2008 A to Z Wineworks Rosé made from Sangiovese grapes picked in Oregon, which is full-bodied and has raspberry, strawberry, and cucumber aromas and flavors (find this wine), and the 2008 Scherrer Winery Dry Rosé made from Pinot Noir and Zinfandel grapes grown in Sonoma County with intense aromas and flavors of strawberry and crisp, stony notes (find this wine)


Simple, unpretentious white wines are great for outdoor meals. For white wines, I head straight for lesser known, regional whites that pair well with fish and salads, and often select wines from Alsace, Portugal, and Italy. The entry-level Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, and Rieslings made by Helfrich under their "Noble Varieties" label retail for under $15 and have delicate aromas of flowers and fruit and crisp, refreshing flavors (find these wines). Portugal's vinho verde ("green wines") are made to be drunk young, and have a little bit of spritz to accompany their fresh citrus flavors. And they are the best values in the market—you can often find the wines for around $5. Good makers to look for in your local wine shop include Quinta da Aveleda (find these wines) or Caves de Cerca (find these wines). When it comes to Italian whites, I head to the seaside and the wines of Sicily, Sardinia, and Liguria. One of my favorite go-to producers is Argiolas, who makes a range of white wines from Vermentino grapes. They are citrusy, refreshing, and sometimes a bit salty which makes them a perfect partner for a bucket of peel-and-eat shrimp or some calimari (find these wines).

Full Disclosure: I received the Dievole Fourplay as a sample.