Summer weather does not signal to me that I stop drinking red wines--it just changes the type of red wines that I choose to drink. I certainly do drink more white and rosé wines in warm weather; it is really amazing how popular rosé wines have become.
But as a confirmed red wine drinker, I cannot abandon red wines in the warmer days--especially if I am having food that is more suitable for reds. But I usually stay away from the more powerful, concentrated red wines--such as California Cabernets, Barolos, Bordeaux, and the better Rhône wines. Instead I drink lighter-bodied reds, especially those from Italy and France. And, as a collateral benefit, these wines are typically less expensive than the heavy-hitter red wines.
One of my favorite light-bodied red wines comes from Italy’s Piedmont region--Grignolino d’Asti. If you have not heard of Grignolino or have never tasted it, I would not be surprised. It is a light-colored, light-bodied, wine made from the Grignolino grape variety, and it has not attained the popularity of its Piedmontese cousins that are made from the Nebbiolo or Barbera varieties. But it is dry, has firm acidity and moderate tannins, is strawberry flavored, and goes extremely well with almost any cuisines. It might be too light-bodied for some palates, but I find it refreshing, delicious, and very easy to drink. Grignolino wines can retail as low as $11 to $15 a bottle, but the better ones are in the $16 to $20 range. Look for them particularly in wine shops that specialize in Italian wines.
Another Piedmontese red wine that is fairly light-bodied is Dolcetto d’Alba or Dolcetto d’Asti. Unlike Grignolino, Dolcetto is dark red in color, but can be fairly light in body, especially the inexpensive ones in the $15 to $18 range. Dolcetto’s fuller body will satisfy those who find Grignolino too light. Dolcetto also comes from a town called Dogliani, and its wines are labeled with that name, but Dogliani Dolcettos are too full-bodied for summertime drinking, in my opinion.
For those of you who love Barolo and Barbaresco, both made from the Nebbiolo variety, I have a wine for you: Langhe Nebbiolo. I am a big fan of this grape, and I invariably buy any Nebbiolo-labeled wine that I find. The light-colored Nebbiolos will be young, just a year or two old, and light-bodied, but they will have the great Nebbiolo flavor--at least some hints of it. Nebbiolos retail in the $22 to $29 range; you don’t have to worry about the producer because all of the few producers who export it into the U.S. are reputable. Obviously, these Nebbiolo varietal wines lack the concentration of Barolos and Barbarescos, but they are ideal for summer drinking.
Other light-bodied summer reds from Italy that I recommend are Bardolinos from the Veneto, and inexpensive Tuscan Chianti wines. Bardolinos are a safer bet because the quality is generally high for these wines. Light-bodied, inexpensive Chianti can be more variable; I normally buy just one bottle first to try it, to be safe. But for summer drinking, they are usually fine.
Beaujolais from France is another dependable summertime red. In this case, I would definitely stick to the inexpensive versions labeled Beaujolais or the Beaujolais-Villages; the latter is a more reliable choice. Retail prices for decent Beaujolais wines range from $14 to $24. And many wine stores carry a good selection. Two producers to especially look for are Michel Téte and Jean-Paul Brun. The best Beaujolais wines, called Crus, such as Fleurie and Moulin-a-Vent, can be more expensive, and they can be imposing. But for summertime red-wine drinking, I would recommend the simpler Beaujolais-Villages.
Besides Nebbiolo, my favorite red wine variety is Pinot Noir--and I know I have a lot of company here with many other wine drinkers. Pinot Noir wines can be very expensive, of course. And Pinot needs just the right climate and other aspects of terroir to flourish. I have found that Pinot Noir wines from coastal Chile can be very good indeed. You can find many Chilean Pinot Noirs in the $15 to $30 retail range, although a few of them are more expensive--but not approaching the price of Burgundian Pinot Noirs. And Pinot Noirs from Chile are easy to drink and delightful.
Pinot Noirs from the U.S. West Coast tend to be more full-bodied. But there is one producer from Oregon whom I believe makes excellent, lighter-bodied Pinot Noirs, perfect for summer, and that is The Eyrie Vineyards. The late David Lett, founder of Eyrie, was the pioneer of fine wines in Oregon. His style of Pinot Noir is one that I agree with; Eyrie Pinot Noirs are never heavy--nor should Pinot Noir wines ever be, in my opinion. Eyrie’s Pinot Noirs retail from $30 to $40. And unlike most of the red wines I recommend for summer drinking, Eyrie Vineyards’ Pinot Noirs age very well, and that I know from personal experience. I am still drinking Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Noirs from vintages that are over 30 years old. In fact, they usually taste better on the second day!
No need to give up red wines for summer. Just think light!