The 5 best red wines for summer – and why
When the weather turns warmer, many wine drinkers turn to white or rosé wines but what about those who prefer to stick to red wine whatever the weather? Which red wines are better suited to summer? As you might imagine, most heavily oaked big-bodied red wines can seem just a little too oppressive in hot summer weather so below are the features you should look for in your summer red wines and my suggestions for the 5 best summer red wines whether served chilled or at room temperature.
Features of the best summer red wines
As in any season, you should always be looking for wines in the summer that have balance, that is those where the alcohol or ABV level sits harmoniously with the acidity, tannins and level of sweetness in the wine. When none of these items sticks out like a sore thumb, then you know you are onto a good wine but of particular interest for summer-friendly red wines specifically are those that have:
- a light body
- low tannins
- soft texture
- relatively high acidity and
- fruit flavours in abundance.
And here are the reasons why:
Heavier red wines have usually acquired their body or structure from one or more of the following: oak ageing, extended lees ageing and / or high alcohol levels although certain grape varieties are also more likely to produce fuller-bodied wines than others. Wines with more extract (what gives the wine more body, colour and flavour) and / or with high alcohol have a heavier sensation in the mouth from the dissolved solids and the viscosity of the alcohol so will appear to be less refreshing in warmer weather.
Heavily tannic wines which can seem a little “rustic” if the tannins have not yet softened are similarly more likely to have been aged in oak or undergone a long maceration. The tannins can make the wine seem heavier and harsher; although it may have started to develop more complex, spicy and savoury flavours, the wine may not seem as light and summery as a wine with lower tannins.
Wines with low acidity generally feel rounder which again makes a wine feel more full-bodied. Higher acidity will make the mouth water and will also counterbalance any excess sweetness in the wine, therefore making the wine feel more refreshing.
Another reason why unoaked or lightly oaked red wines are a good choice in the warmer weather is that wines fermented and / or aged in stainless steel have less interaction with the air and so retain their primary fruit flavours like fresh red and black berries and fruits, flavours that we associate more with the summer and which complement summer foods in general. Wines that have developed vanilla, toast or coconut for example from oak or dried fruit and meaty flavours from prolonged oxidation or ageing seem better suited to colder weather. In addition savoury flavours in red wines can taste rather metallic if the wine is served below room temperature.
Fruit flavours are often also enhanced in lighter red wines by a process called carbonic maceration which also minimises the exposure to oxygen. Whole bunches of grapes are sealed in a tank or vat with CO2 to get rid of oxygen (rather than pressing the grapes first) and fermentation starts automatically after a few days with the result that more colour, soft texture, fresh fruit aromas and flavours are produced in the wine with lower tannins extracted.
So, for summer reds, look for light, soft, fruity wines with low tannins, low or no oak influence and high acidity, like the following…
The 5 perfect red wines for hot weather
Here are my suggestions for the 5 best summer red wines, wines that will suit the warmer weather we (hope for and) have during the UK summers and that won’t clash with the lighter foods that we tend to eat in the warmer months.
Gamay is the archetypical fruity red wine and it is essentially the grape used for Beaujolais red wines which are some of the lightest, fruitiest red wines you can find. Gamay wines taste of raspberries and red cherries with a hint of black pepper and are generally very refreshing. The Beaujolais Cru wines are the high end of Beaujolais wines, with slightly more intense fruit flavours and they can usually be kept for longer.
This organic Brouilly from Jean-Claude Lapalu for example has a beautiful perfume with aromas of red berries and violets for which Brouilly is known and is mouth-wateringly good. Jancis Robinson also gave it a whopping 17.5 points and commented “Really satisfying – typically beaujolais, but really complex and lengthy too."
In fact, whilst it was proved in the 1990s that Primitivo and Zinfandel are in fact the same grape variety, it is more the fruity southern Italian Primitivo wine that I am thinking about here rather than the (usually) heavier US Zinfandels as the former are generally lighter and fruitier.
This Fatalone Primitivo Riserva from the Gioia del Colle DOC appellation in Puglia smells delightful – ripe blackberries, mulberries and cherries. These fruits are also evident on the palate along with a fresh minerality and almonds.
Nero d’Avola is grown extensively in Sicily and Puglia in southern Italy as it is well suited to the heat of those regions. Whilst occasionally you will find heavier versions, most are soft, fruity wines like this organic Nero d’Avola from family-run winery, Caruso & Minini.
Its mouth-watering fruitiness is dominated by black fruits and blueberries with a hint of violets; just 50% of this wine was aged in oak and in very large barrels so that the influence is more on the softness and body of the wine than on the flavours. All in all, this is a very easy-to-drink wine that is very food-friendly – you should try it with fish!
Good Bardolino is hard to find in the UK; I think the Italians must keep it all to themselves. But this single-vineyard Bardolino Classico from one of my favourite Italian producers, Guerrieri Rizzardi is superb. And I'm not alone in thinking that - the 2017 of which I have 4 bottles left won Best Bardolino at the International Wine Challenge 2018. This 2018 is equally as good and perfect for the summer.
Produced from the same grape varieties as Valpolicella, in this instance 80% Corvina bringing blabck cherry aromas, 10% Rondinella adding floral notes and 10% Merlot to soften the wine, it is completely unoaked. Fermentation and short ageing took place in stainless steel tanks and new concrete tanks in order to preserve the fruit-forward character of the wine and make the wine “seem more rounded and silky in texture than ever before” according to the producer. It's a lovely fruity light red wine.
There are Pinot Noirs and Pinot Noirs, some more intense and fuller-bodied than others but this cool climate Pinot Noir from Andreas Bender in the Pfalz region of German is particularly suitable in warmer weather as it is so light and elegant. Soft fruit flavours include ripe redcurrants and raspberries with a hint of vanilla and spices from the (light) oak ageing. The sweet, ripe, red fruits mix well with the silky texture and the acidity which makes this a very mouth-watering, drinkable Pinot Noir.
This list is of course not exclusive but hopefully I have narrowed down the choices for you.
And remember that rosé wines are made with red wine grapes so if you are a red-only person, why not branch out and try one of the more substantial rosé wines like this pink Gamay from Burgundy which is both complex and refreshing:
Bonus summer red wine
And if you are a red wine drinker who really can’t do without your dose of Cabernet, make sure you pick a lighter version like this First Drop Mother’s Ruin Cabernet which First Drop describes as an “ode to the gentleman’s claret”. Cabernet Sauvignon might not be the first grape you think of when it comes to summer wines but this is lovely and light with lower tannins – and drinking beautifully in summer 2022.
Temperature for serving red summer wines
Any of the above red wines can be served chilled to 10 – 12 OC or at room temperature. Be wary though because chilling wine emphasises any oak ageing and tannins and can mask fruit flavours so if you have chilled your wine and find it is not very forthcoming, warm it up a touch. Enjoy!
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Lindsay Cornelissen DipWSET is passionate about good quality wine and set up Wines With Attitude to share that passion with other wine lovers.