While not officially summer, there’s no denying that many people view Memorial Day as the start of the new season. The weather is significantly warmer. The barbecue pits are out. And folks have swapped out sweaters for bathing suits and shorts.
However, the biggest sign that it’s the season of fun in the sun often comes in the glass.
During Memorial Day festivities, drinkers tend to switch up the bottles on their holiday party menu. Long gone are the powerful, bold wines that warm up the palate like a cozy knit blanket. It’s all about light, bright, and lively wines from here on out.
“I look for low-alcohol wines with bright fruit and vibrant acidity,” says Reggie Solomon, a certified specialist of wine and educator in Connecticut.
Solomon also notes that the bottles drinkers enjoy with their holiday barbecue and outdoor gathering with friends will likely be the same wines they’ll want to drink throughout the summer.
“Summer wines are wines that can work for all the stages of the day — whether you’re firing up the grill or not. The wines should be just as good when eating the lighter dishes of the season or just sitting out on the porch catching the sunset after you’re done cooking,” says Solomon.
Opt for low alcohol bottles that have higher acidity and leave a mouthwatering impression that’s particularly enjoyable while cooling out at the pool. It’s those higher acid wines that pair superbly with summer food staples like shellfish, salads, and grilled white meats and vegetables.
“It’s hot during the L.A. summer, and nothing hits quite like a refreshing and zippy wine in the summertime. I want something fresh, easy to crush a lot of, and with vibrant acidity,” says Matthew Kaner, sommelier and founder of Will Travel For Wine Consulting.
For Kaner, that energetic and fresh summer wine comes in the form of Kastelberg Riesling Grand Cru produced by Marc Kreydenweiss in the Alsace region of France. It’s a bottle with “enough supple fruit to satisfy your sundown needs and enough lingering acid to wash down some delicious cheese or even sausages or grilled veggies off the grill,” Kaner says.
He adds, “Riesling, in general, is such a versatile summer wine.”
Another wine to put on the roster is spicy, peppery Grüner Veltliner from Austria. That’s what sommelier Ella Raymont is looking forward to drinking on Memorial Day and the hottest days of the season in her home state of New Mexico. A dry white wine, Grüner Veltliner has a range of flavors from lemon, lime citrus to ripe stone fruits and herbaceous.
“I’m full-on drinking Grüner Veltliner all summer long,” says Raymont. “Give me a bottle with some great lees aging, so it has that complex toasty texture with all the zingy acidity, citrus, and spice that Grüners normally carry, and I’m good to go.”
Red is still in season
Some people prefer to stick to white, sparkling, and rosé wines in summer, but there are red wines that work well even when it’s hot outside.
“This Austrian sleeper is heavenly when served chilled,” says Solomon. “Zweigelt tend to be low-alcohol wines with lots of bright acidity and fruit. They are especially great for red wine drinkers looking for light red wines to pair with summer weather when high-alcohol wines fatigue.”
Drinkers who prefer to keep full-bodied red wines with more depth in their glass during the hot days of summer should consider Italian Nebbiolo, according to John Clement, a wine sales executive at Mexcor Imports in Texas. Grippy with tannin structure, Nebbiolo expresses the terroir it comes from, which means its taste can vary depending on where the grape is grown. Some bottles offer floral flavors of rose petals and cherry, while others have dense, earthy, and leathery notes.
Nebbiolo is also a reliable choice to wash down all the salty rubs, sauces, and fatty grilled meats of summer.
“Nebbiolo gives all the complexity you want, but it’s still very crushable,” says Clement.
Keep it simple
Above all, take it easy. The only thing that truly matters is that you enjoy whatever you drink.
“‘I am not trying to think too much about what to drink. Just bring me a lot of pleasure and cool me down,” says Kaner.
Bottles to try:
Bio-Weingut H.u.M Hofer Niederösterreich Zweigelt 2018 (~$12)
Light and fruity, this is the easy-drinking red wine for your picnic basket, says Solomon. Made from Zweigelt grapes, this wine has bracing acidity and a generous amount of red fruit flavor. A taste of dried fruits fills the mouth during the long, bright finish.
M. Chapoutier Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Pays d'Oc Rosé 2021 (~$15)
Plump, juicy, and creamy — there is no simpler way to describe this blend of Grenache, Cinsault, and Syrah. From France’s Pays d’Oc IGP appellation, this wine is intense with strawberry and cherry aromas that evolve on the palate. Meanwhile, the finish is dotted with spice and herb nuances.
Mauro Molino Langhe Nebbiolo 2020 (~$20)
This “yummy Italian wine,” as Clement calls it, hails from Langhe, within Italy’s prestigious Piedmont region. It’s made by one of the region’s leading wineries, Mauro Molino, which has existed since the early 1980s. With a 90-point score from Wine Spectator, this Nebbiolo leans light and is packed with strawberry, raspberry, and rose flavors supported by firm tannins. Its freshness is noticeable well through the lingering finish.
Gruet Sauvage New Mexico Blanc de Blancs NV (~$21)
This sparkling wine is produced in New Mexico by the Gruet family, who has owned and operated the winery since the 1980s. Made with Chardonnay grapes, the bubbly is clean with great minerality and depth and displays an abundance of orchard and citrus fruits. The finish is complex, lengthy, and flavorful, and perfect for fresh oysters and clams.
Raventós i Blanc Penedes Blanc de Blancs 2019 (~$21)
Josep Raventós i Fatjó was one of the first winemakers to make sparkling wine in Spain back in 1872, and since then, Raventos i Blanc has become one of the leading producers of the Penedes region. “Their story and impact are as amazing as the quality of this wine,” says Clement. Made with native Spanish varieties Macabeu, Xarel-lo, and Parellada, plus a touch of Malvasia, this bubbly is fresh and complex with fruit character and dashing acidity.
Longavi Glup Chile Cinsault 2020l (~$22)
This organic Cinsault hails from the Valle de Itata region of Chile. Medium-bodied, the wine is bursting with delicious and bright red fruit, but it’s the savory nuances of herb and pepper that really makes this bottle pop.
Domaine de la Pepiere Muscadet Sevre et Maine La Pépie 2020 (~$23)
Domaine de la Pépière organically produces this in the heart of France’s Loire Valley. Made with Melon de Bourgogne, the wine is a summer cool-down in a bottle. Bright with citrus character, the wine is awash with minerality and wet rock nuances. Meanwhile, extensive lees contact during the winemaking process leaves the wine feeling ethereally rich and lush in the mouth. Effortless and easy to drink, this is a crushable wine that will go hand-in-hand with any seafood dishes on the cookout menu.
Stolpman Love You Bunches Ballard Canyon Carbonic Sangiovese 2021 (~$25)
As if the name wasn’t already an indicator, this red wine from Santa Barbara County is one to love. Energetic with ripe berry aromas, it features a tart cherry and sour candy character balanced with juicy melon. Carbonic maceration leaves the wine effervescent with crunchy little bubbles on the palate that only seem to amplify the flavor.
Loimer Kamptal Brut Rosé NV (~$27)
What’s summer without sparkling rosé? Barely summer at all. Salmon-colored and intense with strawberry aromas, this dry wine produced by Loimer in the Kamptal region of Austria is fresh and lively on the palate. A note of salinity adds to the brightness while the finish settles smooth and creamy.
Familie Saahs Nikolaihof Hefeabzug Grüner Veltliner 2020 (~$30)
The grapes for this Grüner Veltliner come from vines in Austria’s Wachau region, first planted in the 5th century. Only adding to the wine’s rich history, Nikolaihof also happens to be one of the oldest winemaking estates in the world. If the taste of legacy in the bottle doesn’t pique your interest, Raymont says this biodynamic wine’s rich, elegant, and fruity character certainly will. “It’s unbelievably flexible for all my farmer’s market hauls,” Raymont says, adding, “Grüner has a particular affinity to pair well with fresh greens.”
Pascal Jolivet Sancerre 2020 (~$32)
Pascal Jolivet has been in the wine business since 1926 when family patriarch Louis Jolivet and his son Lucien launched their own wine merchant company. The family moved from wine sales and distribution to winemaking with the release of their first vintage in 1987. Since then, Pascal Jolivet has been synonymous with outstanding Sauvignon Blanc, producing Sancerre wines that have been placed on top 100 lists by critics year after year. This wine displays the signature minerality and finesse the winery is loved for, while conveying quality fruit structure and richness.
Matthiasson Napa Valley Rosé 2021 (~$32)
Now here’s a rosé with some structure. Produced by Matthiasson, the Grenache, Barbera, Counoise, Syrah, and Mourvedre grapes used for this wine come from two different Napa Valley vineyards. The result is a complex and clean pale pink wine oozing with citrus character and freshness. Drink it with light spring and summer dishes or completely on its own.