By Julia Van der Vink
Summer rolled into Boston slowly this year, and although many of you have been dining al fresco, slurping oysters, and sipping your Chablis for weeks, I am just now retiring my dirty Syrahs and beginning to think about the best wines of summer. When the weather gets hot, the basic suggestions are fairly intuitive: aim for wines that are light, crisp, and low-alcohol. After all, it is the time of year when people are allowed to tout their sparkling wines, rosés, sangrias and spritzers unabashedly. However, there is a fundamental tension inherent to the summer wine search—while the summertime gives us the excuse to embrace frivolous fizz and fun, there is still important eating and drinking to do; and we need wines that can hold their own. Fortunately, there are many inexpensive and high-quality summer wines that can be as serious or as playful as you want them to be.
When people think of the wines classically associated with summer, they might think of Chablis, Champagne, Sancerre, dry Rosé, or in my mother’s case, anything handed to her that looks white and tastes acidic. However, although it is clear that these wines are popular for a reason, some of the best summer wines come in many different styles, and from many different grapes. The search for summer wines therefore provides a terrific opportunity for one to venture outside their usual drinking repertoire. My favorite summer wines are frisky and refreshing, with clean fruit and nuanced minerality, to help cut through the heat. Here are some fantastic summer varietals that are certainly worth putting on your search list.
1) Muscadet. Produced in the Pays Nantais subregion of the Loire that reaches toward the Atlantic Ocean, Muscadet wines are versatile and food-friendly, but have only recently started to be taken seriously. The wines are dry, delicate, and fresh, with a perfume of green apples and grass, as well as a distinctive saline note that makes them a famous companion for seafood (especially oysters). With many excellent bottles between $10-$20, Muscadet wines are a great summer value.
2) Riesling. Although many people are already firmly seated on the Riesling train, it is still worth dutifully advocating for Riesling as one of the quintessential wines of summer. Frequently accompanied by the adjective “sexy,” or “sumptuous,” look for dry, low-alcohol German Rieslings from both the Mosel and the Rheingau, which can be characterized by their refreshing acidity, minerality, and bright notes of peach.
3) Albariño. Quite simply, the world would be a happier place if people drank more Albariño. Check out wines from the Rías Biaxes (pronounced Ree-uss By-Shuss) region of Spain just above Portugal. Albariño wines share some of the structure and fresh acidity of a dry Riesling, but with a less oily mouth-feel. They are light, crisp, and aromatic, with attractive notes of citrus, and a beach-like minerality that makes them phenomenal wines for the summer. (As an aside, if you get on a Spanish kick, additionally look out for Torrontés and Verdejo, which are also stunning summer varietals).
4) Grüner Veltliner. As a grape that is capable of displaying complex layers, and a broad variety of flavors, Grüner Veltliner is said to produce some of the most exciting white wines in the world. In fact, in addition to being recently referred to as the “Arnold Schwarzenegger of wine,” it is a little known fact that many of the Grüner Veltliner wines coming out of Austria compare in quality with the top white Burgundies. Capable of expressing itself in many different forms, assertive fruit aromas characterize wines from the Wachau region, while wines from the Kemptal region maintain more of a mineral focus. Overall, however, Grüner Veltliner wines have a lush mouth-feel, scintillating acidity, and a unique versatility that make them a top consideration for the summer wine adventurer.
Ultimately, while there is nothing wrong with staying faithful to Chablis, if you do step out, you should be prepared for the scope of stylistic diversity that can be found amongst the many great summer wines waiting to be discovered. This starter list of varietals is by no means a comprehensive account of the many wines worth looking into. Finally, while these four varietals are a few of my current favorites, I would love to hear about some of yours. I, too, am always looking for new summer wine romances.