How to Serve Red Wine in the Summer
Just because it’s warm outside doesn’t mean we have to stop drinking red wine.
In our last blog, we dove into our favorite summertime wines, with an emphasis on whites and rosés (while touching on some reds, too). There’s never been such a high amount of high-quality white wine available in the U.S., and we’re fortunate to live in a time when we have so many options at our finger tips.
This time around, though, we’re focusing on what the best red wines are to pair with our favorite summer dishes. We’ll also offer expert tips on how to store unopened red wine and how to serve red wine during summer months, when the combination of warm weather and spending time outdoors makes spicy foods and grilled meats a major seasonal affair.
But before we dive into the red wine and food pairings, we want to cover the biggest challenge of serving red wine during summer: the extreme heat.
How to Safely Store Red Wines During the Summer
Whether hot or cold, extreme temperature is the enemy of all wine. And in the summer, it’s important to make sure that you are transporting and storing your red wines without exposing them to high heat.
When it’s a real scorcher outside, it’s important to remember not to toss your red wines (or any wines, for that matter) into the trunk of your car for the ride home. The trunk of your car will get hotter than the outside temperature, and this can “cook” a wine.
Did you know? “Cooked” wines are often called “Madeirized” or “Maderized,” after the famous fortified wine from Spain known as Madeira.
When exposed to excessive temperature, a wine will lose is vibrance and its aromas, and its flavors will become attenuated to the point that their enjoyability can be severely compromised.
Similarly, it’s important to store your wines in a cool place in the house once you get them home. And if you’re spending time outside, it’s imperative that you don’t leave the wine any place where it could get too warm.
The other issue for wine storage (and this is true all year round) is exposure to light. Light and sunlight be very detrimental to the integrity and flavor of your wine.
If you’re planning to serve wine on your summer picnic table, be sure to designate a cool spot that’s not exposed to light to store the wine.
How to Serve Red Wine in Summer
We’ll just start off by saying — well, more like shouting out loud: DON’T BE AFRAID TO CHILL YOUR RED WINE!
Extreme heat is wine’s worst enemy. But even a subtle rise in temperature can damage a red wine, especially.
Don’t let anyone shame you for throwing your red wine into an ice bucket or storing it in the refrigerator.
Experts vary on what the ideal service temperature for wine is. And of course, it also depends on the type of wine, and your personal taste.
A good rule of thumb used by most sommeliers, is that red wines served cold at “cellar temperature” (around 59° F) are best.
Now, we realize that not many people head to summer picnic with a thermometer in their picnic basket. But a few minutes (5-10) on ice (without water in it) is an ideal way to make sure that your red wine doesn’t lose its freshness when opened.
Best Red Wines for Summer
One red wine that’s traditionally served chilled is Barbera from Italy. We’re huge fans of Barbera here at Boulder Wine Merchant — both Barbera d’Alba (which tends to be softer and on the more fruity side), and Barbera d’Asti, which tends to have more depth and minerality.
Barbera in generally one of Italy’s most popular grape varieties, and it’s renowned for its wonderful food-friendliness and incredible versatility at the dinner (or picnic) table.
During summer months, the Italians — and especially the Piedmontese (in northwestern Italy) who grow and vinify it — serve it slightly chilled. And the pairings are no brainers: Chilled and warm pastas (especially with meat sauces), grilled meats (especially white like chicken and pork), and fresh summer cheese all go great with a slightly chilled glass of Barbera. Pizza is another favorite pairing.
Another red grape that we commonly reach for when we crave a chilled red wine is Cabernet Franc. In the famous appellations of Bordeaux and the Loire Valley where this wine is grown, it’s common to serve the wines chilled during summer months.
Cabernet Franc has this wonderful vegetal quality to it (some will note the bell pepper character), and it’s a top pairing for grilled or smoked beef — dishes we tend to eat a lot of during the hot months of summer.
We’re always on the look-out for great Cabernet Franc from France. But you’ll also find a lot of domestic Cabernet Franc available as well (think California, Washington State, and even New York State). Chile and Argentina also make awesome Cabernet Franc that’s perfect for chilling during summer.
If you’re planning to serve a heavier dish, one of the good summer red wines we regularly reach for during warmer months is Bandol from France.
Made from meaty Mourvèdre grapes, these wines have the depth and power that pair perfectly with richer-style dishes. If you’ve ever visited Paris during summer, you already know it’s not uncommon for the waitstaff to bring cellar-temperature Bandol to your table. Some will even bring an ice bucket for you!
No matter what red wine you’re serving during summer, don’t let yourself be intimidated or put-off by wine snobs. The best way to tell if a wine is good or not is to ask yourself if you are enjoying it!
And if you like your red wine a little bit chilled, go ahead and chill it. The people who made that wine want you to enjoy it — and that’s what matters most.