Some are more apt to reach for white than red wine during summer months, and it's perfectly understandable: White wines are generally served chilled, red wines generally not.
But when summertime arrives at our house, I find myself craving earthy red wines to pair with the smoked ribs we are offered at backyard parties, my mother-in-law's excellent Crock-Pot pulled pork, and the myriad hamburgers and hotdogs I will joyfully consume between the summer solstice and Labor Day.
Here's a list of five grape varieties that you might find chilling in my fridge on any given summer day.
5. Lambrusco: Riunite tried to ruin Lambrusco's good name by pushing it on the "misery market" back in the 1970s. But today, thanks in part to a few courageous New York importers and restaurateurs, there is more genuine Lambrusco available in the U.S. than ever before (Spec's has the best selection). Look for dry Lambrusco (wines made from the Sorbara clone of Lambrusco are my favorites) and avoid wines produced in the U.S. but labeled as "Lambrusco."
4. Barbera: More Barbera is consumed at the Northern Italian dinner table than any other grape variety. Arguably the most food-friendly grape of all, Barbera's bright fruit, zinging acidity and low tannin make it pair well with nearly anything. I love bringing a chilled bottle of Barbera to summer cookouts and potlucks -- always a winner.
3. Gamay (Beaujolais): No, I don't mean the crap that Georges Duboeuf tells you you should drink every fall (one of the greatest marketing scams in the history of wine). I'm talking about awesome, single-vineyard (cru-designated) Beaujolais, oozing with plump red and berry fruit and balanced by earthiness and acidity. Morgon is the cru most readily available in our market, but there are many others as well. Just ask your favorite wine seller.
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2. Agiorgitiko (Nemea): We're lucky to have a tightly knit Greek community here in Houston and an abundance of Greek wines in our marketplace. Agiorgitiko (pronounced ayh-yohr-YEE-tee-koh) is a light-skinned, gently tannic grape grown primarily in Nemea on the high plains of the Peloponnese -- a high-altitude, cool-summer-evening growing zone that delivers fresh wines high in acidity. I love this stuff.
1. Cabernet Franc (Loire Valley): Chinon, Anjou, Saumur... These Loire Valley townships are the appellations to look for (and Jim's Loire is my number one resource for all things Loire-related). Cabernet Franc is traditionally served chilled in summer, and its high acidity combined with its tannic potential make it my favorite wine for grilled or smoked meats during the summer. Earth, acidity, and fruit? I can't think of anything better to pair with my black-and-blue Porterhouse.