Summer is a lighthearted time. While in colder months we may enjoy ruminating on deep thoughts while swirling something weighty in our glass—like port, or a full-bodied Sangiovese—summer calls for beverages that are pure fun, just like our pastimes.
But is it as simple as just switching from red to white when sunny days arrive? Hardly. Unexpected varietals can enliven summer hangouts. Local wineries offer fabulous places to sip and enjoy yourself. And, at any time of year, knowing a few good bottles to look for can make selection a lot easier.
Here’s your guide to drinking your way through summer.
We hit up the new owners of Market Street Wine, Siân Richards and Thadd McQuade, to be our summer wine gurus. Yes, they agreed, white wines are the first line of defense against summer heat—but don’t go too heavy on the alcohol content. “In general, lower alcohol can help offset the heat of summer, and bright crisp wines, as well as wines with bubbles, can be really refreshing,” Richards says.
The retailers’ favorite white varietals? Start with Vinho Verde—the name of a grape-growing region in Portugal as well as the name of wines made from the grapes that are indigenous there. They may or may not be lightly fizzy, but in general Vinho Verde is affordable and has a light alcohol content. Quinta de Santiago 2016 Branco Alvarinho is from the northern part of the region and has a creamy texture with a crisp edge and a rich, fruity flavor.
Then there’s Chenin Blanc. “You can find versions that go from simple and clean, to incredibly complex and expressive, depending on the occasion and the budget,” says Richards. Try Domaine Huet “Le Haut-Lieu” Vouvray Sec, which offers fruity and floral notes and a round texture.
Pét-nats, or pétillant naturels, are “a great bubbly choice,” she says, “and offer some different nuances than the Prosecco and Cava we are mostly all familiar with.” They’re definitely trendy right now, but what’s old is new again: Pét-nats are the oldest type of sparkling wines. Try the Meinklang Foam white, made from Pinot Gris grapes and featuring a fruity nose with a bubbly cider-like finish.
Going local? Favorite whites from our region include Early Mountain Petit Manseng, a denser, richer white than many; Blenheim Claim House white, a blend with notes of honeysuckle, green apple and pear; and Stinson Wildkat, made from the ancient varietal Rkatsiteli.
Looking for something different? Head out to the back roads of Nellysford and visit Hill Top Berry Farm & Winery. Besides mead—a fermented honey drink—the winery offers summery fruit wines. There are versions made from blueberries, raspberries, peaches, plums and even elderberries. And when the crop comes in well, the farm also offers pick-your-own blackberries in season (late July into August).
“Broadly speaking, you shouldn’t think too hard about rosé,” says Richards. That said, “There are really beautiful and nuanced rosés that can serve for an occasion or stand up to a nice meal.” She and McQuade recommend exploring options from less-familiar regions: not just Tavel and Provence but also the Loire, Spain, Austria and California. “You can find very light and crisp rosés, ones that are pretty full bodied and even ones that are more ‘serious’ and savory,” Richards says.
Try Ameztoi “Rubentis” Rosado Txakolina, a rosé from Spain’s Basque Country with tart fruit and a ballet-pink color. The almost electric hue of Zoe Rosé, from Greece, shows how much variability there can be in the color of rosé; look for hints of juniper and rose in the nose and a balanced palate.
Locally, Blenheim Vineyards’ Rosé is made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Mourvedre grapes left “on the skins” for 72 hours—this is the part of the winemaking process that gives rosé its pink color. The Blenheim rosé begins with strawberry and honey on the nose and delivers a refreshing watermelon finish.
But where do I drink?
With a vibrant local wine scene like the one in central Virginia, there’s no reason to confine your wine drinking to home sweet home. Head out to a winery and enjoy the vino along with a view. Grace Estate Winery offers a free hangout every Friday evening from 6 to 9pm, with local musicians and food vendors, plus discounts on Grace Estate wines. King Family Vineyards hosts polo matches every Sunday through October 7, which you can watch for free, as well as Wine Wednesday from 5 to 8pm (grab some Moe’s Original BBQ while you’re at it). Veritas Vineyard & Winery is the home of Starry Nights monthly music and dinner events, and its Terrace always offers light fare including sandwiches and charcuterie and cheese plates —or you can bring your own picnic. Watch Blenheim Vineyards’ schedule for food trucks, live music and even art workshops. Early Mountain Vineyards offers a full fine-dining menu, as well as simpler wine tastings, and sometimes hosts live music. Afton Mountain Vineyards and Wisdom Oak Winery both offer a low-key experience, all about the wine and the setting; at either place, you’re welcome to bring a picnic to enjoy along with your tasting. Barboursville Vineyards, where the Virginia wine industry was born, might also boast the coolest architectural feature of any local winery— the ruins of a grand house designed by Thomas Jefferson. Bring your own food, taste wine in the Library 1821 tasting room where chefs pair small dishes with the wines, or go all the way and enjoy dinner in the elegant Palladio restaurant.
Reds can serve better than you’d think in summertime. Consider casual-style wines that are meant for simple meals and easygoing occasions. “Especially among natural wine makers, gluggable or ‘glou glou’ wines are really pretty popular right now,” Richards says.
Try the rustic Chilean Pipeño, made from the grape País, the first varietal brought to the Americas by the Spanish. “They can be served with a slight chill and are good with most of the obvious summertime meals,” says Richards, who likes Viño Maitia 2016 Aupa Pipeño, with its notes of raspberry and cherry.
Beaujolais “is delicious and is still a bit underrated, so offers great value,” she says. “The best of Beaujolais still comes in way under the price of the best of more sought-after wines like Burgundy.” She and McQuade recommend Chateau Cambon 2016, which the New York Times called a “bright, earthy, lip-smacking, slightly rustic straight Beaujolais.”
If you’ve never experienced a sparkling red, like Lambrusco or Gragnano, summer would be the time to try them. “Perfect with pizza or a picnic,” says Richards. Check out Paltrinieri 2016 Radice, which offers an acidic palate of strawberry and pink grapefruit.
The gurus recommend Stinson Vineyards’ Cabernet Franc, and the Cab Franc from King Family Vineyards is also a fresh choice for summer.