Red Wines for Summer

Moving past white and fosé


Many of you here (such as myself) developed a taste for red wines long before your taste for whites – I still prefer the complexity of a red, even if it is 90 degrees outside. Here are a few wines I recommend that are low in acidity, making them smoother and the perfect match to the warmer weather. Any of them can be served with a little chill on them (after all, accurate temp for red wines is “cellar temp” and not the misconceived “room temp” – between 55-60 degrees) and would be ideal to use in your sangria (simple recipe to follow). Some of them are fairly common and some are a bit more unusual, but all can be found for a reasonable price and offer a great value to go with your next cookout or summer outing.
Photo courtesy Etwood via Flickr/CC
The following three wines have higher tannins, but still workable for summer. If you are a true red wine lover, the tannins will not bother you.
Beaujolais – a nice summer red from France that is smooth, fruity and approachable. It has a light to medium body with fairly high acidity and a subtle earthy undercurrent. Typically it has a similar nose to a white wine (reminiscent of pear and banana). This combined with its relatively low alcohol level (10% usually) makes it a very easy drinking wine that is good served chilled. Remember that this is still more alcohol content than beer, so do keep this in mind. This wine is better after being allowed to breathe for a bit, so let it rest or decant it first to bring out the best flavor. It is a young wine, so buy it for consumption – not for cellaring. Typically it is made from the Gamay grape (having a thin skin and low tannins). Bottles labeled as CRU and AOC designation are found to be typically superior in flavor. Louis Jadot is considered by many a consistently good producer of wines in this region.

Bonarda – Originally from Italy, but also reaching popularity in Argentina. This somewhat uncommon grape has a similar fruit-forward nose of the Malbec, but with a lighter body and less tannins. Common nose is that of ripe strawberries with a slight floral undertone, medium alcohol content with a creamy feel to the mouth and a slight (pleasant) bitterness on the finish of the palate.

Carmenere – Originally a French wine, now the virtual exclusive property of Chile. It combines the soft palate and gentle tannins of a Merlot, with the herbal qualities of a Cab Franc. Many of them are very forgettable, and best that way. There are a few good producers out there. Casa Lapostolle is one of the best with their Clos Apalta 2001 listed as the number #2 wine in their top 100 list. An accurate description would be to consider it as a less tannic version of a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Pinot Noir – one of the most versatile of food wines, it pairs equally well with creamy or spicy sauces and almost any animal or seafood. Typically it has a ripe berry flavor with an often woody terrior (depending on where it is grown). This wine was made popular by the movie “Sideways,” leaving many with a bad taste in their mouth due to its over-popularity. But it is a nice neutral wine that has many great tasting varieties both domestic and abroad.

Tempranillo – Spain is becoming famous for its food (thanks to innovative chefs such as Ferran Adrià) and their wine is no less spectacular. This is one of key winemaking regions of Spain. There are four classifications of wines from the Tempranillo grape (determined by their age):
  • Joven – also called Tinto. The youngest is a fresh wine (not aged in oak) with a nose of strawberry and cherry – with a lush mouthfeel and high tannins. If of a current vintage (less than three years old) it will easily stand up to being served chilled. This wine is rare to find in the States, however – but if you like a lighter red and want to do VERY authentic sangria, it may be worth the hunt.
  • Rioja – spends less than a year in white oak (traditionally French, but more and more American due to availability issues). The oak aging gives a hint of vanilla to it.
  • Crianza – aged at least two years (one of which is in oak), giving it a vanilla hint to the nose and a slight oakiness. One of the best examples for a reasonable price is Bodegas Lan Rioja Crianza 2006, available for well under $15 and rated as #44 in Wine Spectator’s top 100 of 2010.
  • Rioja Reserva – aged a minimum of three years, one of which is in oak. This further aging makes it earthier and less fruity. Leaning towards chocolate on the palate.
  • Rioja Gran Reserva – is the “old man” of the family, ages two years in oak and three years bottle aging. Blackberries, cherries and cinnamon come to the nose with this further aging. Much more of a leathery feel in the mouth and more reminiscent of tobacco.
Zinfandel – An American original made from a grape that is native to California. A young wine best consumed at a warmer temp than most reds (65 degrees). Consider it similar to an American version of a Syrah. White Zinfandel is also available and generally considered to be inferior (contributing to the poor reputation this wine has). Consider the red Zin to be the Rodney Dangerfield of wines. Part of its newfound resurgence is the high alcohol content (a smooth tasting, easy drinking wine that has as high as 16.7% alcohol content definitely has its proponents… especially for those seeking a wine for that first date – something I neither condone or deny). The palate is often dominated by contrasting flavors of ripe berries and spices, such as raspberry and black pepper.

Malbec – A very hearty, full-bodied red with a nice spice on the finish. A great wine with steaks and grilled red meat (as you would expect, being that most of it comes from Argentina, which is known for its grilled steak). An aged wine is far too heavy for the summer, but a younger variety (given a little chill before serving) is a nice smooth and full red that is easy enough drinking that it will not weight you down in the heat. For something different (though more expensive, usually) try a French Malbec (where this wine is originally from, before being VERY successfully transported and integrated into the Argentine community). Expect a rich fruity body with peppercorn accents and fairly heavy tannins. This is a true red wine in all its glory. There are many young Malbecs from Argentina for under $10. Buy them in bulk – drink a few bottles this summer, and cellar the rest for more pronounced flavors when the weather is cool.

Merlot – Common California wine full of summer fruit flavors and a lighter body. If you are entertaining people that have varied tastes in wine, Merlot is the approachable wine that everyone can agree on. Think of it as the popular girl at school. Some of the better ones come from Washington State, Napa Valley and Chile. These areas have many available for less than $15 a bottle, a great value by any standards. Spicy foods, when
paired with it, make the wine taste more tannic and bitter – so it is a match best avoided. Shellfish is a much more natural pairing.

– Another smooth red from France traditionally, but Australia and California (not to mention Washington and the surrounding region) is doing some very interesting things with it and well worth checking out (at a very good price). Blackberry, chocolate, and cinnamon are among the typical palate notes. This is a full-bodied wine that is still light enough for the warm weather – a very common dry table wine in France. One good thing about the Syrah for a picnic is the recommended temp for serving is around 64 degrees (warmer than most other wines), so you will still get all the flavor and nuances, even if it is a bit warm (from being in the sun). This is a great wine to take with you to the beach – or anywhere in full sun for this very reason. For a great value and nice flavors, give an Australian Syrah a try.

As you can see, there are many types of red wines that are crisp and refreshing enough for summer consumption. Any of these wines will work for sangria. Here is a simple recipe for it from Spain that will work great as a punch for your next party:
  • 1 bottle of red wine
  • 1 glass jar
  • 1 sliced orange
  • 1 can lemon soda
  • ice to taste
Put all ingredients into the jar and mix. That's all. Feel free to add whatever other fruit and citrus you like.

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: Leah Mansback
    Hand of Snooth
    555565 1,298

    Thanks for the Sangria recipe, its so easy and I love Spanish reds.

    Aug 10, 2011 at 11:55 AM

  • Snooth User: Mark Angelillo
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    2 5,324

    Can't wait for fall and the return of the big, commanding red. Still, maybe it wouldn't be too horrible to cuddle up next to the A/C with one.

    A little indulgent, but why not?

    Aug 10, 2011 at 12:03 PM

  • Great article! I agree--sometimes you just want a red, even in this heat! I had forgotten some of these wines; thanks for the reminder. Although, I'm not sure I'd want to convert just any bottle into sangria; we typically make sangria from the bottles we're less excited about (to mask any "off" or displeasing flavors).

    Aug 10, 2011 at 2:08 PM

  • I totally agree with drinking red in the heat. I live in Palm Springs, CA, and it's great sitting outside late in the afternoon in 100+ heat, sipping something bold and high-alcohol! (especially after working all day) Try Fess Parker Frontier Red, inexpensive and 15.5%.

    Aug 10, 2011 at 3:14 PM

  • Snooth User: hlopez99
    271856 53

    Good article, but with some inaccuracies, starting with Ferran Adrià, and then with the classifications they're: joven, crianza, reserva, gran reserva, leave rioja out of it, salud...

    Aug 10, 2011 at 5:26 PM

  • hiopez - thanks so much for the clarification. and sorry for the (some may seem) inappropriate comment about Farran - but I am a chef first, and as you all well and wine go together.

    Aug 10, 2011 at 7:14 PM

  • I just found a really good Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda at a local wine shop and was attracted by the store's reviews. It's nice to see it on this list! I won't feel bad drinking this in the increasing summer heat!

    Aug 10, 2011 at 9:55 PM

  • Snooth User: luca chevalier
    Hand of Snooth
    533661 2,535

    ...May i suggest Lago di Caldaro or generally wines based on Schiava Grapes, or Bardolino or Marzemino Mozard 's favourite Wine, all served "chilled" not cooled ..

    Aug 11, 2011 at 5:30 AM

  • Snooth User: Kjfit67
    913145 25

    Recently discovered Bonarda and find it a welcome addition to my summer red repertoire. If it can be quaffed in Houston, TX in August, it has my vote.

    Aug 13, 2011 at 7:51 AM

  • Snooth User: luca chevalier
    Hand of Snooth
    533661 2,535

    well Bonarda it's a good you mean the Argentina's one or the italian?..because in italy bonarda it's mostly a liht sparkling red wine, i don't know the Argentina one..

    Aug 16, 2011 at 3:30 AM

  • I want to find that Malbec i tried in Redding, Calif.!

    Aug 29, 2011 at 10:56 PM

  • Snooth User: Viclove88
    980386 11

    The Italian bonarda is the best...dolce.

    Nov 24, 2011 at 6:13 PM

Add a Comment

Search Articles

Best Wine Deals

See More Deals

Snooth Media Network