Outdoor drinking season is back! Here are the best wines to open on your patio

As the weather heats up, I find my wine tastes start to change. The hearty, rich wines that complement stews and roasts so well can feel heavy and overbearing as the temperature rises, especially if you’re outside.

When you find yourself on a patio or porch or heading to a park or beach, look to some different sections of the wine shop for the perfect wine.

There are a few things I look for in general in a warm weather wine: acid, low/medium alcohol levels, and minimal oak. The acid stimulates saliva and conveys a brightness that is extremely refreshing. The lower alcohol content makes for a lighter wine that complements the warmer weather nicely and leaves you feeling much lighter than the big, bold wines you enjoy indoors.

If you typically drink BIG wines like Cabernet Sauvignons or Malbecs, try a lower-alcohol version of those grapes or experiment with other low-alcohol varietals.

Finally, wines aged in oak pick up flavours from the wood that can add a lovely complexity, but also make the wine a bit heavier and less refreshing. I love a note of oak on my wine, but tend to steer to wines aged without oak or with minimal oak when summer approaches.

Here are some of my favourite, easy-to-find types of wines for warmer weather.

A crisp Sauvignon Blanc.

The Sauvignon Blanc grape contains a lot of acidity, and typically contains no oak. You can find Sauvignon Blancs from most parts of the globe. Some of my favourite areas are New Zealand and France, but I enjoy many other areas as well.

These wines are meant to be drunk young — typically within two years — so do go looking for newer vintages and screw top bottles, which are especially great on picnics. A really solid Sauvignon Blanc found virtually everywhere is the New Zealand standby made by Kim Crawford Vineyard. The price is right (typically under $US15), and it’s consistently good.
In France, look for a Sancerre or a Pouilly-Fume. Both wines grow in the Loire Valley, which is ideally suited for Sauvignon Blanc. A very good, relatively common Sancerre I often recommend is the Pascal Jolivet Sancerre. You can find recent vintages for under $US20.

If you’re looking for similar types of crisp white wines for summer, try a Vino Verde from Portugal or Spain, or a Gavi di Gavi from Italy, or a Chenin Blanc from South Africa.

Bubbly.

We often save sparkling wines for celebrations. I say that opening a bottle of bubbly is itself a celebration! The carbonation and acidity make for a perfect warm weather drink.

Of course, the most famous type of sparkling wine is Champagne. Yes, Champagne can be quite expensive, but a good bottle can be worth it. If you want to go upscale without breaking the bank, I recommend a non-vintage Pol Roger ($US40 to $US50) but you can certainly go big with great vintage bottles well north of $US250. (As an aside, Winston Churchill drank a bottle of Pol Roger at lunch every day. Now that’s a lunch!)

But sparkling wine is made all over the world. What’s more, these sparkling wines can be delicious and are typically much more affordable. Some of my favourite easy-to-find sparklers are:

  • US sparkling wines: Roederer Estate Sparkling wine (Napa – $US20), Gruet Brut (New Mexico! – $US23), and Iron Horse Sparkling – especially their “Wedding Cuvee” (Napa – $US30.)
  • Italian Sparkling wines: Belle Casel (Prosecco – $US17), Nino Franco Rustica (Prosecco – $US15), Banfi Rosa Regale (Red, sweet sparkling – $US18), and Lini 910 (Lambrusco – $US15.)
  • Spanish Sparkling wines: Augusti Torello Mata Brut Gran Reserva (Cava – $US15) and Rovellats Gran Reserva Brut Nature (Cava – $US25.)

Rosé.

Rosés are my favourite warm weather wines. Perhaps it’s the pink colour or the memories of your parents’ syrupy white zinfandel, but many people steer clear of rosé wines — and that’s a mistake. Typically made from grape varietals that produce red wines, the wine makers reduce the amount of time the grape skins are in contact with the juice of the grape.

This reduced contact reduces the tannin levels and intensity often found in red wines. The darker the pink, the longer the grape skin has been in contact with the juice. I love rosé slightly chilled on my patio with or without food.

Nearly every part of the wine-producing world makes some type of rosé, but some easy-to-find, tasty options are:

  • Spain: Las Rocas Rosé (made from Grenache, $US10)
  • France: La Terre de Agnes Rosé (Sancerre, made from Pinot Noir – $US18), and La Vielle Ferme (Rhone, made from Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault – $US18.)
  • US: Vallin Rosé (made from Syrah – $US22)

Beaujolais.

Often overshadowed by its more famous wine-making neighbours, the Beaujolais region of France produces some great, light red wines that are wonderful summer options for people who prefer red to white or pink. There are 10 sub-regions in Beaujolais, and without going deep into the wine classification laws of France, I suggest you look for a Beaujolais from one of these specific sub-regions rather than look for a specific wine maker.

Some are easier to fine than others, so I suggest you search out a Beaujolais from Morgon, Bruilly, or Fleurie. Winemakers typically reserve their best grapes for their “Cru Beaujolais” bottling. To qualify for the “Cru Beaujolais” label, the grapes must all come from the same sub-region, and they typically demand a higher price than the Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Village classifications. Unlike Cru wines from other French regions, these wines won’t break the bank, and typically cost less than $US25.

No matter what you choose, don’t over-chill any of these wines. As the temperature of wine (or any beverage) approaches the freezing point, humans lose the ability to discern the flavours of that beverage. That’s why a really cold beer is so refreshing right out of the cooler, but may not be so great 15 minutes later. I like my wine cool but not cold. Try it. You will taste much more at 50 -55 degrees Fahrenheit than you will at the 38 degrees of a typical refrigerator.

While I encourage you to let your whites warm up slightly, I also think most of us are drinking our red wines too warm. Take that bottle of Beaujolais or Lambrusco and cool it for 30 minutes in the refrigerator, or put it in a bucket of ice water for 5 minutes.

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