Just as menus get lighter in the summer, with chefs relying on the grill more than on heavy sauces, crisp fruits and vegetables rather than starchy tubers, wines too are lightening things up. Those heavy, high-alcohol wines that warm us so well in winter seem woefully out of place around the grill, or while making an air-conditioned escape from August’s muggy heat for a light bite. In our alfresco warm weather culture, refreshment and conviviality are key. We want wines we can share, wines that please on the patio, wines that have reasonable alcohol levels. Let me be blunt: lower alcohol means we can consume more without going overboard, and lighter body generally means a more refreshing sip. Since the summer heat will rage on for a few more weeks, here are five options to help you keep things cool until autumn arrives.
Broadbent Vinho Verde: This Portuguese wine is light by law—European regulations require Vinho Verde to have no more than 11 percent alcohol. Bartholomew Broadbent, a Brit currently living in the United States but who grew up in the Portuguese wine business, crafts a wine that packs a ton of crisp flavor into a bottle with just nine percent alcohol. Drinking a glass of this wine, with its faint spritz, is like biting into a crunchy Granny Smith apple while sitting, surrounded by hibiscus flowers. Not a bad image for South Florida, it pairs beautifully with a huge range of rich tapas like bacon-wrapped scallops and bacalao (salt cod) fritters, a Portuguese favorite. The best part? At this price, you can also pair it with a large group of friends. ($10. The Fresh Market throughout South Florida, including the one at 1800 West Avenue, Miami Beach; 305-532-0377; thefreshmarket.com.)
Helfrich Riesling Grand Cru: This wine is nothing like your parent’s probable cheap and cloying vision of Riesling, likely to have been formed by drinking too much Blue Nun in their college days. We are in the midst of a press campaign called “Summer of Riesling” that has sommeliers around the country lobbying for this grape to be taken seriously as a flavorful but dry wine that pairs beautifully with food, in particular spicier dishes from Thai curries to barbecued chicken. Germany is the spiritual home of Riesling, but I like this one from Alsace, made from grapes grown in a vineyard that has produced wine for more than 1,500 years. It’s a geo-summit in a bottle, melding German assertiveness with French élan. ($30. Sunset Corners Fine Wine & Spirits, 8701 SW 72nd Street, Miami; 305-271-8492; sunsetcorners.com.)
Château D’Esclans Rosé 2012: Yes, real men drink pink and here’s the proof. Scion of a longtime wine family, Sacha Lichine makes four wines at his paradise in the south of France. The opening gambit is a shimmering rosé called Whispering Angel, which sells for $22, but I’m in love with the more elegant structure and the orange peel and strawberry fruitiness of the estate’s namesake. Château D’Esclans stands up to everything from grilled salmon to barbecued ribs. (If you get hooked, the estate makes two single vineyard wines that are even spicier: Les Clans, for $65, and Garrus, for $90. That’s serious territory for rosé, but worth it when you want to make maximum impact.) ($35. Hollywood Vine, 2035 Harrison Street, Hollywood; 954-922-2910; hvine.com.)
Tardieu-Laurent Gigondas 2010 ($50): For a summer red, I turn to winemaker Michel Tardieu, who does things his own way in a small village in France’s Rhône Valley. That includes making all his wines from “old vines.” There’s no law in France about what “old vines” means, so when I visited last year, I asked. He said, “The vines must be older than me.” He’s 52 now, and while he’s a young(ish) man, that is indeed old for vines. All of this translates into a wine with intense flavors but not overwhelming in its alcohol level. In this area of France, wines are named for the village where the grapes are grown and Tardieu’s perfectly balanced red from the old walled city of Gigondas, with its hints of blackberry and black pepper, is one of my favorites. I love a good zinfandel when I’m grilling, but Gigondas is even more appealing when the steak hits the platter, sizzle and substance all in one. ($50. Kendall Fine Wine Spirits, 10590 North Kendall Drive, Miami; 305-274-4547; finewinespirits.com.)
Champagne Ployez-Jacquemart Rosé: In my book, bubbles rule. Always. Champagne is marvelous any time of year, but on a hot day it seems particularly refreshing. In addition to its celebratory image, the gorgeous rosé color and crisp fruit created by this small producer bring forth a versatile wine that goes with everything from picnics to sit-down extravaganzas. It hits all the right spots. ($56. Mas Vino, 704 E Hallandale Beach Boulevard, Hallandale Beach; 954-455-0312; masvinomiami.com.)