Rising temperatures and longer daylight invite outdoor grilling, which sends me hunting lighter- and medium-tannin reds with fruit-acid balance. I like summer reds that display distinctive varietal character and are not West Coast fruit bombs.
Here are some I liked. Maybe you will, too.
In southern France near Provence, Chateauneuf-du-Pape is a region and a wine. “The pope’s new castle” is sometimes called the gateway drug to French wines. But at $70-$100, it runs past most wallets.
Costco members well know the Kirkland Signature brand and its reputation for bang-for-the-buck. The 2018 Kirkland Signature Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee du Terroir des Papes (now that’s a mouthful) is worth seeking out at $21. It leans on Grenache with Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault added, delivering lavender and cedar aromas and a flavor profile of black cherry, currant and spice. A great introduction to this renowned blend.
Likewise, the 2018 Kirkland Signature Pinot Noir Russian River Valley ($13) is another treasure. California’s Russian River appellation in Sonoma County is one of the best Pinot Noir growing regions in the world. Russian River Pinot Noir is twice the price at the low end and can top out at $100 or more. Pinot Noir is a lighter-styled, velvety wine that displays cherry, plum, and raspberry.
The 2016 Zenato Alanera Rosso Veronese ($20) is an intriguing Italian blend of Corvina, Rondinella, Corvinone and a touch of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Some grapes are briefly dried to concentrate sugars. It displays cherry, raisin and anise, and is immediately approachable.
Another good source of lighter-styled reds is the Beaujolais region of France. Crafted from Gamay, Beaujolais universally displays vibrant black cherry, currant, tea and spicy notes. As a rule, avoid Nouveau Beaujolais but do reach for the most recent vintages. The 2018 Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages and 2018 Georges Duboeuf Flower label ($13-$14) are reliable brands, carried in most Triad grocery stores.
Two Chilean wines from Trader Joe’s — the 2018 Panilonco Carmenere and 2018 Panilonco Merlot-Malbec — are the poor man’s path to paradise at $5. Juicy red berry profile with just enough spine to keep it interesting.
Available across most grocery retail is the 2018 La Vielle Ferme Vin de France ($11-$12). This French blend of Carignan, Syrah, Cinsault and Grenache is light spice and pepper swimming in cherry and red licorice.
Also widely available is the 2015 Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico ($15). This is one of Italy’s oldest wine producers. Look for the word Classico. In addition to blackberry and black cherry, cedar, mineral and tea notes elevate this Sangiovese-based wine. For those keeping score, Wine Spectator rated it a 92 and included in their Top 100 wines of the Year. That rarely happens with a wine at this price.
I’ll suggest three rose/blush wines because they are dry and drink like a red.
The 2018 Gerard Bertrand Rose Cote des Roses ($16-$17) is a French blend of Grenache, Sirah and Cinsault. Minerals, herbs, and spice are interlaced with the melon, dried red cherry profile.
Because I cut my teeth and romanced my future wife with Rose d’Anjou, I have a soft spot for the south of France. So I circle back to the wine region I first introduced here — the southern Rhone region near Avignon — and recommend a specific appellation: Tavel, a bolder rose, somewhat darker hued with an orange-coral-salmon tint. Dry and crisp, they lean on raspberry, orange peel, minerals and almond.
The most widely available gold standards is the 2018 Chateau D’Aqueria Tavel ($21-$24). I have a bottle stashed for a 40th anniversary.
I was stunned to find the 2018 Reserve des Chastelles Tavel ($10) at Trader Joe’s. A warm sunny day found me refinishing a porch bench, alongside this wine and Jimmy Buffett on CD. I’ll do this again and again. The wine, I mean. Not the porch bench.