As our hot summer marches on, our palates tend to seek out refreshing treats that help us keep our cool. Let’s face it: watermelon, lemonade and even ice cream don’t taste half as good when it is -15C! The same is true for wine, which means if you like rich and powerful red wines, summer can feel like an a dry spell you simply cannot endure. Good news: you don’t need to! There are many lighter red wines that won’t weigh down your palate but don't compromise on flavour either.
Appreciated for its elegance, Pinot Noir is lighter bodied and characterised by higher acidity and lower tannins, which makes it a great summer wine: the acid makes the wine bright and the softer tannin makes it light. Aromas and flavours can include tart red fruit (cherry, cranberry, currant) roses, cloves, dried leaves, mushrooms and straw. Ontario Pinots come in a number of different styles, some a bit richer on the palate, some lighter depending where the grapes are grown and how the wine is made and aged, but all of them are thrist quenching. Pinot pairs well with grilled fish or seafood, lighter meats and poultry and many cheeses.
Although Pinot and Gamay share some qualities, Gamay is definitely the showier sibling. Expect aromas of fresh lilies and peonies wrapped in ripe cherry, raspberry and plum, along with gentle hints of fresh soil and sweet herbs. On the palate, the wines are juicy with great acidity and lots of ripe, sweet fruit. With lower tannins, Gamay is a friend to the lighter fare of summer including grilled salmon and chicken; and, because of the ripe fruit on the palate it also pairs well with spicy sausages and charcuterie.
An Ontario superstar, no question. With natural high acidity and medium tannins, Cabernet Franc is a bit more structured than Pinot and Gamay and often has a bit more heft on the palate. Aromas and flavours of black fruit, violets and sweet tobacco can jump out of the glass in ripe years, along with black and green pepper spice. The elevated acidity makes it perfect for tomato-based dishes – think smoky barbeque sauce in the summer – and the spicy notes give it character enough to stand up to gamier meats on the grill. Backyard barbeque season meets the perfect partner in this wine.
A tip for all red wines in the summer: cool them down! As the heat rises outside and in, unless you have a temperature-controlled wine cellar you are probably drinking your reds too warm, which is not allowing these wines to show at their best. A good half hour in the fridge or in an ice bucket outside works well for lighter reds (Pinot and Gamay should be served at 12-16C) and 15 minutes is good for bigger reds to get them to their ideal temperature of 16-18C. Then sit back, enjoy the heat and sip your summer red wine.
Anjana Viswanatha [Sommelier CAPS, CMS] is the founder and principal of Wednesday Night Wine (www.wednesdaynightwine.ca), a wine instructor at George Brown College and is the Marketing Manager for Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake (www.winieriesofniagaraonthelake.com, @niagarawine on Twitter and Instagram, @wineriesofniagaraonthelake on Facebook). Get in touch with Anjana: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Instagram @wednesdaynightwine.