Diane McMartin, sommelier and author of This Calls for a Drink, offers up wine and beer pairings for all your favorite summertime occasions.
Now that I’m finally getting some summer weather here in everyone’s favorite swamp, the Washington, DC, area (it sounds fancier than saying I live in a townhouse in suburban Virginia with a really needy cat), it’s time to start thinking about what to drink in all this sunshine! Here are a few ideas:
Sure, rosé and light whites seem like the things to bring on a picnic, but picnic food is often pretty hearty, and the bottle will inevitably warm up a bit as you’re sitting outside and maybe making out with the person you’re picnicking with (if we’re going to paint a fantasy picture here, why not make it a good one?), and there’s nothing worse than lukewarm rosé. Bleh. Try putting an inexpensive red blend from the south of France—like Domaine de la Bastide Côtes du Rhône or Moulin de Gassac’s red blend (both are usually $10 or less)—in the refrigerator for a couple of hours before you head out with your pasta salad or fried chicken. These blends are both based on the crowd-pleasing Grenache grape, full of fresh raspberry and blackberry flavor, but not too rich or heavy. They’ll be the perfect cool-but-not-cold temperature for a light, easy-drinking red once you’ve found a place to lay your picnic blanket.
Something about summer just puts everyone in a school’s-out state of mind, and for us adults who still have to work during the summer (whose crap idea was that?), that means the hour at which it’s socially acceptable to break out an adult beverage tends to creep earlier and earlier. Day drinking during the winter just seems sort of odd and depressing—unless maybe you’re snowed in with a hot toddy—but in summer, it seems festive and relaxing. Do as the Spaniards do, and have a glass of the tart, fizzy Basque classic Txakoli when you’re drinking before 5pm. It’s light, fairly low in alcohol, refreshing, and great with a summer salad or just on your back deck on a sunny day. Txomin Etxaniz is a classic—full of verve and lemon-lime zip—and usually about $22.
If you’re heading to a barbecue and don’t want to show up empty-handed, bring along a six-pack that’ll go great with almost anything from the grill. Tröegs Amber Ale isn’t exactly the newest and coolest beer on the planet, but it’s got a great balance of sweet malty notes on the nose and an almost peppery kick from Cascade, Willamette, and Nugget hops on the finish.
Lounging by the pool requires refreshment that won’t get watered down if you happen to throw a few ice cubes into your glass. Sauvignon Blanc, with its punchy flavors of grapefruit and other citrus, always tastes like summer to me. Palacio de Bornos, a Spanish winery that produces delicious, inexpensive wines, makes a Sauvignon Blanc that tastes so intensely of white grapefruit and lime that even if you throw a few ice cubes or—gasp—some sparkling water (I’m bringing back white wine spritzers; no shame!!), it won’t end up tasting like vaguely sour tap water. We’ve all been there. If you can’t find Palacio de Bornos, try another Sauvignon Blanc (or Verdejo, which is also citrusy and delicious) from the same region, Rueda.
Weekend at the Beach
If you and your assorted friends and family members have descended on a beach house for the weekend, you’ll be shocked at how much wine you go through. Or maybe that’s just my friends. (I wonder if anyone would ever call me if I sold paper products or something.) Anyway, here is my strategy for large groups: fewer choices, larger quantities. Also, always have extra ice. Pick a white, a red, and a beer, buy a bunch, and tell everyone to help themselves. Now is not the time to try and introduce everyone to your favorite skin-contact white wine from some strange corner of Italy no one’s ever heard of. I recommend an unoaked Chardonnay (I like Domaine Bernier, which is about $10), a soft, plummy red blend like The Other or X Winery Big Gun Red (both about $15), and an easy-drinking pilsner, like Wiseacre Tiny Bomb, which is laced with wildflower honey to balance the crisp, moderate hops.
For an outdoor movie, throw a few cans of wine into your canvas tote bag and be the coolest person in your neighborhood. Keep it classy and pour it into glasses, or just drink from the can and let everyone think you’re just drinking some fancy soda no one’s heard of. Ha! Try Underwood Pinot Noir, which comes in soda-size cans (that’s about half a bottle of wine, FYI). It’s delicious a little cooler than room temp, but not ice cold. You’ll be entertained even if your local movies-in-the-park program is screening Toy Story 2 for the eight millionth time.
Fourth of July
It’s Fourth of July and time for a celebratory cookout. Someone else will surely have things like a flag cake and beer covered, so bring something that will either be poo-pooed by your family (more for you!) or the hit of the party: a big honkin’ bottle of rosé. One of my favorites this year has been Zum Martin Sepp’s liter bottle of Zweigelt rosé. It’s tart and sassy, like a cranberry soda, and like old-fashioned soda, it’s closed with a crown cap, which I just think is fun. It’s about $20, and while it may not be patriotic, it’s damned delicious.
Here’s to a delicious and slightly tipsy summer, friends!