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Just because it’s summertime doesn’t mean that you have to forego red wines until autumn and only drink well-chilled whites and rosés. After all, Pinot Grigio with spice-rubbed pork shoulder leaves a lot to be desired!
Choosing reds that are enjoyable in the heat, however, can be tricky. In general, try to avoid wines that are high in alcohol; a big, ripe red that’s enjoyable in the dead of winter can often come off as soupy and overwhelming in July and August.
Instead, look for wines that find a balance between fruit and spice, and that have enough acidity to make your mouth water. And remember: Gently chilling a bottle of the right red wine will not only make it more refreshing, but will also render the fruit more lively and the acidity more pronounced. Just be careful not to chill them down too much: Cold red wine is often bitterly tannic and feels out of balance.
Each of the 15 reds below (listed alphabetically) are perfect for the summertime, whether you enjoy them on their own or alongside the traditional foods of the season.
Abbot’s Passage “Tri Point” 2018 — Fenaughty Vineyard, El Dorado County, California
Bursting with peppercorn and bacon, this Viognier and Syrah blend is a uniquely savory wine that’s cut through with a pure beam of cherries. Its finish gently vibrates with the suggestion of lavender and deeply grilled white peaches against brambly berries. Perfect with dry-rubbed ribs.
Alois Lageder Lagrein 2016 Südtirol — Alto Adige, Italy
The distinct peppercorn spice here adds shimmer to ripe fruit, which leans in the direction of black raspberries and plums that are anchored by hints of leather, maduro cigar tobacco, and a briny finish.
Animale Petite Sirah 2016 — Yakima Valley, Washington
Deep aromas of Dr. Pepper spice set the stage for a palate of ripe yet acid-seamed purple plums, brambly berries, black and red cherries, black raspberries, flowers, and tamarind paste, all finishing with distinct blood orange flavors. Taut and full of energy and structure.
Bodegas LAN Rioja Crianza 2016 — Rioja, Spain
Plush aromas of tobacco, warm vanilla, and black plums roll into flavors of plums, blackberries, tobacco, cedar, and baking spice. It’s perfect alongside a big grilled portobello or even just simply prepared game meat.
Château de Pizay Morgon 2018 Morgon (Beaujolais Cru) — France
Aromas of fresh cherries, wild strawberries, and a hint of cherry pastry creme set the stage for punchy flavors of cranberries, raspberries, tart red cherries, rhubarb, and scrubby herbs, framed with a hint of blood orange. It’s all carried on a texture that promises at least 5 years of evolution ahead, and perhaps a decade.
Cirillo “Survivor Vine — The Vincent” Grenache 2016 Barossa Valley, Australia
This is sourced from two vineyards that were planted more than a century ago, and the character of those old vines shines through with ringing clarity. Pure medicinal red cherries, combined with scrubby herbs, lavender, whole peppercorns, red licorice, and a hint of pistachio make this complex, vibrant Grenache a perfect wine for the summertime. It’s almost salty on the finish, demanding hot dogs to pair it with.
Clos de La Cerisaie 2018 — Anjou, France
Funky yet ringing with cherries, this boasts pink peppercorns, eucalyptus, freshly dug golden chanterelles, goji berries, huckleberries, and sage. The tannins here can handle a richer cut of meat, yet the fruit shimmers through, keeping it all summer-appropriate.
Leon Beyer Pinot Noir 2015 — Alsace, France
Translucent, verging on transparent garnet, in color, this is a savory expression of Pinot Noir, with forest floor and dried rose petals finding a counterpoint in red berries and cherry pits, as well as a hint of lavender. Great with a chill.
Lone Madrone “Oveja Negra” 2015 — Old Oak Vineyard, Willow Creek District, Paso Robles, California
Ripe wild strawberries overflow from the glass, and are joined by wild cherries, toasted fennel seeds, star anise, tamarind paste, and lots of peppercorn. Very true to its Rhône inspiration and its Paso roots, this Mourvèdre/Grenache/Syrah/Counoise blend is perfect for more sweetly-sauced barbecue.
Macari Cabernet Franc Reserve 2015 — North Fork of Long Island, New York
Fresh and lively, with mint and eucalyptus notes lifting flavors of wild berries, cloves, and peppercorns. A spine of cherries defines the generous finish, which itself is ripe and layered.
Mayacamas Merlot 2016 — Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley
This shows the more lithe side of Merlot, and with a slight chill—figure maybe 25 minutes in the fridge—it dances across the tongue with wild strawberries, red plums, sweet spice, and a touch of chocolate on the tobacco-, oregano-, and mineral-tinged finish. Paired with a hamburger, preferably with some grilled Vidalia onions, this is a home run.
Rusack “Boundless” Mission 2019 — Ballard Canyon, California
So fresh and lively, practically dripping with cranberries, pomegranate seeds, rhubarb, and dried oregano. Only 36 cases were produced, however, so snap it up while you can.
Shafer Vineyards TD-9 2017 — Napa Valley
A deep well of kirsch, plums, vanilla crème brûlée, tobacco, and spice roll into a plush and generous palate with waves of plums, figs, cassis, blueberry cobbler, and a hint of graham cracker, all of it ending with mineral savoriness and a subtle violet lift the spice. Even at 15.3% alcohol, the tannins are integrated enough that it's thoroughly enjoyable with a slight chill, which lends real freshness to the fruit. Perfect with grilled peppercorn-crusted strip steak!
Ulls de Mel Tempranillo 2018 Penedès — Spain
An excellent example of the heights that natural wine can achieve, this is crunchy and mineral, showing a side of Tempranillo that isn’t often seen. Fresh, mouthwatering notes of cranberries, slate, forest floor, and pepper linger through the energetic finish.
Zuccardi “Concreto” Paraje Altamira Malbec 2017 Mendoza — Argentina
Ripe yet sinewy, with deep minerality, concentrated acidity, and crunchy tannins that throw the brambly berries and floral spice into sharp relief. A serious, and seriously delicious, Malbec.