July seemed to us the ideal month to address full-force the issue of summer: look a month back to June, and it was barely summer . . . look a month ahead to August and the prospect of autumn looms attractively. Some of us love this season, some hate it, and then there are those of us who just endure, accepting that there's nothing much we can do about it. Others indulge in acts of quiet desperation: a friend of ours told us recently about his reaction to a New York summer when he first moved here from France . . . living in an apartment without air-conditioning, he found himself dawdling through the aisles of his nearest supermarket, spending two hours to do his little bit of shopping in order to get cool. And my husband has been known to seclude himself in the air-conditioned bedroom and watch all three parts of The Godfather in succession on a particularly beastly Saturday.
But our topic here is wine, and we have two specific concerns for the season: 1) we think there are certain varietals and wine-making styles that are appropriate for these hot steamy days (and nights) and 2) there are some particular rules for wine service that should be observed in these conditions so that you don't do the wine a disservice.
What are the best summer wines? In whites we look for something bracing and refreshing, wines with good natural acidity that have, in all likelihood, seen little or no oak. That means Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Albariño, Pinot Grigio, perhaps a young Côtes-du-Rhône white . . . and it means saving those big butterscotchy Chardonnays for the cooler days to come.
We have to admit that as the little red indicator in the thermometer keeps going up, our interest in big red wines goes steadily down. Sure, there's the occasional spicy barbecue number that calls for a serious red, and if that's what you want, fine (but see the advice below). For the most part, however, summer reds for us are lighter, fruit-driven, soft-tannin wines that won't make you feel hotter than you already are. So think light reds like Valpolicella, Barbera, Freisa (all Italian) or a Beaujolais or anything made primarily from Grenache.
Is there one indispensable summer wine? We say yes to a dry, crisp, lightly fruited rosé. Properly chilled down, rosés are superb at beating the heat, even on the doggiest of dog days.
Our rules of service basically have to do with temperature: whites and rosés need about 45 minutes in the fridge or 10-15 minutes in an ice water bath, and you might want to chill your reds briefly if you are taking them outside. Remember that the classic temp for red wines is 68 degrees, and when you bring the wines out into 90+ temps you are (at the worst) cooking them and (at the very least) not giving them the chance to show properly what they have to offer. Enjoy these wines, and all the wines of summer!