It’s hot out, the day itself sweats, and for dinner you’re planning, at most, a salad. For wine, something light, cold and refreshing – something beer-like – is needed. Sauvignon blanc? Pinot grigio? Vinho verde?

Yes to all of those, but yes also to something red.

Red wine sales dive in the dog days of summer. When the kitchen is to be avoided and food spends less time (if any) on the stove, who wants a toasty California cabernet, brooding barolo, viscous malbec or tobacco-in-a-leather-pouch Bordeaux? Not me.

But there’s a world of lighter, intriguing, charming red wines out there that beg for a place on your summer table (or beach blanket).

It may take a slight shift in one’s perspective: Most people’s preferences in red wines lean toward traits such as concentration, density, heft and depth. Nothing wrong with such tendencies, but they can be overbearing and inappropriate for our summertime moods and foods.

We’re all wearing fewer clothes these days, moving around more and forsaking to-do lists; let’s let our summer red wines visit the same realm, where the priorities become delicacy, charm, joy.


Also: fear not refrigeration. Summer reds are light on the tannins, see little if any oak and emphasize refreshment over weight; most of them benefit from 20 to 30 minutes in the fridge.

Below I discuss wines made from grapes with naturally high acidity (increases the lip-smacking quotient), low-ish alcohol and lighter body. In your own explorations, remember these varietals: gamay, barbera, European pinot noir, zweigelt, lighter iterations of sangiovese, Bardolino, unoaked cabernet franc.

For dining, think of multifaceted food combinations and even competing flavors; that’s when these pleasing tiptoers come into their own: steak salad, chicken tacos, slaws, Middle Eastern foods (hummus, baba ghanoush, falafel, veggie salads), tapas, bean and lentil salads, grilled vegetables, lots of herbs. Of course, grilled salmon with pinot noir is by now a classic.

(Note: In parentheses after each wine is the name of its Maine distributor, to aid stores in ordering it. Prices may vary, depending on where you shop.)

Castelvero Barbera 2008, Piemonte, Italy, $9 (Pine State)
. Sandy-dry, with hints of sour cherries and licorice. Barbera is an under-appreciated Italian varietal.

Its high acidity and ripe-tomato presence are perfect for high tomato season – everything from marinara sauce to broiled tomatoes stuffed with herbs to insalata caprese (actually, that layering of tomato, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil and balsamic vinegar could not find a happier mate than this wine).

Undone Pinot Noir 2007, Reinhessen, Germany, $11 (Central). Brings out the rasp and berry in raspberry. By raspy I mean a kind of gripping, voracious quality. Though background berry fruit aids sippability, there’s earth, too, or more precisely dust in a tumbleweeds-in-a-Western way – a tremendous companion to salmon, mushrooms or anything grilled.

The emphasis is not so much balance as it is curiosity: a willingness to try new things, a lack of concern with appearing consistent. A wine for the alert.

Famille Laurent Saint-Pourcain 2007, Upper Loire, France, $14 (Devenish).
Labeled VDQS, though its region has just been designated AOC (more stringent standards) – only wine bigots care anyway. I first tasted this wine months ago and my notes read: “Great gamey quality, true Burgundian nose, earthy but pure fruit too … everything I want.” Maybe not everything, but very close.

Returning to it now, I’d call this gamay/pinot blend the perfect summer red: zingy, fluid and exciting, like your favorite pop song being played simultaneously on two car stereos … collecting stones, dirt, herbs and wild berries as it rolls along. (Ah, summer – the perfect time to mix metaphors.)

Joe Appel’s day job is doing lots of different things at Rosemont Market and Bakery. He can be reached at:

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