Last weekend the temperature on my back deck was 35 degrees, steaks were on the grill, and I craved a thirst-quenching drink that wasn’t that summer cliché, rosé.
With charred meat, beer is not the answer, nor is a frozen margarita or tart white. Sticky summer weather is what the world’s light reds, best served chilled – sometimes even ice cold – are made for.
The French call them vins de soif (wines for thirst) or glou-glou (glug-glug, in English). They’re wines so gulpable that one bottle will probably not be enough of their fresh, vivid fruit flavors. To judge by wine bar offerings and by-the-glass lists, these lively easy drinkers have soared in popularity.
Unpretentious and relatively inexpensive, they’ve become a summer essential – the wine version of designer flip-flops. They’re produced just about everywhere, and some winemakers are deliberately creating wines for chilling.
Increasingly these wines, like Santa Julia Malbec-Bonarda from Argentina, even include the directions “bebase frio” (drink chilled) on the label, so you know you won’t look like an ignorant klutz if you plop in an ice cube.
How to choose a chill-ready red
Not just any red qualifies for chilling. Let big-deal cabernets hibernate until fall. Low temperatures highlight their tannins and higher alcohol and make the wines taste metallic, while oaky ones seem dry and astringent.
What you want are light, fruity examples with low alcohol, soft tannins, and high acidity. Time in the fridge dials up the acidity, so the wines taste juicier and even more refreshing.
What to look for? The gateway chillable reds are Beaujolais, made from the gamay grape, but there are plenty of other, less well-known varieties, such as frappato, grignolino, cinsault, schiava, trollinger, pelaverga, mencia, dolcetto, zweigelt, grenache, pineau d’aunis, bonarda, and lambrusco.
Many of these are from cooler regions such as Northern Italy and the Loire Valley. And some of the wines made from them are produced by carbonic maceration, in which whole bunches of grapes are fermented in a sealed vat with carbon dioxide. That gives them a particularly lively character that chilling points up.
Don’t assume red wine over ice has to be served on its own in a glass. Recently, on a trip to California, I asked Massimo di Costanzo, who makes stunning, powerful cabernets, how he got into wine.
He waxed poetic about peeling and slicing peaches to go in the pitchers of cold red wine his grandparents drank in Positano in summer. That’s a common hot-weather beverage in rural Italy.
In Spain, just about everyone has a personal recipe for sangria. Sales of bottled red versions have been been reviving over the past several years as premium versions have made their debuts. For example, Begonia Sangria Tinta is a 6 percent alcohol mix of monastrell and bobal grapes blended with sugar cane, spices, herbs, Azahar flowers, and the essence of Valencia oranges.
How to chill red wine? Put the bottle in the fridge for 45 minutes to an hour before serving, or plunge into an ice bucket filled with a mix of ice and water for 15 minutes. If desperate, just throw in a few ice cubes and swirl – but take them out before they start diluting the wine.