The Cabinet

of Dr. Callegari

Summer Reds

Like strip clubs and Abrahamic religions, wine seems to have a lot of laws about pairing up, especially when it comes to long-term relationships. The law says that if it's hot and humid outside, your wine better be cold and white. While exceptions are routinely made for getting broséd, no one is showing up for a Fourth of July cookout with a bottle of spicy, alcoholic red, even if the food might call for it. That said, I've always liked to think my Cabinet is full of lawbreakers, so why not throw caution to the wind and embrace the formerly unthinkable: summer reds!

To be sure, this is not a call for dumping out all the delicious whites you accrued when the fresh spring selection came out this year. Rather, as a new season necessarily prompts new wines and a new way to sport a smug look of superiority, summer reds provide the perfect solution. Despite their reputation for being heavy (not always) and allergy/fatigue-promoting (almost never), red wines in fact come in all shapes and sizes and can easily be as fresh and light as any white or rosé you might naturally be drawn to in hot weather. To convince any non-believers you encounter, just remind them that, besides being woefully behind on what rules of the wine world are meant to be bent (even to the point of breaking), they are almost certainly drinking their white wines too cold and, even more tragically, their red wines too warm. "Room temperature" is a relative term, especially when you consider the amount of seal skin the average medieval wine drinker was sporting when they decided red wine needn't be any further cooled after sitting out on their dining trestle. Most bottles have a best drinking temperature listed on them, but if not, you can use the standard of 55-65F (14-18C) for reds and 45-55F (8-12C) for whites. That means that if your red wine has been out in a room at 72F, you'll need to put it in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes before serving in order to enjoy it as it was intended. 

To keep people from punching you in the face while they wait another 30 minutes for their wine, you can regale them on the spectrum of wine bodies (aka the weight/intensity of the wine), and reveal how color and body are only distantly connected. Tannins, alcohol, sugar and acid all influence the way a wine tastes and feels to the drinker, whether it's red or white. Often a light-bodied red, with high acid, low alcohol and low tannins, is much better for warm weather drinking than a full-bodied white. A buttery California Chardonnay at a backyard barbecue will just end up looking like an above ground pool (i.e. it's better than nothing, I guess?).

Even if you're not confident of specific styles or regions, committing a few simple grape names to memory will help you find a red that suits summer weather. Grenache and Gamay are two reds that love to be chilled and are easy to find. Harder to remember if you don't know Italian, but delicious and always very well priced, are Schiava or Valpolicella from Italy. And returning to my favorite, the ever-undervalued Cabernet Franc chilled and served with grilled meat is simply divine. Pro-tip: if someone serves you warm red wine, whatever the season, do not be afraid to ask for ice--imminent dilution is a great excuse for drinking quickly.

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