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Warm temps and wine sipping go hand in hand. Although we love indulging our love of vino year-round, there’s something extra special about popping bottles beneath the sun. However, not all wines scream to be sipped in the summertime.
Not sure what we mean? Not to worry. The simple answer here is fruit-forwardness, low tannins, and tons of thirst-quenching acid. Sunny summer weather screams for something refreshing, and wines with high alcohol / high levels of tannin will certainly bog you down on scorching days. So which regions, varieties, and producers are the best picks?
We tasted, tested, and spoke with a handful of reputable industry vets to narrow down the best wines to drink for the Summer of 2021. Here are our expert picks on the best bottles to pop beneath the sun.
Best Overall: Clos de la Roilette Fleurie
Region: Beaujolais, France | ABV: 13% | Tasting Notes: Strawberries, Cranberries, Smoke
When it comes to summer sipping, Beaujolais takes the cake. These refreshing red wines (best served with a chill) are marked by fruit-forwardness and high acid, which promise to quench your thirst and keep you hydrated no matter how high the temps get.
This classic example from Clos de la Roilette is loaded with flavors of fresh-picked strawberries, cherries, cranberries, and a touch of smoky earth. “For [summer] reds, I tend to gravitate to a slightly chilled Beaujolais, probably a Fleurie with all of its effusive aromatics,” says Lauren McPhate, Director of Sales at New York-based Tribeca Wines.
Over in California, Lexi Jones, Co-founder of Argaux and Director of Imports at Amlière Imports, shares similar sentiments. “A warm summer night begs for a burger on the grill and Beaujolais in my glass,” she says. “With a slight chill, [Beaujolais] brings me all the bright, juicy red fruit I am looking for. It’s the most perfect wine to wash down a big bite.”
Best White: Graci Etna Bianco
Region: Sicily, Italy | ABV: 13% | Tasting Notes: Lemon, Honey, Smoke
Volcanic whites check all of our boxes for summer sipping: they’re rich, they’re textured, and they’re unbelievably laden with acid. Spearheaded by Aiello Graci, this namesake estate is located on the northern slope of Mount Etna and is dedicated to organic farming, using limited intervention in the cellar, and working exclusively with indigenous grape varieties. This layered Etna Bianco jumps with flavors of lemon juice, green apple skin, honey, and smoke.
“For me, summer is all about fun and accessibility,” says Lauren McPhate of Tribeca Wines. “I love a crisp Etna Bianco, something about that volcanic tension and energy is just perfect on a hot summer day.” McPhate cites the wines of Graci and Passopisciaro as some of her top picks.
Best Red: Raúl Pérez Ultreia Saint Jacques Mencia
Region: (Bierzo) Castilla y León, Spain | ABV: 14% | Tasting Notes: Cherries, Violets, Underbrush
This varietal Mencia from legendary Spanish winemaker Raul Perez is one of the best quality-to-price ratio bottles on our summer list. Crafted in the heart of Bierzo from organically-farmed fruit, this old vine wine is loaded with juicy notes of red and black fruits, violets, cherries, and underbrush. If you love New World Pinot Noir or Cabernet Franc, this wine will be right up your alley.
Best Rosé: Bedrock Ode to Lulu Rosé
Region: California, USA | ABV: 12.8% | Tasting Notes: Red fruit, Citrus rind, Stones
As much as we love rosé from Provence, this old world-inspired juice from California is what we’re craving all summer long. Named for the irreplaceable vigneronne at Domaine Tempier (Lulu Peyraud), this mourvedre-based rosé jumps with flavors of bright red fruits, citrus rind, and stony minerality. Relatively low alcohol and restrained flavors make this stuff perfect for sipping all day long.
Related: The Best Rosé Wines to Drink in 2021
Best Under $20: Loimer Lois Gruner Veltliner
Region: Niederösterreich, Austria | ABV: 12% | Tasting Notes: Citrus, Lemongrass, White pepper
Who says that delicious summer sippers need to break the bank? This zesty gruner veltliner from Loimer is produced from organic and biodynamically-farmed fruit in the heart of Austria’s Niederösterreich region. Flavors of green apple, citrus, lemongrass, and white pepper jump from the wine’s vibrant palate. This wine is basically summer in a glass!
Best Dry: Bachelet-Monnot Bourgogne Blanc
Region: Burgundy, France | ABV: 13.5% | Tasting Notes: Green apple, Citrus, Flint
We’d really never say no to a glass of white Burgundy, though something about it hits differently in the summertime. This refreshing, bone dry wine from Bachelet-Monnot is a steal for the price. Expect punchy flavors of green apple, citrus, flinty minerality, and a touch of oak to lead to a lasting, mouth-coating finish.
Jones cites white Burgundy with salmon and vegetables on the grill as one of her favorite summer pairings, with Bachelet-Monnot’s Bourgogne Blanc at the top of her list. (For an additional and equally delicious white Burgundy pairing, Jones recommends Domaine Rougeot’s Aligoté ‘Les Plumes’ Sans Sulfites Ajouté with cheesy white pizza.)
Best Sweet: Michele Chiarlo Moscato d’Asti Nivole
Region: Piedmont, Italy | ABV: 5% | Tasting Notes: Canned peaches, Pear, Apricot
Looking to add a touch of sweetness to your summer get together? This fruit-driven moscato d’Asti from Michele Chiarlo is a great place to start. The wine’s frothy palate oozes with flavors of canned peaches, pears, apricot skin, and a touch of melon. Pleasant fizziness promises to keep your palate salivating for more – and at just 5% alcohol, you won’t feel guilty enjoying a second glass.
Best Sparkling: Dhondt-Grellet Les Terres Fines Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut Champagne Premier Cru
Region: Champagne, France | ABV: 12% | Tasting Notes: Citrus, Grilled nuts, Flint
There’s never a bad time for Champagne, and summer picnics, barbecues, and nights spent around the fire are no exception. Produced at the hands of Adrien Dhondt, this organic and biodynamically-farmed Champagne comes from Premier Cru sites around the Côte des Blancs. Rich and intense flavors of citrus, grilled nuts, and flint lead to a refreshing, long-lasting finish.
“The best way to kick off [a summer] night is with a fun bottle of something bubbly,” says McPhate. “Recently, I've been digging growers like Etienne Calsac and Adrien Dhondt, but you can't go wrong with tried and true classics like Egly-Ouriet or Selosse for a special night.” McPhate cites Champagne and lobster rolls as one of her go-to summer pairings.
Best for Barbecues: Clos des Papes (Paul Avril) Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Region: Rhône Valley, France | ABV: 15% (approx.) | Tasting Notes: Black fruits, Smoky wood, Pepper
Contrary to popular belief, powerhouse reds are perfect for summer sipping, particularly when backyard barbecue favorites are on the table. For juicy burgers and grilled red meats, we can’t think of a better pick than this high-octane wine from Paul Avril. Expect dark and dense flavors of black fruits, raisins, smoky wood, and pepper to ooze from this wine’s concentrated and lengthy palate. Serve slightly chilled and sip with food! This bottle packs a serious punch.
“Summer is all about the BBQ, and Chateauneuf-du-Pape is my go-to for summer grilling. Clos des Papes and burgers by the pool!” exclaims McPhate.
Best for Picnics: Meinklang Prosa Rosé
Region: Burgenland, Austria | ABV: 10.5% | Tasting Notes: Strawberries, Peach skin, Crushed rocks
Fizzy pét-nats and picnics go hand in hand, and this pick from Meinklang has become one of our favorites. Produced from a blend of Pinot Noir, Blaufränkisch, and Zweigelt, this ultra-refreshing rosé is loaded with flavors of strawberries, peach skin, citrus, and crushed rocks. At just 10.5% ABV, this bottle is perfect for daytime sipping in the park, socially-distant brunch gatherings with friends, and more. Bring on the bubbles!
“The 'easy drinking' and 'refreshing' aspects of pét-nats are always attractive to me for summer sipping,” explains Kristin Watts of Zéphyr Sélections. “Pét-nats also offer many variations within their own theme, as they are made from a plethora of grape varieties and show varying levels of funky fun,” Watts notes that the generally lower ABVs of pét-nats is also a plus when it comes to warm weather sipping and longer days of imbibing.
Best for Seafood: Delavenne Père & Fils Brut Tradition Grand Cru Champagne
Region: Champagne, France | ABV: 12.5% | Tasting Notes: White fruits, Citrus, Sea salt
Remember when we said there’s never a bad time for Champagne? This statement especially rings true when seafood favorites are on the table. Whether lobster rolls, shellfish towers, or simple shrimp cocktails are on the table, there’s no better pick than a bottle of bubbles. Jones recommends this delicious pick from Delavenne, crafted in the village of Bouzy in the Montagne de Reims. Mineral-driven flavors of white fruits, citrus, and coarse sea salt promise a refreshing sipping experience, as well as promise to bring out the best in summer seafood favorites.
“My favorite 'never gets old' summer pairing is Champagne and oysters,” reveals Jones. “Champagne Delavenne Brut Nature screams minerality and salinity. Given that this wine is made from grapes grown in soil composed of decomposed oyster shells, it only makes sense to order a dozen and pop a bottle!"
Best for the Pool: Ameztoi Blanco
Region: Txakolina (Basque Country), Spain | ABV: 11% | Tasting Notes: Lemon zest, Chalk, Sea salt
Don’t let the name scare you away. This spritzy white wine from Ameztoi comes from Txakolina (chalk-oh-lee-na), located in the heart of Spain’s Basque Country. Refreshing, restrained, and relatively low in alcohol, this blend of Hondarribi Zuri and Hondarribi Beltza oozes with flavors of green apple, lemon zest, chalk, and sea salt. Lean, bone dry, and laden with acid, this palate-cleansing wine is ideal for sipping poolside with fried snacks, hummus, or Asian takeout favorites.
Read Next: The Best Champagnes to Drink in 2021
At the end of the day, acidity is key. When it comes to summer sipping, wines laden with natural acidity promise to keep you hydrated while ensuring that your palate will salivate for more. Chillable reds from Beaujolais are some of our current go-to options, and Clos de la Roilette is a solid producer. Crisp whites from Etna, Burgundy, and the salty seashores of Spain offer instant mental escapes to exotic, far away places – and when sipping beneath the heat, you can never go wrong with rosé from sunny California.
How do you keep wine cool in summer?
We recommend chilling your bottles in the refrigerator or cooler prior to popping them for maximum enjoyment. Although it may be easier, we don’t recommend throwing ice cubes into your wine, as this dilutes the wine itself.
Which wine is best for summer, red or white?
The short answer: it’s a matter of preference! Both red and white wines are great for summer sipping. Regardless of color, we recommend choosing something with high levels of acidity and low levels of tannins (in red wines), as these bottles will likely keep you more refreshed than those with lower levels of acid and high levels of tannins.
Which type of wine is healthier?
When it comes to the ‘health’ status of a wine, no color (red, white, rosé) is exactly healthier than another. Because of their extended periods of skin contact and presence of tannins, red and ‘orange’ wines will have a higher level of antioxidant content than most rosés and whites, though we wouldn’t necessarily deem these wines to be ‘healthier.’ When it comes to drinking consciously, look for bottles that are produced from organic and/or biodynamically-farmed fruit to ensure that harmful chemicals were not used in the production of your wine.
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Vicki Denig's writing has appeared in Decanter, Departures, Food & Wine, and Wine Enthusiast. She has contributed to Liquor.com since 2020. Splitting her time between New York and Paris, she is a certified wine specialist and has worked in the wine trade since 2013.