There is no doubt that this is a record-breaking summer, and all that heat makes it harder to want to enjoy my favorite big tannic reds like Cabernet Sauvignon. If one still wants to enjoy great red wines, what does one do? Think winemaking regions that have warmer weather, like the Mediterranean. Yes, that’s a pretty big category, but we can narrow that down to a few for our purposes today.
Though pretty much all of Italy is Mediterranean, I’m thinking of Apulia, the high heel of Italy jutting out into the sea, where grapes like Primitivo and Negroamaro reign. Primitivo is genetically identical to Zinfandel, but in Italy has a lighter touch with less heat-producing alcohol, and when blended with Negroamaro we get a ripe and juicy wine that has a hint of refreshing acidity. One of my favorites is the Anarkos from Racemi (about $15 per bottle), with fruit forward characters on a stable structure of balanced acidity. This wine can hold up to summer barbecues without overpowering lighter salads and side dishes. With a reasonable alcohol percentage, under 15%, unlike many domestic Zinfandels, I don’t start sweating after the first glass even when enjoying this wine by the sunny poolside. Racemi has just released a softer version of its Primitivo/Cabernet blend Paint the Town Red, blended with a little Negroamaro and Malvasia Nero for a softer finish. This lighter bodied wine would also be a perfect summer red and at about $9 per bottle it’s a steal!
In Spain I would consider the Garnacha’s of Catalan and Calatayud or the Monastrell’s of Yecla and Jumilla. Here we get some complex and deep flavors but with lighter tannins and more bright fruit acidity. Since there are many ancient vine Garnachas we can still get loads of depth and complexity without weighty tannins. One of my current favorite Garnachas is the Cistum 2009, made from pre-phylloxera, ungrafted ancient vines. These 120-year-old vines leach incredible complexity and depth from their rocky soils with hints of graphite and cedar buttressing ripe cherry notes. This is a wine to pair with many dishes, but again lighter summer fare can work very well. Here we get all the richness one might want in a red but with less of the heavy, sweaty tannins. For $16 with a Parker 92 score, one can’t deny this is a fabulous summer wine!
Lastly from France we can enjoy a whole range of Rhone style blends with Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre as the base. From one of my favorites from Visan (Domaine L’Obrieu) to the big boys in Gigondas and Chateauneuf-du-Pape (think Bourjassot and Cabrieres, respectively) there are plenty of great Rhone options, but the 2010 Xavier Cotes-du-Rhone for $14 with a Parker 90 score is a real winner. With wild strawberry and black cherry on the front, mingled with anise, Kalamata olive and classic Rhone garrigue on the palate, there is plenty of depth to this bold red. Here is proof that one can have a big wine without all the tannins and high alcohol. This wine pairs with grilled meats, especially lamb, but also works with classic Mediterranean dishes like Daube Provencale and ratatouille and even grilled fish.
All three of these Mediterranean areas give us some great summer red options, and we can continue this quest into Sardinia, Sicily and Greece. Think warmer climates, and then think about the wines they produce and you’ll often find wines that can work just fine in our unbearable Gainesville, Florida heat. All of the wines above are available locally at your ABC Fine Wines and Spirits, and feel free to ask your local wine purveyor for something similar to beat the heat, and still see red in your glass. Chilling these wines down to cellar temperature (about 65º) can also help make them more refreshing. “Room temperature” is never meant to be over 80º so keep cellar temperature in mind this summer and you won’t get the sweats. Cheers!