QUENCH YOUR SUMMER THIRST
Summer means finding ways to stay cool -- and refreshing beverages are always a good start. What better antidote to the dog days of summer than cold, crisp wine? Many of the wines that taste the best -- tart, crisp, and light -- are also inexpensive, if you know what to look for.
VINHO VERDE, PORTUGAL
This is a light, slightly effervescent wine that can be made from a variety of different grapes. The style is always young and fresh, meant to be consumed within a year of bottling. Vinho verde is almost always white, although rosé versions have become more popular over the past few years. These wines are also low alcohol, which makes them suitable for daytime parties and barbecues. Flavors are light and tart, with lime zest, green apple, and sometimes a touch of salinity on the tongue. Bottles range between $7 and $13 across the country.
GROS MANSENG, SOUTHWEST FRANCE
Southwestern France is home to high-quality, inexpensive wines. While many of the grape varieties have unfamiliar names, their flavors are extraordinary. Gros manseng, along with petit manseng and sauvignon blanc, make incredibly tangy and crisp white wines, either as single variety wines or as blends. These wines present flavors of Meyer lemon, almonds, sometimes a slight brioche-like yeastiness, and fresh herbs. Refreshing and mid-level in complexity, these wines can be found for $10 to $15 a bottle.
RIESLING, USA/GERMANY/AUSTRALIA/NEW ZEALAND
Riesling is considered one of the most noble grape varieties by the international wine community, although it carries a reputation for sometimes being sweet. One of the best things about riesling is the diversity of styles -- everything from bone dry to super sweet. A good trick is to look at the alcohol content: If 12 percent or higher, it likely won't be sweet; if lower than 12 percent, it likely will have a touch of sweetness; below 9 percent, sweet it is. Whatever your preference, a cold riesling presenting flavors of peaches, apricots, and lemon balm can be transporting on a hot day. Wine producers in several countries are making excellent riesling wines that cost $13 or less.
CRÉMANT DE BOURGOGNE, FRANCE
This bright and vivacious bubbly wine has a way of taking the edge off humid afternoons. The wines that classify as ‘crémant de Bourgogne' hail from Burgundy and are made from the same grapes and in the same way as those from the Champagne region. Because they are not as famous as the wines of Champagne, they enjoy a starting price of about $12 a bottle, rather than $30, while offering a comparable flavor profile. The flavors are often light, slightly creamy, and lemony, delivering piquancy and freshness that hit the spot for lovers of sparkling wine.
MANZANILLA SHERRY, SPAIN
Bone dry and boasting flavors of sea salt, almonds, and fresh chamomile, this clear sherry is not what your grandmother kept in the liquor cabinet. Served well chilled, it is incredibly refreshing with super high acid that keeps the mouth watering and the body cool. As a fortified wine its alcohol content is about 15 percent, which means a small glass, about 2.5 ounces, is the appropriate serving size. Starting at $10 for a 500ml bottle, or approximately $1.50 a serving, manzanilla sherry is a value buy.
Often considered prosecco's Spanish cousin, cava is actually more similar to champagne than to prosecco. That's because the production process includes a second fermentation, when bubbles are created, in the bottle rather than in a large tank. While the texture is similar to champagne, the blend of grapes is different, yielding a flavor profile that's savory, with elements of minerality, citrus, almonds, and green apples. Tart and fresh, cava pairs well with grilled seafood, anything salty, and super hot days. The price range is wide, with the cheapest examples starting at $7 a bottle.
During the 1970's, lambrusco was the most popular international wine in the United States, which is not hard to imagine for anyone who has enjoyed the light, frothy, sometimes slightly sweet juiciness of this sparkling red wine. White and rosé versions are available, but the red is classic and tastes the most like adult soda. The texture is more fizzy than sparkling and flavors include blackberry, spice, and black pepper. Ask the store clerk for dry or sweet versions according to your taste, and serve well chilled. Bottles easily can be found starting at $12.
PROVENCAL ROSÉ, FRANCE
Over the past decade, rosé wine has enjoyed a huge and deserved comeback across the country. There are so many rosés from different regions and in different styles that it can be hard to find a tried-and-true go-to wine. Provence is the home of rosé and is consistent in offering pale pink wines that are light, with flavors of berries and cherries and a hint of tartness. Although rosé can be pricey, the cheaper versions starting at about $12 deliver reliable quality time and again.
This infused wine is likely to become a summer staple for those who love a good spritzer. Two ounces served chilled over ice with a touch of club soda is, hands down, one of the most refreshing warm weather beverages. Lillet is available in white, rosé, and red varieties and each exhibits flavors of citrus peel, herbs, and slight spiciness in addition to their base wine. Sold in liter bottles for about $20, each serving comes out to roughly $1.50.
GRUNER VELTLINER, GERMANY/AUSTRIA
A low alcohol and humble country wine has successfully made its way onto store shelves and menus around the country. This light, lemony, and herbaceous wine is so easy to drink that many Austrians and Germans drink it instead of water during the hottest months of the year. Often sold in liter bottles for as low as $13, or 750ml bottles for $10, gruner veltliner offers incredible value. The wines typically have a slight spritz to them, enhancing the natural crispness and refreshment factor and making them ideal candidates for white wine spritzers or white sangria.
SAUVIGNON BLANC, NEW ZEALAND
New Zealand sauvignon blanc is known for its refreshing quality and zippy acidity. Flavors of grapefruit, citrus zest, lemongrass, and green herbs cut through the heat and humidity of even the warmest days. Because of sauvignon blanc's popularity, many good examples are available for less than $12. The wine works well with or without food and can easily be a go-to white for summer.
CABERNET FRANC, FRANCE
The Loire Valley of France is home to many value-driven wines of distinction, such as the beautiful reds and rosés made from the grape variety cabernet franc. Similar to cabernet sauvignon, this rich red has berry notes and even more earthy bell pepper and green flavors. The body is a bit lighter, though, making cabernet franc an appealing choice for hot summer drinking when you still want a full flavor. Many bottles are available for less than $15.
PINOT NOIR, USA/FRANCE/CHILE/ARGENTINA
Pinot noir is a cheerful, light red wine that goes easy on grippy tannins and big on fruity flavor and floral aroma. These wines are often full-flavored when coming from a New World region and delicious when enjoyed with a chill during the summer. While this grape is generally associated with a high price tag, and the best versions aren't cheap, there are nice bottles of this light red wine for humble prices. A good example is Cono Sur pinot noir at about $10.