White wines and rosés are obvious summer wines, but there are also some really great reds to go with summer foods, grilling, tomatoes, picnics, and that Kansas City favorite—barbecue.
Since we’re talking about summer reds, we’ll call the Cleto Chiarli “Premium” Lambrusco di Sorbara Secco ($14) a light red, with a hint of orange—almost rosé—but still red. When it comes to lambrusco, many people think of the sweet version, but I find the really delightful examples of this varietal to be the dry (secco) ones. Sadly, lambrusco has a generally bad reputation due to its mass production in the 1980s, but this is an easy drinking wine great for a picnic or alfresco dining.
And if you’re looking for a wine to serve with your brisket or baby-back ribs at your next barbecue, this is a fun way to go. The nose is filled with berry scents, a quality derived from its grape, the Sorbara. Regarded as the highest quality lambrusco grape clone and known for wines that are particularly fragrant, it is also the lightest in color of the lambrusco grape varietals.
It’s a perfect companion to charcuterie, summery pastas, hamburgers, and pizza—anything you might serve with iced tea or a soda. In fact, think of it as soda for grownups. When first opened and poured there is visible carbonation which rapidly dissipates until you take a sip and there it is—fresh and clean, crisp palate, and cleansing acidity with low alcohol. Be sure to serve it cool.
Another outstanding companion to summer fare is a good Chianti. I sampled the Fattoria Rodano Chianti Classico 2013 ($18) with twisty trofie pasta in a sausage, onion and tomato sauce seasoned with wild Tuscan fennel pollen—it could not have been more perfect—and I know from experience that tomato sauces can have no better friend than Chianti. Chianti Classicos are premium Chianti wines that meet very specific qualifications. They tend to be medium-bodied (as are so many Italian wines) with firm tannins and a medium to high acidity (thus their affinity for tomatoes and other foods). Chianti Classico, easily singled out by its logo, a black rooster located on the pink label on the neck of the bottle, is produced specifically in the area between Florence and Sienna, the area considered the heart of traditional Chianti production.
All Chiantis are primarily made from the Sangiovese grape, a dark berried variety that is also the most widely planted variety in Italy. The Fattoria di Rodano estate dates back to the 16th century and has been in the Pozzesi family the entire time. This wine is 90 percent Sangiovese, with subtle berry notes and a hint of leather on the nose, an extremely food-friendly spiciness and acidity on the tongue, and a finish that seems to enhance whatever you’re eating with it. Really, you could drink this with practically anything savory and it would only taste better.
The Sonoma-Loeb 2015 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast from Sonoma County, California ($28) is 100 percent pinot noir and is a prime example of the fruit-driven pure varietal character of this grape grown in a prime location. On the nose—spicy clove, a hint of vanilla and dark cherries. The palate leads with red berries, and although it doesn’t have the food-friendly acidity of the Chianti, it has all of the wonderful fruit notes of a New World pinot noir, but without being an oaky fruit bomb. Interestingly, the winemaker, Phillip Corallo-Titus, explains that this vintage had a very small yield due to a cold spell when the vines were in flower, but was of an unusually high quality. It has a luscious mouth feel, with mellow tannins and a long finish that makes this a great sipper. I enjoyed this wine with a dish of lamb sausage with braised beans and greens from the garden, but this wine doesn’t need food—just a summer sunset, a glass, and like the other wines in our tasting, someone to share it with.