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Refresh Your Summer Wine/Food Experience

Sommeliers share their favorite wine pairings for the warmer weather. Some might surprise you.

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Enjoy a glass of refreshing, cool wine in the summer? You’re not alone. A good portion of older adults indulge in alcoholic drinks (64 percent of 50- to 64- year-olds say they drink, and 54 percent of those 65 and older, according to a 2022 Gallup poll).

But what do you pair with your pinot grigio? And is rosé truly the wine that goes with everything? Scott Carney, 70, the dean of wine studies at the Institute of Culinary Education, says even if you already have your wine/food pairing favorites, he encourages wine lovers to stay out of a wine/food “rut.”

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Opt for wines that can be chilled, and varieties with higher acidity and lower alcohol content for a lighter summer wine experience, says Jay Youmans, the educational director and owner of the Capital Wine School in Washington, D.C.

Here are more tips from Carney and Youmans on how to make the most of your summer wine experience.

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Rosé is your go-to all-purpose wine

Youmans says that even though more people are drinking rosé year round, it has long been regarded as the summertime wine. And conveniently, rosé pairs with just about anything, he says. “The beauty is they’re not that expensive, you can serve them ice cold and they taste great,” says Youmans. 

He recommends any Côtes de Provence rosé, chilled for a “quaffable, gluggable kind of wine.” 

What to pair with rosé: Carney says a seafood paella or a bouillabaisse – a classic dish from the south of France.

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Sparkling wine for a celebratory mood and a night out by the grill

A summertime party calls for a flute of bubbly, and a variety of sparkling wines are a good fit for hot-weathered functions, the experts say. Carney says these slightly lighter-bodied wines are always fun, as they connote celebration, and they’re best served cold.  

While champagne may be a go-to for many, the experts say prosecco — which is nearly just as popular — is at the top of their recommendations list. 

“It doesn’t spend any time aging with the yeast, so it doesn’t have some of those heavier, toasty flavors that you might get with champagne. It’s much more fruit driven [with] pear, peach flavors. And it’s fizzy,” says Youmans. 

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Youmans recommends pairing this refreshing wine with seafood, chicken or grilled shrimp, but it will “go with just about anything.” 

Carney suggests pairing it with a fresh fruit salad or along with a fruit tart for an accompaniment with dessert. 

Another great option that’s comparable to champagne: Crémant, which comes from different regions in France. “They have the richer flavors that a lot of people like in champagne, but it’s a third or half the price,” says Youmans. He says this is a good option to get the party started and serve to guests as they nibble on appetizers before a bigger meal. 

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White wine for lighter meals

Sauvignon blanc has high acidity, citrus notes and typically comes in a lower alcohol range, making it a go-to wine for the summer, says Youmans. Carney says sauvignon blancs pair well with salads or cold soups such as potato and leek soup or cold cucumber soups, but he says New Zealand sauvignon blancs have herbaceous and vegetable notes that will best draw out the flavor of those foods. 

Too hot for anything but fruit? Riesling and Vouvray make a lovely pairing with the lightest of summer treats, says Youmans.

Dining al fresco? Youman calls a chilled white vinho verde a great "quaffing, porch-pounding kind of wine" to start off the evening. Due to its fruity complexion, it pairs well with fruit, cheese and “anything you might be nibbling on while the grill is starting up.” Another plus: Vinho verdes are usually lower cost and lower alcohol, he adds. Similarly, Rieslings have a fruity, soft and peachy aromatic complexity, and some have crisp lime notes. This makes them a great pairing with fruit salads and cold foods, says Carney, especially when you get an off-dry variety. 

As for your typical summer foods, Carney says chicken wings and lobster pair well with a full-bodied California chardonnay. 

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Yes, there are red wines that go with summer dishes

Just because it’s hotter out doesn’t mean you need to skip the reds. Opt for lighter red wines with more acidity, and find perfect pairings with a lot of your favorite grilled foods, says Carney. 

“Once you bring the mesquite or the charcoal element, then you get a nice sort of balance between the fruitiness of the light bodied red wines that can be served a little chilled in the summertime,” says Carney. 

Pick pinot noirs that have less oak and less alcohol. If you’re grilling salmon, this is a great pairing option, says Youmans. Carney adds that the low tannins of an Oregon pinot noir would do well with salmon and other red-fleshed fish. 

Another lighter red that is very similar to pinot noir is the Gamay Beaujolais: It can be chilled, and it pairs well with grilled chicken and barbecue chicken, says Youmans. 

Rioja wine is a variety from Spain, and it typically has an oaky flavor. Youmans says the Joven variety is unoaked and more fruit driven, making it suitable for chilling and a “wonderful style of summer red.” Take skewered grilled meat and vegetables, and pair that with this variety of rioja wine, he suggests. 

The petite sirah grape variety produces bright red wines that pair well with the heavier and heartier summer foods, such as a New York strip, filet mignon or hanger steak, says Youmans. If hamburgers or ribs are on the menu, a Nero d’Avola (a wine from Sicily) also pairs well. 

A tip while grilling and wine-pairing: “If there’s smoke, bring the oak,” says Carney – but don’t take that as wine gospel. “I don’t think there’s any absolutes with regard to wines. You know, I think perfect pairings are cliched and put a lot of silent pressure on people for what’s right and what’s wrong. I think you try what you like,” he says. 

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