Warm weather need not frustrate red wine drinkers.
To be sure, popular red wines like cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel and merlot are often too heavy to be equally refreshing and enlivening during the summer, but there are plenty of alternatives worth considering. We spoke with André Hueston Mack, sommelier at large and maker of Mouton Noir Wines in Oregon, for advice on summer red wines.
In the early 2000s, Mack walked away from a successful career at Citicorp Investment Services to head into the wine world. In 2003 he was the first African American named “Best Young Sommelier” by Chaine des Rotisseurs, an esteemed Paris-based gastronomic society.
The recognition enabled him to join the sommelier team at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in California’s Napa Valley; it is widely regarded as one of America’s best restaurants. When Keller opened Per Se in New York City, Mack, 42, traveled east to head the wine team and choose an award-winning list of 2,500 selections for the four-star restaurant. In 2007 he left the restaurant world to become a winemaker, opening his own Mouton Noir company.
Mouton Noir has become a well-respected producer of red and white wines, and with wine names like XL and O.P.P (Other People’s Pinot), there’s no doubt where the winemaker is coming from. His wines are typically found at smaller wine shops, where there are salespeople who are passionate about wine; those are the best places to shop for vino.
Mack chose five types of red wines that are best for the summer:
1. Pinot Noir: The light savory red was practically a co-star in the movie Sideways. It attracts obsessive devotion, for good reason. The wine is renowned for its aromas of strawberries, raspberries and black cherries, plus a long delicate finish. Some of the better-known brands include Benton Lane from Oregon, Banshee from California and Jelu from Argentina.
2. Gamay: This light French wine, typically from Burgundy, is often used for the well-known autumn wine Beaujolais Nouveau. Gamay wines are light and appealing, with aromas and flavors reminiscent of cherries, dried fruit and black peppercorns. Some of the better ones include Grosjean Freres from Northern Italy and Thierry Puzelat’s Le Telquel from France.
3. Tempranillo: This Spanish wine is made from a grape that was once thought to be a relative of the pinot noir grape. Tempranillo is the grape often blended to make Rioja, but on its own it creates wines that are dry and lean. The Rodei Tinto Rioja is an excellent representation of this grape, as is the Cerro Anon Reserva.
4. Nebbiolo: This especially aromatic wine comes from a grape grown almost exclusively in the Piedmont region of Italy. It is the grape used in richer wines like Barolo, but it is also used to make lighter, refreshing ones, too. De Forville and Gia by Gia Coppola are two leading vineyards.
5. Wines made from the sangiovese grapes from Tuscany: It's the grape found in Chianti and several other renowned Italian red wines. Wines made from this grape typically balance spiciness with big fruity flavors. The Chianti Colli Senesi and the Monte Bernardi are two excellent brands for this style.
Mack also makes four other recommendations for those shopping for reds in the summer:
He suggests looking for wines that are lower in their alcohol content. “Alcohol is perceived as weight on your palate,” he says, “so you would want to consume wines on the lighter side.”
While they age, wines are typically stored in either oak barrels or steel tanks. Wooden storage is certainly rustic, but new oak barrels can alter the wine. “You should stay away from wines with too much new oak,” says Mack, referring to wines that are stored in new oak barrels. “They tend to give the wine a more heavier mouth feel and make the wine less refreshing.”
Mack also recommends chatting with your wine merchant about tannins and texture, too. “Look for low to medium in both of these attributes,” he says. “I like to think of it as, less is more in regards to making the wine more invigorating and lighter on the palate when it comes to drinking during the warmer months.”
Finally, Mack suggests careful storage of wines. “I totally believe that in this country we really have an issue with wine storage and the temperature at which it’s served. I would tell you that most restaurants, even some of the best ones, are serving the whites too cold and the reds too hot.”
He favors what he calls the 20-20 rule. “Take your whites out of the refrigerator 20 minutes before you’d like to drink them and put your reds in the refrigerator 20 minutes before you’d like to drink them.”
Martin Johnson writes about music for the Wall Street Journal, basketball for Slate and beer for Eater, and he blogs at both the Joy of Cheese and Rotations. Follow him on Twitter.