Don’t Ignore The Reds When The Temps Rise

By Leslee Miller

For most, nothing screams summer and spring like a crisp, refreshing glass of white wine – am I right? We live in Minnesota, so it’s fair to say that it gets pretty darn cold in the winter time. With an understanding that red wine may feel a little easier from a tactile sensation on the palate, I love the bright, zingy whites that keep my senses feeling that there is potential hope for warmer weather. And as the spring and summer seasons sway towards warmer days, I head back into the world of red wines. In reality, my palate is not the usual for most wine drinkers. Most would opt for white wines in the summer and reds in the winter. But when we think of spring and summer, don’t we generally think of foods that are enjoyed outdoors? Foods hot off the grill are most definitely in my wheelhouse when I think of this seasonal transition. And what better way to go with the smoked flavors and grill marks of a delicious vegetarian, chicken or beef dish than red wine!

The usual suspects are easy to point out in the red wine category for American drinkers – Pinot Noir and Cabernet. Yet, the opportunities are endless when you start to look at the big picture of red varietals. One of my favorite red grapes in the thin-skinned red category is Gamay. Known primarily from its birth region of Beaujolais, its vibrancy and tenacity for pairing to a great number of foods is truly unmatchable. Picture this, a delicious chicken breast grilled to perfection topped with a lively combination of summer fresh tomatoes, chopped Kalamata olives, fresh basil and feta cheese. Pairing a white wine to this sounds pretty tricky, right? But with a glass of slightly chilled Gamay, perfection! Another European gem that I love to drink with grilled, baked or smoked chicken dishes is the grape Zweigelt. From Austria, Zweigelt also pairs well to leaner beef dishes like veal or beef tenderloin. The last grape I’ll recommend here is Frappato. A delicious light bodied beaut that grows primarily in Sicily. If you’re looking for that perfect olive and cheese board pairing, this is the wine you’re looking for! Light, delicious and tantalizing.

Pairing food and wine perfectly is an art. One of my favorite statements for pairing is ‘what grows together, goes together.’ Let’s use this phrase when it comes to pairing to a few of my favorite medium weighted red grapes. The grape Lagrein in northern Italy, which is generally quite juicy, combines perfectly to a plate of homemade lasagna or to au jus dripping, thinly sliced Italian beef sandwich, piled high with peppers and onions. What about that gorgeous beef steak that you’ve been waiting to grill? Hot, sizzling and charred with bits of smoke – this is the ultimate pairing to a red wine in the summer time. Instead of reaching for Cabernet this season, try out a couple of other beefy red grapes like Nebbiolo from Piedmont or Aglianico from the Naples – both in Italy. Italians love to simply grill their beef steaks, finish with a pinch of sea salt and sometimes a pad of butter, try it!

Lastly, we cannot forget about two of the most iconic ‘All-American’ spring/summer foods – hot dogs and hamburgers. Whether you’re headed to the ball park for all beef foot-long or you’re off to the cabin to grill burgers, there’s no denying that these foods live for spring and summertime enjoying. For me, Grenache is generally the ticket for pairing to an all-beef dog, but when it comes to burgers, it’s another story all together. BBQ sauce and onion rings? Try on the grape Shiraz from Australia or South Africa. What about your classic topped with cheese, pickles, lettuce and tomato? I recommend a grape like Barbera or Sangiovese for pairing. In the end, the possibilities are endless. With over 10,000 grape varietals in the world, don’t you think it’s time you try on a few new wines this summer that live outside your comfort zone? Go for it!