Summer wining, once upon a time, meant simple whites and spritzers. But nowadays, the season is an opportunity to try diverse and versatile pours to pair with fresh fish, fruit and sweet, spicy 'cue.
We asked nine experts from Wine Spectator Restaurant Award–winning spots around the country what they're pouring and pairing in the warm-weather months. There's dry rosé, of course, but also "alternative" sparklers from California and Italy; reds on the lighter side from places like Germany and the Azores; and scores of other intriguing sippers that still have a sense of style and fun. Pick up what these somms are putting down, on the porch, by the grill or in the dining room.
Wine Spectator: What are you drinking this summer, or what's your favorite summer pairing?
Joo Lee, wine director at Grand Award winner Saison in San Francisco
After living in the Hamptons for the last two summers, I've been lucky enough to eat my fair share of lobster rolls and nearly anything off the grill. Let's be honest, people drink rosé in the summer not because they are supposed to, but because it's delicious, refreshing and quaffable. One of my favorite rosé pairings I love over the summer is grilled fruit, especially watermelon. Grilled watermelon with German rosé that's been kissed with a little sugar is like bread and butter.
Carrie Lyn Strong, wine director at Best of Award of Excellence winner Casa Lever in New York
I'm super into finding and enjoying alternative "traditional" sparkling wines like Cruse Wine Co. Cruse Tradition from California, Val de Mer by Patrick Piuze Non-Dosé or Brut Nature Rosé from Chablis, and Ca' del Bosco Cuvée Prestige Franciacorta from Lombardy. They aren't über-cool like pét-nats, but I find them delicious, refreshing, accessible and formidable companions for all sorts of summer feasts.
Catherine DiGennaro, sommelier at Best of Award of Excellence winner Jungsik in New York
My usual summer go-tos for rooftop drinking would be Riesling and Champagne, but when I want to branch out a little, I look for refreshing, lighter red wines to bring along to summer picnics and barbecues.
I really love the whites and reds from the Azores Wine Company, in particular their Isabella a Proibida Tinto by winemaker António Maçanita from Portugal, which is 100% Isabella. I was enjoying the 2016 last weekend in L.A., and its juicy, blood-orange zestiness is a great pairing with a burger and works with lighter meat and seafood dishes as well. It's incredibly refreshing, with notes of tart red currant, fresh pomegranate, slightly sour and sweet, with orange rind and blossom. I find it's a great lighter-bodied red to enjoy in the coming hot and humid months, and I like to seek out these easy-drinking yet complex reds to enjoy in the summer. It reminds me of some of the volcanic reds from Sicily: mineral-driven, with fresh fruit and vibrancy, that are versatile and easy to pair with a variety of foods but also enjoyable on their own.
Rafael Sanchez, beverage director at Grand Award winner Addison in San Diego
My favorite pairing right now is one that really showcases the strength of the kitchen and is pure luxury. It is the 2004 Krug with our confit of sturgeon with Kaluga Queen caviar. The high tones of the Champagne dance with the brininess of the caviar and unctuous texture of the fish.
Kevin Toyama, lead sommelier at Best of Award of Excellence winner La Mer in Honolulu
Here in Hawaii, with our modest tropical climate, it seems only natural to gravitate toward bubbles and brisk and/or fruity whites. Summer is also when we go “local” to the beach, picnicking with friends and family, and the hibachi grill comes into play: grilled shellfish, island-style huli-huli chicken, sausages or a rib eye generously dressed with white pepper and Jacobsen salt.
For my taste, Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) from Germany can be very versatile. Coming from a cold, rugged climate, Pinot Noir's savory notes are engaging. Salwey's [version] from Baden has that earthy, smoky, dried cherry note that sings; or from Franconia, Fürst Tradition.
Robin Puricelli, wine director at Best of Award of Excellence winner Lido at Dolphin Bay in Pismo Beach, Calif.
This summer I’ve been gravitating to Grüner Veltliner, mostly domestic, and some Italian whites, specifically Gavis and Etna Biancos. Every day I'm craving the La Ghibellina single-estate Cortese di Gavi. Its clean, sea-breeze essence is so simplistic, yet incredibly expressive and dangerously gulpable. It pairs beautifully with our fritto misto and summer peach and burrata salad. Our cool summer nights on the ocean call for a ripe and peppery Tatomer Grüner Veltliner.
[Also], the zingy Picpoul from Paix Sur Terre’s Glenrose Vineyard, with deep limestone soils. [It’s] a refreshing and zesty white, which is not the norm out of Paso.
Nicole Cheon, head sommelier at Best of Award of Excellence winner Hakkasan New York
Txakoli and tapas: This dry white wine from Spain’s Basque Country is the perfect summer sipper—light, fizzy, low in alcohol content and easy on the wallet.
Wendy Heilmann, wine director at Pebble Beach Resorts and its three Best of Award of Excellence winners, in Pebble Beach, Calif.
I am 100% in the “yes way, rosé!” camp. From Provence to New Zealand, Pinot Noir to Zweigelt, I love having a wide array of rosé wines on hand at the house to enjoy. They’re versatile, refreshing, and with a lower ABV, perfect for daytime and evening imbibing.
Nancy Smith, co-owner and wine director at longtime Award of Excellence winner Michael Smith in Kansas City, Mo.; restaurant reopened in 2019 as Farina
I am loving Massican Sauvignon. [We're] pouring it by the glass this summer at our new restaurant Farina in Kansas City. We are hosting Dan Petroski this July for our Massican-Larkmead dinner, and after tasting the Sauv Blanc, I could not wait to pour it by the glass. It is like a sun-shower and beach vacation all in one glass.
I love the Cotarella Ferentano Roscetto from Lazio in Italy—it’s nice with green foods this spring and summer, like favas, fresh peas and ramps, and I love it with halibut and chimichurri.
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