Sommelier Roundtable: Wine (and More) for Summer Sipping

Whether grilling at home or pairing with summer fare at their restaurants, these 9 wine pros are tossing out the rulebook and drinking everything from Barbera frizzante to beer cocktails

Sommelier Roundtable: Wine (and More) for Summer Sipping
Bold reds with grilled meats never go out of style, but the spaghett cocktail is a new one to us. (Pollyana Ventura)
Jul 15, 2020

In a wildly unpredictable year, sommeliers have suffered the whiplash of uncertainty as much as anyone in the restaurant business. But summer is still a time to get outside and have some fun, even if only in the confines of one’s backyard.

We checked in with nine wine pros from Wine Spectator Restaurant Award winners—including some at newly announced 2020 honorees—and found that summer has them in a creative mood. Some are working several jobs, selling big-ticket bottles, mocktails and everything in between to their returning customers. Others are drinking porch pounders—and Piedmont—by the pool. If you’re looking to discover some new warm-weather favorites while you’re firing up the grill, they’ve all got you covered.

Wine Spectator: What wines (or drinks) are you into now for barbecuing, grilling and outdoor drinking?

Peter Carillo, wine director at new 2020 Best of Award of Excellence winner Angler in Los Angeles

The classic Aperol spritz has become my drink of choice at home this summer. A plate of olives and Marcona almonds on the side, and you have all you need for a stay-at-home happy hour. It’s such a simple cocktail but I’ve found that the specs are crucial to find balance. I use 1.5 parts Aperol, 4 parts Prosecco and 1 part sparkling water, lots of ice and a good chunk of orange. Of course, the quality of the Prosecco is a deal breaker: If you wouldn’t drink it on its own, the other ingredients don’t have magic powers, and it’s not going to be good.

It’s not just an aperitif; it seems to pair well with most things we’re grilling—particularly delicious with grilled radicchio drizzled with balsamico.

Anthony Wesley, wine director at Award of Excellence winner McNinch House Restaurant in Charlotte, N.C.

I discovered quite a few wonderful wines in these pandemic times, but there was one that stuck with me [for summer drinking]. From Baden, Germany, Hooked Pinot Noir, a Rudi Wiest Selection, was a nice surprise: black fruit flavors with sparky acidity, tones of smoked nuts with some minerality. A great intro to German Pinot Noirs and a winner at barbecues.

Kenneth Howell, beverage manager at Best of Award of Excellence winner Majordōmo in Los Angeles

Barbera for barbecue all the way. Piedmont might not spring to mind when it comes to July cookouts, but something like Gian Luca Colombo’s Nu Rosso or a Barbera frizzante has the high acid and low tannins you want for all that fat and smoke. Put a chill on it.

Tiki cocktails at Majordōmo
Majordōmo has gained a reputation for refreshing cocktails, but its beverage director is in a red-wine mindset this summer. (Andrew Bezek)

The best pairing I’ve had all summer is andouille and shrimp gumbo with an ‘05 [Dagueneau Pouilly-Fumé] Pur Sang.

Swati Bose, co-owner and wine director at Best of Award of Excellence winner Flight Wine Bar in Washington, D.C.

We love to grill and sit outdoors whenever we get the chance! [My husband, and Flight co-owner] Kabir [Amir] and I are typically Old World wine drinkers. So this summer, we have been playing around more with the New World wines on our list. One of our favorites for barbecuing is the Luke Lambert Crudo from Yarra Valley. A cool-climate Australian Shiraz, this is a natural wine with delicious black olive, dried herb, and cracked pepper notes. We are also enjoying Wilde Farm's Bedrock Vineyard Heritage blend. This field blend from Sonoma Valley is dominated by Zinfandel and Alicante Bouschet. Also a natural wine, its flavors of rose petal, mint and white pepper, and the smoky tannins, pair well with the food. And finally, we can never have any meal without a rosé! We love the Etna rosato from Graci. This mineral-driven Nerello Mascalese is perfect for grilled chicken or any smoked meats.

Matthew Pridgen, wine director at new 2020 Best of Award of Excellence winner Georgia James in Houston

My go-to for outdoor grilling in the Texas summer is a Lambrusco. I'm in love with the Paltrinieri Lambrusco di Sorbara Radice made with indigenous yeast and secondary fermentation in bottle. The Sorbara variety produces a lighter Lambrusco with floral notes, along with tart grapefruit, summer berries and cherry, finishing with terrific acidity. Great for a scorching-hot day by the pool and with all things off the grill.

Kendall Dumford, director of restaurants at MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, including Grand Award winner Joël Robuchon Restaurant and new 2020 Best of Award of Excellence winners L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon and Craftsteak

It being so hot here in Las Vegas, I got my hands on a bottle of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Sauvignon Blanc Aveta. I grew up near Napa Valley and have visited Stag’s Leap Cellars but never thought to seek out their Sauvignon Blanc. I think that a colder-than-usual Sauvignon Blanc—I normally place it in the freezer for five minutes before opening—outside while grilling is really enjoyable and makes the Vegas heat tolerable. Something else I found off the wine path is Smirnoff Zero Sugar Infusions Watermelon & Mint vodka. Make some watermelon ice cubes, and top it with sparkling lime water. Really nice for outside barbecues and/or lying by the pool!

Richard Hanauer, wine director for Chicago-based RPM Restaurants, including two locations of Best of Award of Excellence winner RPM Italian, RPM Steak and new 2020 winner RPM Seafood

Nothing new about it, but Champagne has been the official drink of 2020, both at home and at the restaurant: Consumption has skyrocketed to a place, well, where we always wished Champagne sales would be. This summer I have really been enjoying the wines of Cédric Bouchard (Roses de Jeanne), with their lower effervescence, lack of dosage and great nuances between the vineyards. On the opposite end of the spectrum has been adding a little Aperol to our light beers to enjoy them as spaghett, the ultimate patio pounder [cocktail]. Just a splash of Aperol changes the beer in color and texture without losing it's refreshing qualities.

Summer at our house means grilled everything, and this summer it turned into grilling everything while drinking Saumur. No region on the map gets me more excited than the quality revolution taking place there. The whites work well with the smoky flavors of the grill, while the reds, being slightly lower in tannins, are great when enjoying meats with some spice element. Could not be more curious and excited for the Chenins and Cabernet Francs from that part of France, with such nuances and complexities, that seem to be way too far off the beaten path.

Parind Vora, wine director, chef and owner of new 2020 Award of Excellence winner Lockhart Bistro in Lockhart, Texas

This year, we’re doing some Italian; I’m doing a couple of Zweigelts we’re kind of featuring, and introducing people to that grape. And then, of course, this is Texas: Everybody loves big red wine. Doesn’t matter if it’s 5,000° outside. So we’re doing the Spanish reds, which I’m a big fan of, from Jumilla, the Clio, El Nido, that kind of stuff. Another thing this year I’ve come across which I hadn’t before is the Tenuta Sette Cieli. We’re doing the Yantra and the Noi 4, and that’s pretty fantastic stuff. Really plush and easy drinking for some of it, but then as it gets air, it turns into something that’s got some nuance. There’s a little more earth, there’s a little more terroir that’s tasteable. The other thing that’s surprised me is our Garnacha from Campo Viejo. That’s our cheapest wine, and people love it. Pinot Noir drinkers like it, Beaujolais drinkers like it, even big Cab drinkers like it. There’s a little bit of dustiness, a little bit of older wine flavor profiles in it.

I haven’t had that much time [to drink at home]. I’ve noticed when I get home, instead of wine, I’ll drink some Scotch or Bourbon with a cigar.

Rebecca Kirhoffer, co-owner and wine director of Award of Excellence winner Rebeccas, in Greenwich, Conn.

Now on my own [at the restaurant], I’m faced with doing absolutely everything: answering the phone and taking the reservations for the one and only outdoor table, cooking the bread, making the homemade potato chips, cutting the Harry's red strawberries for the berry shortcake, setting the table, waiting on the guests, bartending, wine somm-ing, kitchen expediting, and, at the end, dishwashing.

My best [summer] drink surprise was making four non-alcoholic drinks that I was tossed at the last minute. So what’s a girl to do? I went back to our garden to pick loads of mint, basil and peppermint; and grabbed some pink grapefruits, some rhubarb, celery, cucumber, tomatoes, horseradish, red beets, jalapeños, Cara Cara oranges and ginger. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Red beet, celery and tomato Virgin Marys
  • Rhubarb and red raspberry ginger fizzes
  • Frozen lime-spearmint frappés
  • Pink grapefruit–Cara Cara orange–and-basil-ades

I really sweated it, as I had to prep the ingredients, mix and create, taste and then serve, all with a five-course tasting menu, me, one server and five guests! When I finished, I had mine with a big swig of Tequila in it.

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