More than any other season, summer seems to require rethinking one's approach to wine. While a crisp white can have an icy snap that's equally appealing in July or January, the reds of winter—brawny Cabernets, rich Zinfandels, powerful Bordeaux—feel overwhelmingly heavy when the sun is high and the weather's hot. During the summer, lightness and a refreshing simplicity trump almost any other consideration.
These characteristics may be why Pinot Grigio, to take one example, has become such a popular warm-weather wine (It has now become America's fifth-largest-selling wine in terms of volume, according to the Nielsen Company.) Like Pinot Noir, it's originally from Burgundy, though it has taken a far different path than its cousin. While the Pinot Grigio grape produces full-bodied, aromatic wines under the alias Pinot Gris in Oregon and France's Alsace region, the best-known versions are crisp, relatively simple ones from northern Italy. One good name to look for is Kris, an affordable bottling from winemaker Franz Haas.
Even if you're a diehard Pinot Grigio fan, though, keep in mind that Italy produces plenty of other great summer white wine options with more character. Floral, fragrant Falanghina from Campania is one great choice—try Mastroberardino's—as is the even more aromatic Moscato (Alois Lageder makes a good one). In the New World, Chenin Blanc was one of America's favorite wines in the late 1960s and on into the '70s. Unfortunately, its popularity helped lead to its downfall, as greedy wineries pumped up production, producing vast, flavorless crops of Chenin off industrially farmed vineyards. Now that the market for Chenin Blanc has shrunk, it's easier to find good ones, particularly aromatic, rich wines from France's Loire region (try the Chateau de Chamboureau Savennières) and lighter-bodied, often melony wines from South Africa (try Pecan Stream's bottling, or Cederberg's).