Here are our picks for the best wines, spirits, and more.
If I could while away the entire summer on the back porch of a seaside cottage, sipping rosé and watching the waves crash… well, I’d want for nothing else. Of course, not many of us are jetting off for a three-month vacation at our own quaint beachfront home. But whether you’re headed to your summer rental, in need of a gift for your host at someone else’s, or just want to recreate that easy-breezy drinking vibe wherever you are in the world — you need a few great bottles. Here are our picks for the best wines, spirits, and more.
Rosé, Rosé, and More Rosé
I’ve never turned down a glass of Whispering Angel — the Provencal rosé that beachgoers in the Hamptons and the Caribbean guzzle down like so much LaCroix. But let’s get a little more creative with our rosé this year, shall we?
When you’re stocking up for a summer, you’re probably looking to buy in bulk. And for an easy-drinking crowd-pleaser cheap enough to buy a case at a time, I’m all about Mapreco Vinho Verde Rosé. You probably know Portugal’s vinho verde as a white wine, crisp and light and super low-alcohol; here’s the rosé version. It’s tingly and mineral, a little bit effervescent, dry as can be. At 10.5 percent, a glass in the afternoon won’t knock you out. Best of all, it retails for around $8.
A little bigger in body, but similarly refreshing and bright, is the Boya Rosé from Chile’s coastal Leyda Valley. Juicy up front, bone-dry and mineral on the finish, it’s a Pinor Noir/Grenache blend that, at around $15, is also a great value.
Back over in the Old World, the Gris Blanc from Gérard Bertrand is eye-catching, both for its grey-and-white striped label and its paler-than-pale pink hue. Made from Grenache Gris, a lighter-skinned version of the much better known Grenache, it’s fresh and dynamic and just a tad effervescent, a wine you want ice-cold with shellfish, or all on its own; this is one screw-capped bottle you’ll want in your beach cooler. Chateau Soucherie’s 2016 Rosé de Loire is an absolutely stellar bottle; mostly Cab Franc, with a touch of Grolleau, it’s crisp and refreshing with a bright, almost mouthwatering burst of acid — a seafood wine for sure.
And up in the $20+ range, Ameztoi Txakolina Rubentis Rosé is the summer wine we’ll never, ever, ever tire of. A cult favorite amongst wine lovers, it’s from the Basque region of Spain (and pronounced CHALK-oh-lee if you haven’t been lucky enough to experience it yet). With grapes grown right by the Atlantic, the wine has a pronounced salinity, a real mineral streak, a whole lot of acid, and a bit of sparkle; pour it from a good height, as they do in Spain, and you’ll get a nice fizz in the glass. For a low-alcohol summer wine that’s simultaneously complex and dynamic, this is as good as it gets.
Champagne is wonderful, but there is so much more out there in the world of bubbles. So if you’re looking to buy a few cases, whether you want to stock up for the summer or you’re hosting a sabering party, you might want to look for some of these bottles.
Summer is my season of cava. Dibon Cava Brut Reserve is rich and toasty with a ton of character; Anna de Codorníu Blanc de Blanc is another winner, made with 100% Chardonnay — common in French sparkling wines but quite unusual for Spain. Their rosé sparkler, made with a 70-30% blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, is just as tasty.
And there are so many excellent French sparkling wines that aren’t Champagne. Here’s a vocab lesson: When you see Crémant, it signifies a sparkling wine made with the same in-bottle secondary fermentation method as Champagne. Crémant de Limoux is a Crémant from the region of Limoux; Crémant d'Alsace, bubbles from Alsace; not too hard, right?
Cote Mas Crémant de Limoux Brut is widely available and very respectable; from that region, I’m also a fan of Gérard Bertrand’s “Thomas Jefferson” sparkling wines. Other favorites: the snappy Val de Mer Cremant de Bourgogne; the citrusy, tangy Clotilde Davenne Crémant de Bourgogne "Extra Brut"; the floral, friendly Crémant d'Alsace from Koenig; the super-tart, super-mineral Vouvray Brut, Vignoble Brisebarre; and for a serious value (just $8!), perfect for nonstop sabering or sparkling-wine cocktails, Delacroix Blanc de Blanc Brut.
Bright, Crisp Whites
I think of crisp Italian wines as perfect for summer — let’s call them “picnic wines.” I often go to the local wine store and ask for Vermentino, Vernaccia, or Verdicchio; all tend to have bright acidity and are often excellent values. Italy has hundreds of indigenous grapes, and oftentimes you’ll find real gems in the lesser-known. You might know Pecorino as a sheep’s milk cheese, but it’s also a grape indigenous to Le Marche and other central/Southern Italian regions. Ciù Ciù Merlettaie Pecorino is a particularly vibrant bottle, grassy and mineral and awfully compelling.
While there’s nothing wrong with a case from New Zealand’s Oyster Bay (or as it’s known in the kinds of places that order it by the case, Oy-Bay), consider branching out. Frenzy is another Marlborough bottle you might consider, with all the grassy tropical fruit of your usual New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but a little more balanced and elegant.
Back to France: You can’t go wrong with a Sancerre or a Chablis in the summertime, particularly around cocktail hour. A little lighter on the wallet (and, believe it or not, available at Whole Foods) is the Le Pillon Gascogne; from the Côtes de Gascogne in France’s far southwest, it’s a blend primarily of Colombard and Ugni Blanc. Super-juicy with great acidity, it’s all green apple, citrus, and honeysuckle — and, at around $9, a superb value.
Lively, Chill-able Reds
Red wine, chilled? Straight-up room temperature is too warm for virtually any red wine — optimal for most is more like 60-65°F. But some reds, generally the more light and lively, benefit from a further chill. Frappatois one of them; the Tamí Frappato is a stellar example of the Sicilian grape. It starts off lush and fruity, all red cherry and blackberry, but ends dry and a little spicy; keep it in the fridge and pull this bottle out with antipasti, pizza, or grilled fish (our favorite).
I’m a huge proponent of Cabernet Franc from the Loire, in summer especially, but in other seasons, too. I’d have picked up the bottle L'Hurluberlu (from Domaine Sebastien David Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil) just for its name — roughly translated as “screwball” or “oddball” — but turns out, I loved the wine, too: a biodynamic Cab Franc that’s fruity, a little funky, filled with personality; again, best chilled.
A little less offbeat but no less compelling, the "La Pépie" Cabernet Franc from Dom. de la Pépière (look for a cartoon chicken on the label) offers similar pleasures, bright fruit but earthy and balanced. Raisins Gaulois from Marcel Lapierre (this one, with a cartoon grape-eating guy on the label) — is as good as an easy-drinking Gamay gets, fresh and uncomplicated, ideal with roast chicken or grilled fish.
Get In The Spirit
Every summer house, full stop, needs Pimm’s; a Pimm’s Cup in the afternoon is one of summer’s quintessential pleasures. They’re easy to make by the pitcher, whether you’re going dead-simple (Pimm’s, ginger ale, fruit garnish) or trying out a more ambitious version (muddled ginger and cucumber, a fruit-basket garnish, a splash of gin for good measure).
Speaking of gin, you know it’s G&T season; pick a bottle you like and stock up. For the purists, Tanqueray or Beefeater; for those who like light and floral, Hendrick’s or Nolet’s; for the more experimental, consider the Spanish, like Menorca’s earthy-piney Xoriguer Gin de Mahon or Catalonia’s rosemary-olive Gin Mare.
And, To Gift
If you’re stocking up for a party, a great $8 rosé is where it’s at. If you’re looking for a host or hostess gift? You might want something a little higher-end. In my book, Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé is as elegant as they come, and a bottle for your host is as gracious as it gets. Can’t quite spring for that? Argyle (in Oregon’s Willamette Valley) and Iron Horse Vineyards (Sonoma) both make gorgeous Champagne-style wines closer to the $50 mark. The gorgeous flower-etched labels of Wölffer Estate Vineyard’s “Summer In A Bottle” wines — the juicy Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Chardonnay/Gewürztraminer rosé and a Chardonnay/Gewürztraminer/Riesling white — mean they’re always a hit as a gift (the fact that they’re sophisticated wines helps, too.) An elegant French white like a Sancerre can also do the trick — Domaine Fournier and Domaine Vacheron are both lovely.
As far as spirits go, high-end tequila is always appreciated; Patrón Roca, the artisanal line from the well-known luxury tequila brand, makes a beautiful reposado that’s perfect for sipping over ice on warm summer evenings. An excellent aged rum like the Guatemalan Ron Zacapa 23 or the Venezuelan Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva is equally suited to sipping.
The best part of gifting fine wines and spirits? Odds are, you’ll get a taste, too.