I asked myself this question a few days ago after showing up at a friend’s apartment for a BBQ and was handed a glass of wine. The wine was a Portuguese blend, full-bodied enough that it had already begun to stain the lips of other guests at the party. It was delicious, probably good value, 14.5% alcohol, and the last thing I felt like drinking on a deck in 30-degree heat next to the swelter of a charcoal BBQ. I drank half the wine, dumped the rest out, and refilled my glass with a rosé from Pic-St-Loup.
Is it all perception, or are there qualities that make a ‘summer wine’ more appropriate for summer drinking? Here are a few things to think about.
Temperature - This is probably the most obvious, but the colder something is, the more refreshing it is. Keep those whites cold and chill down the reds a little.
Acidity - It’s the same reason we squeeze lemon into our water. Acid is refreshing; it stimulates salivation more than any other taste and keeps us feeling quenched long after our drink is finished. High acid makes a wine more summery - think of grapes like Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Melon de Bourgogne, Aligoté, Pinot Noir, wines from Champagne, or many lighter rosés.
Alcohol - On hot days, it’s easier for your body to become dehydrated and alcohol can affect you more severely. The difference between a 10% Riesling and a 15.5% Chateauneuf-du-Pape is huge. (Another point to make: drink lots of water!)
Body - Body often goes hand in hand with alcohol content, but I think it’s worth pointing out. The first time I learned about differentiating body in a wine, I was told to think about the difference between drinking skim milk versus heavy cream. Neither of these sounds particularly appetizing on a hot day, but I’d rather take the skim.
Aromas - We’re conditioned to associate certain tastes with the refreshing quality they offer. When we pick up similar notes in our wine, maybe grass, mint, green apple, lemon, lime, or melon, that’s the place our brain goes. It's why one whiff of a great Sancerre will cool you right down.
Jake Skakun is a writer and sommelier from Vancouver, currently living in Toronto. He can be found most days pulling corks and twisting caps at the Black Hoof. He Tweets and Instagrams @jakeskakun.