These days, we’re certainly spending a bit more time in the house or hanging out with friends at their homes. As we know all too well, 2020 gave us a taste of a slower life, as we spent more time inside than we ever could’ve imagined was possible. Boredom set in. We all felt a little like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.
Fortunately, our resilience came out to play—and when 2020 gave us lemons, we made lemonade. We purchased all the home essentials, decked out our outdoor spaces, and perfected recipes that we’re still proud to share with friends. In short, we all mastered the art of entertaining. And kudos to us for keeping the party going!
While being an outstanding host can often mean paying attention to the little details, here’s my advice as a person who's spent an entire career in hospitality hosting dinners and events: Don’t stress over being super fancy. The days of the fine china place settings and four-course seated dinners are becoming a distant memory. That said, while you may not need your grandmother's porcelain dinnerware anymore, but don’t put her crystal glassware away too quickly. You can entertain in style and still keep it casual, putting more focus on the best part—beverages. As the saying goes: “Life is too short to drink bad wine.”
Once you’ve narrowed down the food selections, head to your local wine retailer to take care of the rest. As the owner of a neighborhood wine shop, I can say firsthand there is nothing more satisfying than helping cooks and hosts pick the perfect bottles to serve and dazzle their guests. With that in mind, here are a few of the summer wines I recommend time and again—wines that will get the sensory wheels spinning and give you all the summer-breeze-making-you-feel-fine vibes.
Rare is the event when it’s not OK to start with bubbles. Of course, you can keep it classic and classy and serve a true Champagne to your guests. If that’s the direction you decide to take, here’s an insider tip: Ditch the traditional flute—we’re done with them. For sure, they’re definitely pretty glasses. But unfortunately, they don’t do your sparkling wine any justice. That mini vessel is stifling your wine! Reach for a coupe glass or white wine glass instead. The wine’s aromatics need room to express themselves.
If you want less sparkle and a little more fizz, of course you can grab a bottle of vinho verde, the queen of effervescence. But right now, piquette pét nats are all the rave. Piquette is a by-product of the wine fermentation process. Water is added to the grape pomace (the remaining grape solids—think: seeds, skins, stems) resulting in a low alcohol, uncomplicated beverage. It's tart, a little cloudy, and wildly refreshing. The winemaker can take an additional step and add still wine to the piquette, allowing it to undergo secondary fermentation in the bottle. That’s when the magic happens—piquette pétillant naturel. All the things we love about piquette but with a slightly sparkling, fizzy flare. Party in style...or shall we say, trend. The United States still reigns supreme in piquette production with must-try producers such as Old Westminster in Maryland and Swick Wines out of Oregon.
Be sure not to leave out the red sparkling wine counterparts! The obsession with Lambrusco is real, and for good reason. What was once a cloyingly sweet sparkling wine in the 1970s is now being taken seriously by wine professionals and sommeliers all over the world. Lambrusco is a sparkling wine made from an assortment of Lambrusco grape varietals grown almost exclusively in Emilia-Romagna—land of Prosciutto di Parma, tortellini, and Parmesan-Reggiano cheese. Lambrusco, similar to pet nats, are frizzante in style, meaning they’re light on the bubbles, powerful in the flavor. Ranging from dry and tannic, to fruit forward and elegant, and sometimes slightly sweet, Lambrusco is the ultimate food-friendly sparkling red wine.
Pairing Cheat Sheet:
Whether you're having homemade pizza, charcuterie and cheese boards (don’t forget to include Parmesan Reggiano with Modena Balsamic), or summer sausage, Lambrusco will work every time.
With piquette's attractively low ABOV, and intentional style to be consumed casually with the purpose of hydration, this fizzy beverage can pair with snacks or quite frankly, on its own.
- 2019 Monte Rio Piquette Pet Nat, Lodi, California
- La Collina “Rosa Luna” Rosato Lambrusco dell'Emilia IGT, Emilia-Romagna, Italy
Picture this: Fishing boat ports, olive trees, dry sandy beaches, and cultivated farmland. We’re not talking about the Hamptons here—it’s all about uninhabited, sleepy coastlines. Seems like a no-brainer for wine, right? Here’s why: Wine growing regions along the coast means lots of wine consumption outdoors. These are perfect sites for thriving wine growing regions. Wines produced along the ocean and sea oftentimes have racy acidity, ocean spray salinity, and a distinct freshness that clearly exhibits purity. Ooh la la, these white wines are intriguing. Keep your eyes peeled for electric wines from Fiefs Vendéens Brem in Loire Valley France, Rias Baixas in Northwest Spain, the Southern Italian coast of Sicily, and Portugal's volcanic Azores islands.
Pairing cheat sheet:
Coastal whites are best served with ceviche, oysters and shellfish, simple green salads, and poached fish. Do you see where we’re going with this? What grows together goes together.
- Mortellito "Calaiancu" Bianco, Terre Siciliane, Italy
- Azores Wine Co. Acores “Branco Vulcanico,” Azores, Portugal
Contrary to popular belief, drinking a chilled light red wine is one of the best ways to consume them these days. That’s right—cold red wine. We’re not talking Napa Valley Cabernet-style reds that are full bodied, oaky, and intensely flavored. We are specifically recommending a young, fresh, fruit-forward red with little to no tannin.
Every winemaker has the ability to make a chillable red. Many have always made wines in this style, and others, being a bit tardy to the party, are just realizing that this is becoming one of the most desirable ways to drink a red wine. These reds are often referred to as “glou glou”-style reds—reds that go down entirely too easy, creating the sound “glug glug” as you drink. They are typically bottled and consumed in their youth, rarely ever aged in oak, and have a shorter maceration period with the red grape skins resulting in a lighter color. Basically, they're made in a way that's similar to rosé, but much darker.
The traditional cellar temperature for a red wine is 60 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, but get those glou glou reds in the fridge for about 30 minutes and temp down the bottles to 50 to 55 degrees. This refreshing way to drink your light red wine is so rewarding. There’s the immediate gratification from drinking a red wine, then having a red that is insanely versatile with food, and it’s chilled so you don’t get the heavy red wine sweats. You can even find these in cans!
Pairing cheat sheet:
Chillable reds make for an all-around easy food pairing, especially when serving light dishes fro Mediterranean cuisines, roasted cauliflower, crudite, or fish tacos. It’s the wine you want to serve when you want heft but you’re not trying to overpower the meal.
With a good playlist and pop of flowers from your local florist (or yard!), you’re all set for a Friday night fête at home. And don’t forget the water, friends. There is no summer hydration without water.