It’s June. The gardens are in, the deck is cleaned up, and the grill is ready to rock. In the Northeast, where I’m from, cooking outside is called having a barbecue. I know that can annoy some purists, but hey, we called it “having a barbecue” my whole life, so it’s too late to train me now. If it makes you feel better, call it a cookout.
Since I started learning the art of food and wine pairing, the same suggestions for cook-out wines have been repeated; try Zinfandel, the “burger” wine, or cold beer. Now that rose is in vogue, it seems to have become the BBQ wine of choice, but there is so much more to explore.
For the last 5 years, I have spent a lot of time in Sicily, where we enjoy many al fresco meals on sunny terrazze. And we drink wine, lots of cool red wine. I first experienced this magic at Carbonia, a little olive oil operation in the Sicani mountains. It was June, and the Sicilian sun was hot, but a soothing breeze was circulating throughout the hills. Eugenina, the charming, hippyish host, cook, and oil maker, served my group of 10 a formidable pranzo. We enjoyed a loaded table of “Pane Cunzatu,” ancient grain bread drenched in her oil with salt and oregano, as well as local sheep’s cheeses, an array of salume, sun-warm tomatoes, grilled and marinated vegetables, a refreshing pasta salad with pickled caper leaves and mint and skinny pork sausages. She popped open a couple of bottles of C.O.S. Frappato from Vittoria. This wine has been a favorite of mine for years, but on this day, it engaged me differently. It was served quite cool in small water glasses. At the chilled temperature, the tangy raspberry-cranberry fruit of this thin-skinned indigenous grape came to life. It mingled with the sweetness of the veggies and cleansed the salinity and fat of the sausage from my palate. The heat of the alcohol became muted, and the minerality and fruit nuances came to life from the warmth of my mouth. I tasted more from the wine than I ever knew it had. It may sound cliche, but it was a revelation.
Since then, I have gotten the OK from the wine gods. I have learned to appreciate the pleasures of chilled red wine in the heat of summer. I don’t mean 34F chilled, but 50-55F, cooler than the cellar. Thirty minutes in the fridge is all it takes. It’s your wine and your pleasure, so make your own rules. My grandfather made strong red wine, always in the fridge in summer. We liked it that way. I suppose I am turning into him!
It is important to keep in mind another factor when considering whether or not to chill some red. Red wine makes spicy food spicier on your palate because the tannins dry your tongue. When we cookout or BBQ, there is often some spice going on, whether in a dry rub, a BBQ sauce, a salsa, marinade, or assertive seasonings. The cool temperature of the wine won’t ignite the heat from your food. Cooling the wine softens the tannins.
Obviously, I’m not going to encourage you to chill a 20-year-old bottle of Pauillac for your cookout. There are plenty of wines that deserve reverence, but there are also many well-made red wines that, when young and served cool, are perfect summer quaffers. No one is looking over your shoulder, so please yourself and your guests this summer with the surprise of cool red wine on your terrazzo.
Here is a list of suggestions, listed by region.
Frappato: Frappato is often served slightly chilled, which helps to emphasize its freshness and floral notes. Try it with roasted peppers, sausages and salume.
Nero d’Avola: While it is typically served at room temperature, some lighter styles of Nero d’Avola can be chilled to bring out their fruitiness and make them more refreshing, particularly during warmer months. When the summer tomatoes are poppin’, a cool Nero will be your friend.
Lambrusco: This sparkling red is now trendy but has been on many Italian tables for generations. It is a bit sweet, but with a nice spicy grill dish, like Korean BBQ, it is playful and refreshing.
Bardolino: This lean Veneto red benefits from being cooled and is a perfect burger wine.
Valpolicella: Another Veronese red that is a real quaffer when cool. It has a tart cherry flavor and is often chilled in its home region. It is great with grilled mushrooms and also grilled squid with tomato salsa.
Xinomavro: Xinomavro wines are lighter in body and have high acidity, making them suitable for chilling. It showcases their lively fruit flavors. Grill some halloumi, char some peppers, and enjoy.
Agiorgitiko: Certain styles of Agiorgitiko wines, particularly those labeled as “semi-dry” or “refreshing,” can be enjoyed with a chill to bring out the fruity and aromatic characteristics. Try it with Mezze and lamb burgers.
Rioja Joven: These young red wines from the Rioja region are often made with Tempranillo grapes. They have bright fruit flavors and are better when best served chilled. It is exciting when paired with sausages, cheeses, and marinated veggies.
Mencia from Bierzo: The wines produced from Mencia grapes can be light to medium-bodied, with lively acidity and red fruit flavors. They are delightful when chilled and are my go-to paella wine.
Vinho Verde: Vinho Verde is primarily known for its refreshing white wines but also produces some red wines made from Vinhão. These red wines are light-bodied, slightly fizzy, and often have vibrant fruit flavors. Try it with Piri Piri Chicken.
Dao: Young Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) with youthful fruitiness can be enjoyed when slightly chilled. I recently tried this with garlic pork roast and was blown away.
Trincadeira: If you buy a younger Trincadeira from Alentejo, cool it down to enhance its fruity character. It excels with grilled eggplant, mushrooms, and zucchini.
FRANCE and SOUTH AFRICA:
I bundled these together because the same grapes are used.
Cinsault: Cinsault is a lighter-bodied and fruity red wine. Some South African winemakers produce Cinsault-based wines meant to be enjoyed chilled. The French may not, but try it anyway. I love it with Charcuterie, grilled duck breast, and even chicken livers.
Pinot Noir: Lighter and fruit-driven Pinot Noir wines can be served slightly chilled to enhance their vibrant red fruit flavors. We recently had some grilled Merguez and other Moroccan appetizers and a cool young Bourgogne. It was a delicious pairing that astounded my friends.
Gamay and Gamay Noir: Many French Gamays benefit from being served cool. I recently enjoyed a bottle of Julienas chilled to 56F with BBQ Brisket, which excelled. While Gamay and Gamay Noir are traditionally associated with Beaujolais in France, South African producers are experimenting with Gamay Noir. South African Gamay Noirs has lively fruit and lower tannins. Served with a slight chill, it is a refreshing drinking experience.
Gamay Noir: Here is that grape again. If you haven’t tried it, I encourage you to do so. In the Hudson Valley, Whitecliff Vineyards produce an exciting gamay noir, one of my favorite NY-grown reds. It is a staple at our Thanksgiving table.
Cabernet Franc: Cabernet Franc is a red grape variety that thrives in New York State. While many New York Cabernet Franc wines are fuller-bodied and complex, some lighter styles are super quaffable with a slight chill. The cool temp will highlight their vibrant red fruit flavors and make them more refreshing. Try some with skirt steak fajitas.
Lemberger: Lemberger, also known as Blaufränkisch, is a lesser-known red grape variety that can produce lighter-bodied red wines with bright fruit flavors. Chilling a young Lemberger will bring it to life, accentuating its dark fruit flavors. We recently tried this with grilled eggplant parm, and it was a hit.
There are many more light-bodied reds that will benefit from a quick nap in the fridge before pouring. Remember, it is summer, and even if you are a red wine junkie, a cool beverage is always delightful on the patio. Let your palate dictate how to drink your wine.
To get recipes, pop-up and event information, and details on my immersive Sicily experiences, visit me online at ricorlando.com or on all Social media at chefricorlando.