Just as you update your food menu with the seasons, you should freshen your wine list. Lighter summer fare demands lighter wines; warmer weather calls for more refreshing quaffs. Look for fruity, lighter-bodied wines with crisp acidity. Chilled white wines are a natural choice and especially welcome. But don't forget rosés. And some red wines perk up when lightly chilled.
Beaujolais is a prime example-not only is it refreshing, it's also an inexpensive and easy-drinking summer wine. Look for Beaujolais-Villages AOC; it's a step up from regular Beaujolais but not much higher in price. On the other hand, Beaujolais Crus-named for individual villages such as Fleurie, Julienas and Chiroubles -have enough structure to stand up to grilled or barbecued foods. The largest Beaujolais producer is Georges Duboeuf, whose product lines cover the gamut.
Georges Duboeuf also produces wines from nearby Maconnais. Part of the company's marketing campaign is the "Slip into Summer Whites" restaurant promotion. This focuses on Duboeuf's Burgundy whites from Macon-Villages, St. Veran and Pouilly Fuisse. Maconnais wines are usually better summer values than those from more-prestigious parts of Burgundy.
Think pink for summer wine
Rosé wines have gotten a bad rap from American inventions like "pink champagne" and "white zinfandel," but that's changed; you no longer have to blush when serving quality rosé. In fact, over the past year, U.S. retail sales of imported rosé wines jumped by 42 percent, according to Nielsen research.
"Rosés are growing in popularity," agrees Melissa Gisler, managing partner of Ottimista Enoteca-Café in San Francisco, who believes rosés are perfect summer wines. On her changing by-the-glass list are a Chateau Bordeaux Rosé ($9) and a sparkler from Germany, Solter Brut Rosé ($10), made from pinot noir. "A lot of people think rosé is a sweet wine," Gisler explains, "but it's one of my personal missions to prove how dry and food-friendly they can be." Many rosés are a good match with food because they're refreshingly low in alcohol and have crisp acidity.
Most rosés are made from red grapes; the juice is drained off the skins before they impart more than a blush of color. Some parts of the world blend red with white wine to make rosé, but the EU recently backed off from a proposal to do this.
France is the largest producer of quality rosé and Provence is the most celebrated region. In the Rhone, Tavel is famous for its rosés from grenache and cinsaut grapes. Look for value from Rosé de Loire, made mostly from cabernet franc.
Spain also produces some great yet inexpensive examples. Navarra is known for its rosés, made from tempranillo, garnacha and occasionally cabernet and merlot grapes. Many of the top bodegas in Rioja make rosés from tempranillo. The 2009 rosé from Bodegas Dinastia Vivanco (85 percent tempranillo and 15 percent garnacha) is "full of fresh fruit with good acidity," says Hugo Urquiza of this Rioja winery. And Martini & Rossi, an Italian producer best known for vermouth, released a Sparkling Rosé made from Moscato Bianco, Malvasia and Brachetto grapes.
Sparking summer sales
Too often, operators and customers think of sparkling wine only for the holiday season. But sparklers can make perfect summer wines and refreshing wine cocktails.
Although many wine regions, from Champagne to New Mexico, make sparkling wines, one of the most prolific is Prosecco. Hailing from the Veneto region in Northern Italy, this spumante is made from prosecco grapes. Compared to Champagne, Prosecco is fruitier and softer-easy to drink. Because the wine is given its sparkle via the Charmat bulk method, Proseccos are generally less expensive than those made by the laborious Champagne method. Plus, spumantes are a competitive category, so deals can be had by working with your distributor.
As with any sparkling wine, turnover is key to a successful Prosecco by-the-glass program; sell it before it loses its fizz. One way around this is to offer sparkling wines in individual 187ml sizes.
Casa Vinicola Zonin (shown above) has launched its newest Prosecco in three formats: the standard 750ml bottle, a 1.5l sized for crowds and a an individual 187ml bottle. The latter features an easy-open plastic closure for user-friendly sipping.