It’s summertime, and the sippin’ is easy. Light and lively rules the roost in our all-too-brief respite from winter.
That usually means choosing from an ever-widening array of brisk whites, fruity reds and perky pinks. But there also are certain seasonal gatherings where the options might expand, or be more specific. Here’s a look at some of them, with recommended wines (all under $20):
Picnics: Cold food allows for lighter-bodied reds such as a Spanish grenache (Atteca, Evodia, Los Rocas, Monte Oton, Tres Ojos), gamay (Duxoup from California, Pascal Chatelus from Beaujolais) or blaufrankisch/lemberger (Shooting Star, Kiona). And the wide range of flavors on the table/blanket makes rosé, perhaps the most versatile food wine going, a great option (Marc Roman, Kreos Salento, El Coto).
Or for something quite different, go for the comeback grape of the year, if not the century: Lambrusco. Yes, the sweetish, slightly sparkling red from the region of the same name, which enjoyed heydays a couple of millennia apart (the Etruscan era and the 1970s), is back and decidedly better than ever. Check out the Ariola “Marcello,” Medici Ermete Dolce or Cleto Chiarli — and be sure to chill it like you would a chardonnay.
BBQ: Go with the food flow here. If we’re talking any meat that has been smoked and/or slathered with a sauce, think zinfandel, which more than holds its own with the hearty, spicy flavors of the food. Going up the price ladder: Cline California, the zin-heavy Marietta Old Vine blend, Tortoise Creek and Four Vines Old Vine Cuvee.
Zin also plays well in a more casual burgers-and-brats setting, as do heartier reds such as merlot (Snoqualmie “Naked,” Milbrandt, Benziger Sonoma) and syrah/shiraz (Cycles Gladiator, Greg Norman Limestone Coast). But because the predominant flavors often come from the toppings, consider a spicy white like gewürztraminer, either domestic (Hogue, Hook & Ladder) or European (Villa Wolf, Helfrich).
Bridal showers: At the recent Riverside International Wine Competition, the Barefoot Blanc de Blancs stunned my fellow judges (and moi), although it should be noted that sparkling wine is made in batches that might vary in quality. Or go with any of the Gruet sparklers from New Mexico. I’ve also had nice encounters with Barefoot’s $7 moscato, a simple pleasure that will work nicely at:
Campfires/bonfires: Yes, moscato is the ideal pairing for s’mores, and other reliable brands include Woodbridge or, for a bit more moolah, Foris, Seven Daughters or Risata. As the evenings cool off, think about a red blend that might have some smoky or roasty elements. Pedroncelli “Friends,” Waterbrook “Melange” and Clif Bar “Climber” are tasty and layered domestic offerings, or go across the pond for Chateau Pesquie Terrasses Ventoux, Hecht & Bannier Languedoc or Capcanes Costers del Gravet Montsant Los Vinyasses.
Patio/all-purpose: No reason to deviate from crisp whites, but consider a blend rather than yet another pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc. Blends have the advantage of being great outdoor sippers and generally versatile with food, especially fresh veggies and all of the white meats. Swell offerings from across the globe include Zestos Malvar Blanco (Spain), Banfi Centine (Italy), Domaine Du Tariquet’s sundry offerings (France), Kleoni White (Greece), Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc/Viognier (California), Peter Lehmann “Layers” (Australia), Overgaauw Shepherd’s Cottage (South Africa) and Yarden Golan Heights White (Israel).
But few wines fill the thirst-quenching jones like Argentina’s New Age, a 50-50 sauv blanc/malvasia blend. It’s the optimum post-exercise/lawn-mowing quaffer at 9.5 percent alcohol — and a great base for sangria.
Church socials: Anything but the sacramental wine.