I love summer. The smell of wet grass and warm concrete, the shower after swimming in the ocean all day. My grandmother's house, dripping in bougainvillea and carpeted in rosemary. Playing cards after swim-team practice, chlorine drying on our skin while we sipped lemonade. I didn't think it was possible to bottle any of those things until I started getting into wine. Honestly, it may be the reason I'm a wine writer. Because a glass of wine can not only transport you back to the beach the summer before high school, it can capture the afternoon glow today. Like, right now.
But even when the livin' is easy, buying wine can be hard. From the endless bottles to the indecipherable labels to the anxiety of asking for help when you have no idea how to pronounce anything, it can be intimidating. It doesn't have to be. All you need is a local wine shop and some helpful hints from yours truly. Trust me, if I can go from struggling comedian drinking exclusively $3 cabernet to writing about wine professionally for Bon Appétit, you can buy yourself a fantastic bottle of wine this summer (and the rest of the year).
Keep It Light
An Argentinean Malbec may be great with dinner in December, but no one wants to drink a big, hot-ass wine on a hot-ass day. Stick to wines that are light in body and high in acidity so they are tart and refreshing, rather than bold wines that are heavier than the humidity you're battling. Which brings me to the next tip:
Take a Look at ABV
There may be a lot of confusing information on a wine's label, but there is one thing you will always be able to find: the alcohol by volume (ABV). Wine labels are required by law to list the ABV, and they can tell you more about a wine than just how drunk it'll get you. The higher the ABV, the riper the grapes were when they were picked and the richer the wine will be. The lower the ABV, the lighter the body. For summer wines, you want to look for wines with lower ABV percentages, ideally under 12.5 percent. Also, let's be real, the lower the alcohol, the better for day drinking. No one needs to be trashed by two on a Saturday afternoon. Wines like vinho verde, txakoli, and grüner veltliner are all great (and super-affordable) options.
Keep Climate in Mind
Talking climate isn't just for politics, it's also for picking wines. Warm climates produce wines that are riper, with more sugar and less acidity, whereas cool climates produce wines that are more tart and acidic. Acidity is that sour sensation a wine gives you; it leaves your mouth watering for more. Think of it as the lemonade quality of a wine, and there's a reason lemonade is so popular in the summer. Because it's acidic and subsequently really fucking refreshing!
Stray From Rosé
Look, I'm not asking you to give up rosé forever. I'm not even asking you to give it up for a whole weekend! All I'm saying is that there is a lot of wine out there that isn't pink and is still very delicious. If you need rosé rehab, wean yourself off summer water with light reds like gamay, cinsault, or zweigelt.
Whatever wine it is, chill it! Yes, even reds! Not only because it's hot outside (and perhaps even worse inside), but chilling wine tightens its flavors and acidity, making them crisper and more energetic-tasting.
When in Doubt: BUBBLES
Bringing a bottle of bubbly is like turning up the volume on the stereo; no matter how many people are there, suddenly it feels like a party. Not only is it festive, but sparkling wines are very food-friendly, from snacking on crudités at a picnic to chowing down on cheeseburgers.
If just the thought of sparkling wine gives you a headache, try pétillant naturel. Most sparkling wines go through two fermentations. During the first fermentation, the yeast eats the sugar and converts it to alcohol. Winemakers then put that base wine through a second fermentation, adding more yeast and sugar to create carbonation. The problem is many people are sensitive to the extra yeast and sugar. But with pétillant naturel, winemakers bottle the wine halfway through its first fermentation so it creates bubbles naturally, without any of the extra stuff or the midday hangover.
DRINK WHATEVER THE HELL YOU WANT
I'm not here to stop you from drinking a heavy-ass syrah in August if that's what you really want to do. Because at the end of the very Instagrammable sunset, the only thing that really matters when it comes to wine is that you enjoy it.
Marissa A. Ross is the wine editor for Bon Appétit Magazine and the author of the new book Wine. All The Time.: The Casual Guide to Confident Drinking.