Whether you're bored of the typical summer whites and rosés, or you just prefer to drink red, here are 5 red wines to try this summer
Much as we have hoped against hope that Hong Kong’s unseasonably cool April weather could continue indefinitely (ok, at least I felt that way), summer is now indisputably upon us and with it that sense that we should switch from red wine to white.
But what if you just don’t want to? Asia is of course replete with locations where you can sit in frigid air conditioning and drink all the hearty cabs you like, but if you’d prefer to make some nod to the season while sticking to grapes of the purple persuasion, here is the list for you:
1. Cerasuolo di Vittoria
Where: Sicily, Italy
Why: Although it has been overshadowed by the reds of Etna in recent years, Cerasuolo di Vittoria was the first (and still only) Sicilian red wine to receive a DOCG (the top appellation in the Italian system). It has long been home to innovative, boundary-pushing producers who were some of the first on the island to take a more “natural” approach to winemaking. The word “cerasuolo” (chair-a-SWO-lo) meaning “cherry,” is a reference either to the wine’s pert cherry fruit or the cherry-red soils the vines grow in: a soil type called terra rossa typically found in dry Mediterranean climates and underlaid with acidity-boosting limestone. It unites the red grapes nero d’avola, familiar to many as the beloved juicy crowd pleaser of the early 2000s, and its lighter, more fragrant counterpart, frappato, resulting in a heat-friendly mix of punchy crimson fruit, lilting florals and breezy summer crispness, like a block-printed linen sundress in a bottle. Ideal for light summer suppers, including fish or vegetarian dishes.
Which: Gulfi, COS, Arianna Occhipinti (for the latter two, try their varietal frappato for something extra wispy and perfumed).
2. Naoussa Xinomavro
Where: Naoussa, Macedonia, Greece
Why: Xinomavro (pronounced ksee-NO-mah-vroh) has been called the nebbiolo of Greece and indeed shares many traits with the perfumed, tannic enigma of Piemonte. The designation of origin Naoussa in Macedonia (in northern Greece, not the separate country North Macedonia) is likewise hilly and unexpectedly continental compared to our fantasy of sun kissed Greek islands. Despite the name, which means “sour black,” the wine itself is not typically very dark coloured, though it does pack an acidic punch. Its formidable tannins lend it Barolo-like longevity (without the corresponding price tag), making it the ideal mystery BYO wine. However, more modern expressions made with the flattering gloss of new oak (Alpha Estate) or softening lees stirring (Kir-Yianni Kali Riza) help yield wine that’s drinkable earlier and a winning choice for a summer barbecue.
Which: Kir-Yianni Kali Riza, Alpha Estate, Foundi Estate, Chateau Pegasus
Where: Loire Valley, France
Why: The Loire Valley, Bordeaux’s lush northern neighbour, has recently proven itself a fertile ground for everyone from the funk-hunting “terroiriste” to the fine wine lover bored with the traditional trifecta of Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhône. When you’re missing that familiar fruit and herb combo of Bordeaux but can’t quite handle the accompanying body, oak and tannins, Chinon – made of 100% cabernet franc – delivers a similar aromatic mix but with a vernal lightness. Its similarly franc-focused cousins Bourgeuil (typically a little darker, heavier and more rustic) and Saumur Champigny (usually juicier and more fruit-focused) complete the spectrum of “same but different” wines from this lush, castle-studded playground of the French aristocracy. The easy drinking bottles make great pre-dinner reds; while the serious bottles are a great food-friendly stand-in for classed growth Bordeaux.
Which: Fun and easy: Charles Joguet Cuvée Terroir, Domaine Breton Chinon Beaux Monts, Olga Raffault Les Barnabés; Top end: Charles Joguet Clos de la Dioterie, Olga Raffault Les Picasses
4. South Australian Grenache
Where: Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, Australia
Why: Grenache, despite being one of the world’s most widely planted grapes and the star of several fine wine regions (Chateaneuf du Pape, Priorat, etc.), is a victim of its own versatility. Sometimes ponderous and almost gooey other times frivolous and gulpable, and occasionally transformatively lovely, it is a grape in need of better definition. In South Australia, a cohort of producers have begun to recognise its advantages as a drought-resistant grape that can produce wines of great delicacy, taking it beyond its typical role as one component of the ubiquitous GSM blend. The new grenache tends to be made from older vines, often grown on sandy soils that boost aromatic potential or on cooler sites that help retain acidity. The results are somewhat pinot noir like, but with sturdier fruit and a shimmering quinine and white pepper spice – like a craft cocktail without the need for a hard-shake.
Which: Cirillo Estates 1850 Ancestor Vine Grenache, Yangarra Ovitelli Grenache (made in ceramic eggs for an unadulterated but mellowed expression), S.C. Pannell
5. Chilean Rhone Style Wines
Where: Various, Chile
Why: The fruits of a similar lust for site-expression and purity, the Rhône-influenced wines of Chile – some idiosyncratic blends, some varietals – are a clear break from the mainstream of Chilean wine, which has typically focused on creating affordable versions of internationally recognised, popular styles. The winemakers involved tend to be “terroir hunters” – pioneers like Pedro Parra of Clos des Fous and Pencopolitano on the lookout for great but underexplored regions blessed with fortuitous natural conditions for the vine. Their pet varieties like Cinsault and Carignan tend to be overlooked even in their countries of origin. The wines deliver a vividness, with clearly delineated tart berry fruit backed up with tonic herbs, spices and moist earth notes and unadorned with cosmetic treatments like new oak. In the spirit of adventure, even the slightly pricier among these wines would make an excellent choice for an early evening picnic or boat trip (just make sure you have a cooler so you can serve them lightly chilled).
Which: De Martino Viejas Tinajas Cinsault, Clos des Fous : Caquenina, Pour Ma Guele (ridiculously good value); Pedro Parra Pencopolitano