When the mercury squeaks past 90 and summer drinking times are in full swing, nobody really reaches for red wine. While Rosé is fruity, bright and Instagrammable, red tends to get left out of the conversation.
This is a shame!
Many of our most summery foods – smoky meat, burgers off the grill, glittering piles of fresh tomatoes – go best with red wine! These are the tastes of summer, and the right red wine goes with summer just as well as beach trips, cookouts, and taking off most of your clothes.
It’s true that certain reds are less than ideal for hot days, especially wines that are super boozy, oaky or full-bodied. But medium or light-bodied reds with moderate alcohol and zippy acidity are great for all weather, especially when eating is involved. Plus, you can (and should) serve them chilled! (Not ice-cold…say, half an hour in the fridge.)
If you’re hunting for summertime reds, look to the wines of Croatia.
Croatia has an ancient and venerable winemaking tradition – Zinfandel is actually of Croatian origin – but for hot weather reds, I would look for wines made from the indigenous red varietals Babić and Plavac Mali.
Babić (bah-beach) is the more easygoing of the two, medium-bodied and familiar. Wines made from Babić often have plummy and figgy flavors, but the fruitiness is cut with herb and spice and shot through with a distinctive smokiness.
Plavac Mali (plah-vahts mah-lee) is more savory, cranking up the smoke and the herbal flavors into wines that are pleasantly rustic but full of power and finesse.
What makes these varietals come to glorious life on hot summer days is their ability to play extremely nicely with grilled delights.
Babić, fruity and light, will go best with afternoon burgers, sausages, hot dogs (yes), and absolutely shine with balsamic-dressed tomatoes. Save the Plavac Mali for post-sunset, when you’re hauling perfect steaks and elegantly singed veggies off the coals. It’s bigger, darker, richer, and earthier, more suited to the char and smoke.
These wines are still relatively rare enough that they are the objects of intense passion from wine professionals, so you’re likely to find good examples just by asking around. But if you happen to pick up wines from producers like Piližota, Lanterna, Zlatan Otok, or Kobal, well…I approve. Imagine a vague image of me shimmering in your peripheral vision, like a benevolent Jedi wine-ghost, nodding and smiling while you make your purchase.
You should be able to find wines from the Nick-approved producers for $15-$22. Look for these and other fine Croatian reds at Astor Wines & Spirits, Flatiron Wines, and Crush Wines & Spirits in Manhattan, or Thirst Merchants and Slope Cellars in Brooklyn.