Temperatures are rising, the smell of lilacs is in the air, boat traffic on the Kennebec is picking up, and we’re reaching for more rosé, Maine pale ales, and bubbles to pour in our glasses.
While the aforementioned drinks are all fantastic options to wet your whistle during warm weather, I’d like to also encourage you to try these refreshing red wines. Most benefit from a light chill (yes, you read that right! Trust me on this one.) and will accompany a barbeque or a summer picnic beautifully. Cheers!
Vinia Maitia “Aupa” Pipeño (Chile) $11.99
This blend of 80% Pais and 20% Carignan is the perfect chillable red: light, fresh, and brisk on the palate, it delivers bright red fruits inflected with subtle herbaceous notes and very soft tannins. The grapes are from a single vineyard in Chile originally planted with Pais in 1870, and subsequently with Carignan in 1960. Long before the arrival of the noble European varietals in the new world, Pais was widely planted throughout the Americas, including all over California, where it was known as the Mission grape, from its ubiquitous use in the Catholic mass. The grape is experiencing something of a resurgence, especially in the form of Pipeño, a traditional “farmer’s wine” that’s easy to drink and refreshing. Vinia Maitia’s version turns this humble style of wine into an artisanal delight.
Elena Walch Alto Adige Schiava (Italy) $15.99
Here is another delightful traditional red that can be served with a light chill. Schiava is grown in the mountainous north Italian region of Alto Adige, near the Austrian border, where it is widely enjoyed as a “tavern wine”. Lighter in color and body than most reds, and just a shade or two darker than a rosé, it offers aromas of strawberries and violets infused with a delicate raspberry-leaf zest. A good match for lighter grilled fare, it is particularly delicious with a nice charcuterie board.
Peter Benedek Mátra Pinot Noir (Hungary) $16.99
Peter Benedek’s tiny estate in Mátra (northern Hungary) has grown over three generations from 1.5 to 17 hectares, all of which is farmed organically (since 2011) by the family. Their Pinot Noir is fermented with native yeasts, aged for 6 months in stainless steel, and is bottled with minimal sulfites added, un-fined, and with only a coarse filtration. The wine is both firm and bright, with notes of cranberry and cherry, subtle spice, and hints of carraway.
Cardedu “Praja” Monica di Sardegna (Italy) $20.99
The name “Praja” is a Sardinian dialect word for “beach,” which pretty clearly identifies where and how to enjoy this delicious red: with a bit of a chill, served with a lighter grilled meal, preferably on a sunny day by the shore. The grapes were dry farmed, without the use of pesticides or herbicides, and spontaneously fermented, then aged in large cement tanks before being bottled unfiltered. There is notable counterplay here between dusty red fruits and savory mineral and herbal notes, and though the Loi family does not consider themselves to be part of the “natural wine” movement, there is a kind of savage grace that results from their hands-off approach.
Fuso “Calx” Primitivo Puglia (Italy) $15.99
The Fuso project is an exciting initiative from importer Porto Vino to find, bottle, and import genuinely expressive “farmer wines,” which is to say low intervention and naturally expressive daily drinkers from all over the boot. These wines are true expressions of variety and terroir, but most importantly they are mouth-wateringly delicious and easy to drink. The Primitivo is low-alcohol (only 12.5%), especially for a varietal that can easily top 15% ABV, and consequently it is lighter and more refreshing on the palate. However, far from being “thin”, the wine explodes with ripe and juicy raspberries, spice, and perfectly tuned acidity. This would be perfect with BBQ, kebabs, or really anything off the grill.
Heitz Cellar Napa Valley Grignolino (California) $25.99
The Grignolino grape is a large red grape with thin skins, a lighter color, and many pips, which impart their tannins and zest to the wines made from this variety. Originally from the Piedmont region in Italy, this was the first variety planted by founder Joe Heitz in the 1940’s. Cuttings from these original vines were used to propagate the variety in St. Helena in 1966, and these old vines are still the source for this fantastic wine. Medium bodied but lighter in color, there is a great deal of aromatic and textural detail that accompanies the bright red berry fruits and spice on the palate. Try this with a charcuterie board, roasted chicken, or cedar-plank grilled salmon.