During the warm months, Houstonians tend to crave white and rosé wines, usually from the lower end of the price spectrum, and nearly always best served chilled. But what of red wine lovers? Have they any hope of satisfying their enological cravings once the last cold spell of spring has passed? In a word, yes. Across the ocean, our European cousins serve plenty of red wine in the summertime—chilled.
In the Piedmont region of Italy, for one, locals love to chill their Barbera when the mercury rises. A grape variety with zinging acidity and very little tannin, it’s a fantastic wine to serve with summer fare. Even when iced down, its wild berry flavors will pop in the glass—no muted tones here.
Chinon, a hearty red made from Cabernet Franc grapes in the Loire Valley, is a great summer alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with savory flavors and a classic bell pepper note that’s like relish on a burger. Bandol Rouge, meanwhile, made mostly from Mourvèdre grapes in southern France, has a rich earthy quality and dark fruitiness that handily tames the char of grilled meats.
The king of all chilled red wines, however, is glorious Beaujolais. I’m not talking about the swill known as Beaujolais Nouveau that the French send over around Thanksgiving (a wine to be avoided at all costs). No, this is vineyard-designated, minerality-driven, ethereal Beaujolais, a category for which a nice chill is appropriate even on the higher end of the price spectrum ($25 to $45 a bottle).
In Houston, you'll find the biggest selection of Beaujolais at the Houston Wine Merchant on lower Shepherd, where wine buyer Antonio Gianola freely admits to being a "Beaujolais geek." He also stocks a wonderful selection of both Chinon and its sister Bourgueil, along with older vintage Bandol, including some bottles more than 10 years old—perfect for the chilled wine connoisseur.
Spec's, too, has a robust selection of Beaujolais, along with a smattering of Loire and Bandol wines. Joseph Kemble, the chain's Italian wine buyer, also has assembled the city's largest gathering of Barbera from Italy, including a number of excellent under-$20 bottles (Fontanafredda and Scarpetta are terrific values, both under $20).
But no matter what wine you’re drinking—whether white, rosé, red or orange—be careful not to serve it too cold, i.e., below 45 degrees. Excessive chill will mute any wine’s aromas and flavors.
What to Buy (and Where to Buy It):
Barbera from Italy (Asti and Alba)
Spec's has a number of great producers under $20. Look for Ratti, Chiarlo, Fontanafredda and others. It's pretty hard to go wrong in this price range because lower-end Barbera is generally made in a clean, fresh style. Houston Wine Merchant carries the slightly-more-pricey-but-worth-it Roagna Perpetuae (under $30, imported by local wine monger Dionysus).
Cabernet Franc from France (Chinon, Anjou, Bourgueil)
The ample under-$20 selection of Chinon is fantastic at Spec's, where Bear Dalton continues to reign as the undisputed king of big-bodied French wine. If budget permits, go for the Joguet Chinon Cuvée Terroir (around $25), a classic expression of the appellation. And if the sky's the limit, have Antonio Gianola at Houston Wine Merchant walk you through his older-vintage Cabernet Franc from Chinon and Bourgueil. While the $70 and $80 may surprise some, the nuanced character of these wines will prove they're worth every penny.
Mourvèdre from France (Bandol)
While we have a healthy selection of Bandol rosé in Houston, we could use more Bandol Rouge, an often overlooked category eclipsed by its brighter sibling. Spec's currently carries the Domaine La Suffrene Rouge from the 1998 vintage for under $40 and Houston Wine Merchant also has a couple of older vintages that are worth their weigh in gold. Big spenders should not miss the Domaine de Souviou 1988 ($130).
Gamay from France (Beaujolais)
Antonio's geekery for Beaujolais sets his selection miles ahead of his competitors'. He has number of village and cru (single-vineyard designated) bottlings for under and around $30. On the lower end, look for the Kermit Lynch proprietary label Beaujolais village ($16) and in the mid-range, Château Thivin Beaujolais Côte de Brouilly ($30).