Everything You Need to Know About Wine This Summer (But Were Afraid to Ask)

Because there’s a world out there beyond Chardonnay—and it’s time to go find it.

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Photo by Mark Swallow/Getty Images

Don’t know the difference between terroir and tannins? Not sure you could distinguish a Riesling from a Rioja if you tried? Take heart. We called on two of the wine biz’s best and brightest—Aldo Sohm, Sommelier and Wine Director for Le Bernardin restaurant and Aldo Sohm Wine Bar in New York, and Doug Bell, Global Beverage Buyer for Whole Foods Market—and asked them to share their best back-to-basics summertime tippling tips.

What’s the key to navigating a big wine menu?

AS: First, don’t freak out. Wine can be very intimidating. Ask the sommelier or server what they’d recommend—they know their cuisine and what matches. I often tell them my price range and that gives them a lead. Sometimes it’s a miss, but so what? It’ll be a learning experience.

DB: If you’re in doubt and have no wine server to help you out, pick something from Italy. You can’t go wrong.

Does price always correspond to quality?

AS: Not necessarily! There can be some really good wines for less money.

DB: There are some real gems to be found in the $10 to $15 category, but I think you get truer, more interesting wines in that $15 to $25 price range. That is where the action is for good, tasty, authentic sense-of- place wines that show off the terroir.

Do you have any advice on pairing wine with different grilled food?

AS: I prefer uncomplicated wines with grilled food, as you’re pairing with many different types of flavors, from beef to sausages to vegetables. Often for me that means Côtes du Rhône’s, Beaujolais, and Trousseau’s from the Jura.

DB: The old “white with fish and red with meat” adage is long over. Pinot Noir and grilled salmon are perfect together. Rose goes with everything. And a good ole’ California Zinfandel makes BBQ sing.

Whites are traditionally considered “summer wines.” If we’d like to enjoy red wines in the summer, what should we look for?

AS: I look for lighter style of red with a lower alcohol level and a more refreshing acid level. Tannins should be on the softer side. I particularly enjoy Beaujolais and delicate Pinot Noirs.

DB: Something with no oak aging or as little as you can find.

Is it acceptable to chill red wine?

DB: True cellar temperature, or the temperature you should drink red wine, is about 65 degrees. Our homes are about 75. So you should feel free to chill reds, but no longer than 15 to 20 minutes in your refrigerator. If they’re on ice, 5 to 10 should do it. Of course, the ultimate chilled red wine is sangria. Put that great summer produce to good use!

AS: Absolutely, I do this all the time. In the summer I serve lighter reds chilled, around 55 degrees.

How long will a bottle last after it’s been opened? Any tips on extending its life?

AS: Whites, generally the maximum is one day. Reds can be a bit better depending on the style. Sweet wines, port and Madeira can last much longer—up to a year.

DB: Wine is like perfume, in that when it’s left open the bouquet escapes, and the nose is a lot of what we actually taste when we drink wine. The best and most economical way to seal wine is a plastic pump with a stopper that sucks out oxygen. But it’s also just okay to stick the cork back in the bottle!

Can aerators improve the taste of a wine?

AS: I’d rather work with a decanter, or let the wine open up in the glass itself so I can taste how the wine evolves as it does so.

DB: They can work well for really young, heavy, fat-rich-super-round reds which are in vogue in a lot of wine circles. It gets some air to them, opens them up, makes them drinkable quickly.

Is the shape of the wine glass actually that important?

AS: I take this topic seriously. For example, many popular types of champagne today are more vinous [share some of wine’s properties] than they used to be. You’ll experience more if you drink them from a wine glass, because they’ll change over time in your glass—a flute would cage the flavors. See it this way: drinking from the right glass is like listening to music from the newest, most modern speaker, versus a speaker from 1960.

What’s the best way to enjoy a glass of wine outside, short of solo cups?

DB: There are some great unbreakable wine glasses out there right now, especially those by Govino. They’re the perfect size for a full glass, fit into the hand well, and they’re stemless. But in certain settings, I’ll be the first to say nothing really works as well as a solo cup.

What are five wines we should be drinking this summer?

DB: You won’t go wrong with any of these.

  1. Monte Velho Alentejano by Esporao, $12: Food-friendly Portuguese white wine from a 700 year old winery. Beautiful nose and mouthfeel; if you like Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay this is a great alternative.
  2. Charles and Charles WA State Rose, $12: A dry rose packed with strawberry, raspberry and Bing cherry notes. Rose wines are HOT; this one-over delivers for the $12 you pay.
  3. Gruet Blanc de Noirs, $16: One of our best selling sparkling wines, and made in New Mexico no less! Rich and toasty, aged about 2 years, a pale salmon color. Great sparkler for picnics, cookouts and nights on the deck.
  4. Domitia Picpoul de Pinet, $11: This should be your go-to summer white. From the South of France. Nearly crystal clear, delicate nose, nice minerality. Crisp and refreshing! For sipping and seafood.
  5. Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva, $18: From a 100-year-old estate in Sardinia, Italia, this pick is a gorgeous ruby color with a plummy mouthfeel. Great food match for grilled meats, especially rosemary chicken or lamb chops.

All picks are available at Whole Foods wine stores, nationwide

AS:

  1. Chablis, Drouhin Vaudon, France 2013, $22
  2. Riesling Eins Zwei Dry, Rheingau, Germany 2013, $16
  3. Grüner Veltliner, Gobelsburger, Schloss Gobelsburg, Kamptal, Austria 2013, $15
  4. Albariño, Ca’ del Solo, Bonny Doon, California 2013
  5. Pinot Bianco, Cantina Terlan, Italy 2013, $18

All picks are available in wine stores nationwide.