11 of the best summer wines

A glass of white wine and a bottle on a rustic chair in a summer garden, plant pots in the background

It’s summer, the weather is beautiful, you have friends and family coming over for an outdoor gathering, what’s the best wine to drink? In general, the best wines for summer are crisp, bright, fresh and fruit forward. We eat more salads, grilled meats, fish and vegetables in the summer season, so you want wines that go well with these foods.

For whites, this means Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio, Grüner Vetliner, Riesling, an unoaked Chardonnay or an Albariño. These wines are all higher in acid, light to medium in body, and have notes of apple, citrus, pear and stone fruits. Many summer whites tend to be lower in alcohol too, which can be to your advantage when it’s hot outside.

Rosé is a perfect wine to drink on a warm summer evening, as is a fresh sparkling wine. Try Champagne, Prosecco, Cava, or choose something more local. For example, they’re making great sparkling wines in California, Oregon, New Mexico and the Finger Lakes region of Upper State New York. If you’re in the UK, England is producing some of the best sparkling wines in the world these days, with major Champagne houses from France buying up land in the South East to take advantage of the climate and chalky soil.

When it comes to the best red wines for summer, we recommend Pinot Noir and Beaujolais. If you’re hosting a barbecue and serving spicy food like ribs and chicken wings, pair these dishes with a wine that can handle the heat, for example a Barbera, Chianti Classico, Rioja, California Zinfandel, or a Syrah / Shiraz.

And if it’s not spice but high temperatures you’re worried about, be sure you’re keeping your wine cool and out of direct sunlight. This is the case for reds as well as whites. Last but not least, it’s best to serve your wine in the right glass. If you’re hosting an outside event and glass stemware isn’t an option, avoid certain kinds of disposable cups that can introduce notes of plastic to your drink.

Learn more about soft vs. hard plastic cups and find our best tips for keeping wine cool further down in this article.

Hand holding a glass of white wine against a white kitchen cabinet background

The 7 best white wines for summer

1. Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc is a popular white wine that can have a lot of citrus flavors. Sauvignon Blanc is bright, crisp and has high acidity, so you can drink it on its own or pair it with food. The higher acidity in this wine gives you the freshness you’re after in the summer and most restaurants will have it by the glass. Try a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, the Loire region, Bordeaux, the United States, South Africa, or Chile. Just keep in mind, each country and region produces wines in a slightly different style. A Sauvignon Blanc from Bordeaux will have Sémillon and oak aging which would go well with grilled chicken or a fig and brie salad. A Sancerre from the Loire will be unoaked and have mineral notes that pair best with shellfish. Even a lower priced Sauvignon Blanc is usually well made and of good value, just check the bottle to make sure you’re buying a fresh, current vintage.

2. Riesling

Riesling is a versatile white wine that pairs well with grilled meats, including chicken, pork, and lamb. It’s a wine with high acidity that can have notes of green and golden apple, and citrus. Some Rieslings are bone dry, while others can have a touch of fruitiness and sweetness to them. What’s unique about Riesling is it’s a white that goes well with spicy foods and even beef. It’s also low in alcohol which makes it one of the best wines for summer. A lot of the Riesling you’ll see at the store comes from Germany, Austria, and the Alsace region. Washington State in the United States and Australia are also making Rieslings that are very much so worth a try. Note, you can drink Riesling as a white table wine but some of the later harvest wines from Austria and Germany also make wonderful dessert wines.

3. Sparkling wine

The reason sparkling wine is such a perfect wine to drink in summer is it’s fresh, has effervescence and you always drink it cold or chilled. These wines are light and bright. They can go with almost anything you’re serving, from grilled chicken to cold dips and tortilla chips. They also work if you want to toast a special occasion and are the best wine to have on hand for a summer birthday celebration. When it comes to sparkling wine, you have a lot of options. A bottle of Champagne may be at the higher end of your budget but a lower-priced sparkling wine, like Cava from Spain, can be just as good. These wines range from dry and crisp, to sweet, but if you’re looking for something that pairs well with food, make sure the label says Brut or Extra Dry. Note, Brut is actually the drier of the two.

4. Pinot Gris / Grigio

A glass of white wine on a wooden table with a plate of tomatoes and a bowl of cherries and lemons

Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the same wine made from the same grape, they just have different names. Grigio comes from Italian and Gris is French. While producers of this wine in France and Italy stick to their respective languages, you’ll find the names are used interchangeably in New World country production. For example, California tends to call this wine Pinot Grigio and Oregon tends to call it Pinot Gris. Confusing? Definitely, but don’t let this deter you. These wines are lighter in body, have fruit forward flavors and good acidity, which makes them some of the best summer wines you can find. They’re a perfect option if you just want a drinking wine but they also go well with food, especially white meats like chicken and pork.

5. Chardonnay

Chardonnay is a wine that goes especially well with shrimp, scallops, and crab, which are all popular summer foods. Stick with a light to medium bodied Chardonnay with moderate or no oak aging, unless lobster is on the menu. If you are having lobster, a buttery and rich Chardonnay pairs best. The United States, South Africa, France and Australia produce some great Chardonnays. These wines can have notes of citrus and green apple. An Old World Chardonnay, like an unoaked Chablis or a bottle from the Mâcon region can have minerality and bright acidity, which means it will pair well with salads.

6. Grüner Vetliner

Grüner Vetliner is a grape native to Austria. It’s a white wine that’s medium bodied, has great acidity and can have notes of white pepper, pear, and asparagus. It’s light to medium gold in color and you’ll find it can be anywhere from $15 to $35 a bottle. This is one of the best wines to drink if you’re having sushi.

7. Albariño / Alvarinho

Albariño is a white wine produced in the North West of Spain and Alvarinho is a wine that comes from neighboring Portugal. These are both lighter wines made from grapes grown closer to the sea. This gives them salty notes. They also have flavors of stone fruits and finish with some great acidity and freshness. You’ll find Albariños and Alvarinhos are medium bodied and pair best with summer dishes like Paella, and other food with complex flavors.

Other Italian whites

From the Northern regions of Alto Adige, Friuli and Piedmont, to the slopes of Sicily’s Mount Etna, Italy makes some of the best wines for summer. In Alto Adige you can find smaller production Sauvignon Blanc, Friulano, which is an indigenous grape variety, and Pinot Bianco. These wines are mostly unoaked, light in body, high in acid and have bright tangy flavors. Gavi is another white from Piedmont with good citrus notes, and you should try Arneis as well. In the past 25 years, wine production in Sicily has gone through a renaissance of sorts and Sicily is now making some beautiful white and red wines. Look for a Mount Etna Bianco, which is made from the Caricante grape variety, or a wine called Grillo.

Why Rosé should be on the top of your summer wine list

Rosé is a wine typically associated with summer and there’s a reason for that. It’s fresh and crisp, and you always drink it chilled. You’ll find some Rosé is on the lighter side, but Rosé can also be a fuller bodied wine with a taste profile more akin to a bottle of red. The southern Provence region in France makes beautiful and dry Rosé with good acidity and minerality. The Italian Rosé Cerasullo d’Abruzzo has a pale red color and cherry flavors. Spain, Portugal and the United States produce Rosé ranging from dry, to medium dry and crisp. Because Rosés are aged on their skins for a certain period of time, they have more flavors in them. This means they go well with all types of summer food.

Wine that goes with herbs and edible flowers on focaccia bread dough

The 3 best summer reds

  1. Pinot Noir — Pinot Noir is a wine that’s light to medium in body. It’s best served slightly chilled so its fruit flavors become more prominent. You can find Pinot Noir from France, California, the Willamette Valley in Oregon, and New Zealand. Germany is also now making some notable Pinot Noirs. Drink a Pinot Noir on its own or serve it with oilier fish, like salmon, tuna or swordfish.
  2. BeaujolaisWhether it’s a Beaujolais, Beaujolais Village, or a Beaujolais ”Cru” these wines all make perfect summer reds. They have notes of cherry and raspberry and are especially good when chilled, which helps to bring out their fruit flavors. Beaujolais is a wine from France that’s typically enjoyed young and pairs with everything from salads to grilled chicken and fish.
  3. Barbera — Barbera is a red wine from the Northern Piedmont region of Italy. It can be called Barbera d’Alba or Barbera d’Asti. When you’re choosing a summer red, you want a lighter style wine that isn’t over oaked. Barbera has great acidity and is light to medium in body with cherry notes. It’s a perfect glass of wine to have with barbecue food and also complements oilier fish, like salmon and tuna.

Tips for serving wine in the summer

Summer can present a challenge if the temperature is high and you’re planning to drink your wine in an open space, like a beachy shoreline, a grassy lawn or even a boat deck where cooler spots are hard to come by. In general, you want to keep your wine chilled. The reason for this is that when wines, both red and white, warm up you’ll taste more of the alcohol than the fruit, and the complex profile you originally chose the wine for becomes less prominent.

White, rosé and sparkling wines can be kept in the fridge, in a cooler or in an ice bucket. You’ll often read that red wines should be served at room temperature but what that really means is they are best from 58-65 degrees Fahrenheit. If it’s too warm out, the reds you’re drinking will lose their fruity notes and so you want to lightly chill red summer wines as well.

Also, consider you may be serving wine outside and you won’t always be able to use the right glassware. If you need to use plastic glasses, make sure they are made from a hard, not a soft plastic. Soft plastics will alter the flavors and aromatics of the wine you’re serving.

Lastly, whether it’s white, rosé or red, it’s best to keep your wines out of direct sunlight. This means seeking out a shaded area, or just throwing a dish towel over the bottle when shade isn’t an option.

Eating out when it’s hot

If you go out for dinner in the summer, you’ll sometimes find that bars and restaurants can be quite warm inside. Cooking food requires heat so even if there’s air conditioning or a fan, it’s possible temperatures are still high. If this is the case and the restaurant isn’t keeping their red wines in a fridge, the wines can get too hot. That’s why when ordering reds in warmer months, always touch the bottle or even the glass before drinking. You may expect your server to use an ice bucket for a bottle of white or rosé, but don’t be shy about asking them to chill your red wine as well. You want it to be on ice for at least 15 minutes before drinking, depending on how warm it is. Learn more about keeping red wine cool in this article.

If you’re hosting a barbecue

We’ve talked about some of the best summer wines to complement spicy food, including Riesling, Albariño, Alvarinho, and Barbera, but you can also serve a Chianti or a Chianti Classico if you’re hosting a summer cookout. These wines are made predominantly from the Sangiovese grape and are higher in acid with prominent fruit flavors. They go especially well with ribs, sausages, and grilled chicken.

Zinfandel is one of the oldest grape varietals grown in California and its prominent fruit flavors make it another good choice for barbecue food. Just take note that Zinfandels can be quite high in alcohol so try to choose wines on the lower end of the alcohol percentage spectrum.

A Syrah, which is called Shiraz in Australia, is a summer red that pairs well with marinated meats. You could also serve grenache based wines from the Southern Rhône, Languedoc, and Provence regions, or Riojas from Spain. If you go with Rioja, try the Crianza designation which tends to be younger and fresher, and have less oak aging, making this wine an ideal accompaniment to grilled meats with a bit of heat.

  • Wine roundup

Freddy is a retired wine professional and wine educator who was Vice President of the sixth largest wine importer and wholesaler in the United States for over 40 years. He currently works as a wine consultant and collaborates with his daughter to write articles that help people learn about wine.

Brian Keeping

Brian Keeping

Brian is an avid wine enthusiast and wine educator who has spent 45+ years in the fine wine industry. From 1975 to 1994 he was part owner and sales director of Silenus Wines and from 1994 to 2021 served as Fine Wine Director at Carolina Wines & Spirits.

Write a Comment

  • Derek alias Mr Riesling
    Derek alias Mr Riesling

    a fine pair of wine connoisseurs, Freddy & Brian, no longer biased (!) by trade connections, but biased by authentic wines, and looking forward to meeting you guys again next February

    • Freddy Cicerchia
      Freddy Cicerchia

      We’ll have an article coming up this December on German wines — can’t wait to get your feedback!

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