When the heat is on, you're tempted to turn to white or rose wines, but when there's beef on the barbecue, you'll still want red. What makes a good summer red? I look for lighter, fruit-driven wines that don't mind spending 20 minutes or so in the fridge. They still need enough umph to hold up to brisket or burgers, so slightly richer wines will work as well, so long as they are well-balanced and offer enough acidity to carry the fruit. What doesn't work? Wines with a tannic bite or big, jammy fruit. Save those for the fall. Here are the panel's top three summer picks:
2011 Domaine Cabirau Cotes du Roussillon, $15.99
In this wine, 70 percent old vine grenache is blended with syrah and carignan in order to meet the requirements for carrying the Roussillon appellation. You get dark red fruit on the nose along with earthy vanilla and anise. It's on the bigger side of the summer red spectrum, but it's nicely balanced with only the softest hint of tannin. This wine begs for barbecue.
2010 Idilico Graciano, $21
Washington winemaker Javier Alfonso brings an Old World sensibility to his Spanish varietal label, Idilico. I love this graciano with its intriguing black pepper and lively raspberry aromas. The flavors are just as interesting, offering an irresistible core of red berry fruit, backed by touches of cracked pepper and olive oil-laced, heirloom tomato. This wine is deliciously different.
2012 Ryan Patrick Vineyard Redhead Red, $9.99
This Washington blend leads off with merlot at 88 percent, adding 10 percent primitivo and 2 percent malbec. On the nose, it has appealing cherry cola notes with touches of spice and red licorice. Sweet cherry carries through on the palate, as well, with a silky texture and a smooth finish. A fruit-driven effort that should take to a chill nicely, this wine is definitely a great value.