WHATEVER YOU'RE DOING this summer, you'll want to drink wine while doing it—so naturally you'll reach for a crisp white, a juicy rosé, or a local Pinot for grilled meat. But wait! While these are judicious choices, there's a world of other grape varietals, regions, and styles to explore that offer value and a chance to try something different.
While whites and rosés are obvious for hotter months, there's a lot of mileage in reds—especially if chilled. Adam Hobbs, co-owner and wine buyer for 1856, a bottle shop and bar, believes reds are often served too warm anyway (he likes to chill a bottle in the fridge 20 minutes before serving). But when it's hot out, lighter-bodied reds (such as Pinot Noir, gamay, and dolcetto) are better chilled. He recommends steering clear of big, dark reds with lots of tannin; heavy oak is also weird when it's hot. Add a dash of soda water for a refreshing red wine spritzer, which dilutes the alcohol, and assists in your all-day drinking adventures.
There are options beyond the trinity of red/white/rosé—Mimi Martin, director at the Wine and Spirit Archive (a wine school with a great bottle shop) drinks bubbles all summer. "People tend to think of it as a drink for the holidays, but served chilled, bubbles are great with seafood and vegetables," she says. They are also good with hard-to-pair dishes like tomato salad.
For something truly alternative, though, try sherry. A cold, bone-dry fino sherry is delicious and refreshing on a hot day (sherry, after all, comes from Jerez, in hot 'n' dry southwestern Spain). Sherries come in so many different styles, they'll pair with anything—though the terminology and classifications can be a bit tricky. However, Cheryl Wakerhauser—owner of Pix/Bar Vivant and the sherry authority in Portland—breaks down sherry pairing like so: if it swims, match with a fino; if it flies, try with a heavier-style amontillado; and if it runs, go with a fuller and darker oloroso. Just remember, sherry is fortified wine with 15-plus percent alcohol, depending on the style: "less, more often," suggests Wakerhauser, who sticks to two-ounce pours.
Jordanov Rkaciteli, Macedonia, NV
Rkaciteli is one of the oldest but least-known grapes (over here, anyway), and produces delightfully bright whites with a complex palate (fennel, marzipan, and stone and tropical fruits). It's good with seafood, while the acid goes well with vinegar-based salads. $12, New Seasons
TeSóAria, Vermentino, Southern Oregon, 2013
Vermentino is found predominantly in Sardinia and Northern Italy, and this Southern Oregon version is fruity and off-dry—though balanced with acid so it's not cloying. Pair with something spicy (spiced chicken or blackened tuna), summer fruits, or heavier cheeses. $27, TeSóAria, 4003 N Williams
Domaine du Pas Saint Martin, Anjou la Gabillarde, France, 2012
A dry Chenin Blanc from the Loire region that's fresh, appley, and acidic, which makes it a match for buttery foods, grilled vegetables such as asparagus, and barbecued salmon. $18, Everyday Wine, 1520 NE Alberta
Colonia Las Liebres, Bonarda, Mendoza, Argentina, 2013
Made from 100 percent bonarda, which is Argentina's second-most planted grape. There's plenty of dark fruit on the palate and a touch of rusticity, but it's fresh and balanced, and less powerful than a malbec. It's a superb value, and excellent with burgers, sausages, and briskets. Serve slightly chilled. $10.50, Wine and Spirit Archive, 828 SE Ash
Jean-Marie Rimbert, Cousin Oscar, France, NV
From the warm Languedoc-Roussillon region, this red made from cinsault makes for a great barbecue wine or a summer afternoon sipper—floral and fruity with an underlying layer of vanilla, it has structure but is easy drinking and light in alcohol (11.5 percent). Best served chilled. $15, 1856, 1465 NE Prescott
Monasterio de Corias, Seis Octavos, Spain, 2011
One of the few wines from the Asturias region in Northern Spain (better known for its cider), this is a lively, light-bodied red made from indigenous grapes, and it works well as an aperitif and also lends itself to grilled vegetables and lighter meats, such as lamb. $18, 1856
Seufert Winery,Horseleap Vineyard, Gamay Noir, Willamette Valley, OR, 2012
Gamay has some of the same strawberry and cherry flavors as Pinot Noir, though it tends to be lighter. Most famously found in Beaujolais, this local example is bright and soft. Try with poultry, or even cherry pie. $18, Everyday Wine
Antica Tenuta del Nanfro, Frappato, Italy, 2012
Frappato is a light-bodied red widely grown in Sicily that has a wonderful floral aroma and tastes of red fruit and berries... but it also has some tannin to give it backbone. Great with seafood—grilled marinated tuna, for example—and semi-mature cheeses. $21, 1856
Rosés and Bubbles
Renardat-Fache, Cerdon de Bugey, France
A low alcohol (7.5 percent) pink bubbly made from gamay and poulsard grapes that makes an ideal dessert wine—it's slightly sweet with lots of fresh berry and floral notes. Pair with a berry tart, cheese, or chocolate. Serve cold. $23, Wine and Spirit Archive
Clos Cibonne, Tibouren, Côtes de Provence, France, 2012
A rosé from the south of France, but one made with the lesser-known tibouren grape (with a dash of grenache) and it is stunning—orange blossom and red fruit layered with rich savory notes, and a saline feel (the vineyard is close to the Mediterranean). Serve chilled (but not cold) with barbecue, or just share with appreciative friends. $28, 1856
Roederer Estate, Brut, Anderson Valley, CA
A sparkling wine produced by a champagne house in California, made from chardonnay and Pinot Noir—recommended by Wine and Spirit Archive's Mimi Martin as her go-to summer bubbles, as it's made with the Champagne method for half the price of the real thing, and can be picked up almost anywhere. $25, Wine and Spirit Archive, also at most supermarkets
Garofoli, Guelfo Verde Vino Frizzante, Italy, 2012
If you're more of the "lying in the backyard pool" kind of guy/gal, this gently sparkling wine is for you—plenty of green apple, citrus zest, minerality, and acid. Very refreshing, and at a great price. $10, New Seasons
Hijos de Rainera Perez Marin, La Guita, Manzanilla
Manzanilla is a fino-style sherry aged in the town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda—it's relatively light and fresh, and because it's aged by the sea, it's a great match for seafood. Serve chilled. $14 (half bottle), Bar Vivant, 2225 E Burnside
Fernando de Castilla, Amontillado Antique
Heavier than finos, amontillado sherries tend to be yeasty and nutty; this example is complex, with tangy, citrus fruit and dried herb notes, and has a long, luxurious finish. Pairs nicely with chicken, or serve as a special aperitif. $48, Bar Vivant