ere’s an admission from an Italian wine lover: Sometimes I set aside conventions and just drink what I’m craving. Sure, I love heavenly pairings: Lambrusco and Parmesan, say, or a Picolit with blue cheese. But there are times when pairings and contrivance just don’t matter. Maybe you’re just cooking dinner and hanker for a glass of Franciacorta or a Cerasuolo di Vittoria.
Another thing: Wine doesn’t have a season. I have friends, family and clients who drink red all year round no matter what. Pleading with them gets you nowhere. At the same time, I know just as many wine lovers who without fail drink white in summer and red in winter.
My own approach is pretty simple: I drink what I want, when I want, putting season and protocol aside. Wine is like food. While it’s meant as nourishment, it’s also a pleasure. Why always play by the rules?
Yet some do.
My red-loving friends, the ones that ignore whites, see summer as a time to move to lighter, brighter, livelier and fruitier reds with moderate levels of alcohol and tannins. Tannins confuse some people. To understand it, consider the taste and feel of cold black unsweetened tea. Wine produces that same filmy feeling. You get an astringent sensation as if your mouth’s drying out. Technically, tannin is a naturally occurring acidic substance that comes from the skins, stalks and seeds of grapes. The more tannin, the more astringent the wine, not exactly what a sweltering day needs.
Summer red diehards — the ones who won’t pour a sparkling wine with fried calamari even on the hottest, most humid days — should at least pick fruitier and lighter wines with low-to-moderate alcohol content (13 percent and below), light-to-medium body and low-to-medium tannins. They’re easier on the palate.
Chill your red for about 15 minutes before serving. An ice water bath is just as good as a refrigerator.
As for which wines to pick, here are five favorites for sweltering summer days and nights.
— Barbera: This versatile Piedmont wine can be young and fruity or vibrant and rich. Barbera has low to medium tannins and a fruity personality (blackberries, black and red cherries and plums). It’s delicious with pasta, pizza, hamburgers, or a BBQ. Look for wines from Alba, Asti and Monferrato. • Recommendation: Carussin, Barbera d’Asti, Lia Vi 2013 (13%) €13.
— Frappato: My summer favorite, this light-to-medium bodied Sicilian red is bright and fresh with low tannins. Flavor-wise, you’ll pick up on wild strawberries, spices and minerals. Frappato is ideal with young soft cheese like ricotta, pastas with tomato sauce and sausages, BBQs or an Italian Sunday lunch. Look for wines from Vittoria. • Recommendation: Occhipinti, Frappato 2013 (13%) €20.
— Freisa: This light-to-medium bodied wine hails from Piedmont and Valle d’Aosta. It’s low in alcohol content and rich in color with medium to high tannins. Expect to taste cassis, strawberries and violets. Freisa pairs well with charcuterie, Italian cured meats and prosciutto with melon. It also goes well with braised beef, light chicken and pork. The Cascina Gilli winery in Basso Monferrato has three 100 percent Freisa wines in its line up. Try one of the lighter options: Luna di Maggio, Freisa d’Asti 2013 (13%) €9 or Il Forno, Freisa d’Asti 2013 (13%) €10.
— Lambrusco: No, not the bubblegum-flavored fizzy wine that sold millions of bottles in the American 1970s and 1980s. Authentic Emilia-Romagna Lambrusco is dry, earthy and slightly bitter, with raspberry, strawberry and violet aromas. It’s great for summer outings and perfect, as mentioned, with Parmesan or mortadella as well as with pizza and sausages. • Recommendation: Vigneto Saetti, Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce IGP 2013 (11.5%) €20.
— Valpolicella: Adaptable Valpolicella, from Veneto, is made primarily from the Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella grape varities. Medium-to-high acidity and low-to-medium tannins make it extremely food friendly. Think black and red cherries and herbs with almond hints. Pour yourself a glass with a plate of risotto made with gorgonzola or enjoy it with pasta, pizza or sausages. Try a producer like Antolini. • Recommendation: Valpolicella DOC Classico 2013 (12.5%) €15.