Different wine varieties.
Not a white wine fan? Ralph Kyte-Powell suggests some reds for summer. Photo: Marina Oliphant

Imagine this. It's hot. You're at a table under an umbrella on a summer afternoon. Barbecued steaks and sausages overflow from serving plates, salads and breads surround them – traditional Aussie warm-weather bounty.

Then your hosts serve full-bodied red wines. They smell fumey and headachey, they taste hot, numbing, overwhelming. For welded-on big red fans there's nothing wrong with this scenario, but for some it's a bit much. We love red wine and lots of the foods we love demand it, but the idea of big reds in summer weather is daunting.

The rise of rose

Pinot Noir grapes for Sparkling Wine at the Cobboboonee Vineyard near Heywood
A throttled-back red suitable for summer ... pinot noir. Photo: Leanne Pickett

Fortunately for those who don't want to deny themselves their red wine there are alternatives. Let's start with rose. This pink drop is enjoying a renaissance, but is it really red wine? Grape varieties such as pinot noir, shiraz, cabernet and grenache contribute aromatic and flavour characteristics more like red than white, and modern, dry rose usually shares some of the presence and structure of red wines, but written with a lighter hand. Chill them, but don't freeze them to death, and you have a great summerweight substitute for many red wine situations.

Recommendations:

Longview Boat Shed Nebbiolo Rose 2012, $19

Montevecchio Rose 2012, $22

All about the alcohol

The thought of drinking rose will give some red fans the shudders, but it is possible to enjoy full-flavoured reds without being weighed down. A good clue to the type of red to look for is the alcohol content written on the label. Taking 14 per cent alcohol as top strength is a good idea. It may not seem like much, but a 14 per cent red is a lot less aggressive-tasting than one that comes in at 15 per cent. Drop the figure to 13 per cent and your red becomes fresher still. These wines still carry intensity and they are decidedly food-friendly, even with the big, charry meats coming off the barbecue.

Recommendations:

De Bortoli Vat 9 Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, $12

Caillard Mataro 2010, $45

Vary the variety

Some red grape varieties lend themselves to the idea of summer drinking more than others. Pinot noir provides the sort of throttled-back red that suits summer situations, and shiraz and cabernet sauvignon need not deliver sledgehammer blows if they come from cooler regions. Look to southern Victoria, the New South Wales highlands, Tasmania, South Australian high country, and WA's far south for intense, satisfying red wines that won't weigh you down.

Recommendations:

Climbing Merlot 2010, $23

Wantirna Estate Amelia Cabernet Merlot 2010, $67

Head overseas

There are a lot of imported wine types that fit the summer equation nicely, especially from the warmer Mediterranean regions. These wines are designed for summer climates a bit like Australia's. French Cotes-du-Rhone, reds from Catalonia in Spain, Italian sangiovese, dolcetto, barbera and nero d'avola. As with all European wines, quality varies widely, so seek advice from our reviews at www.goodfood.com.au or ask a reputable wine merchant to help you.

Recommendations:

Mandoleto Nero d'Avola 2011, $12

Parnasse Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, $12

The chill factor

Another factor that can determine how well red wines perform in summer is the serving temperature. Red should be served at room temperature, but what is that in Australia when the thermometer is in the 30s?

“Room temperature” for red wines means about 15-18 degrees. To achieve this there's nothing wrong with popping your reds in the fridge for 10-15 minutes. It's amazing what a difference a light chill can make, but remember cold is the enemy of aroma and flavour in wine, so be careful. If you overdo it just wait until the wine warms up.

This brings us to red wines designed to take a chill. These are usually fruity (but not sweet) reds with low tannins. Many lighter Australian pinot noirs can stand this treatment without losing personality, and the benchmark is French beaujolais. Made using the carbonic maceration method that doesn't extract harsh tannins and extracts from the gamay grapes, good beaujolais is a joy in hot weather, and with the strong Australian dollar it can be a real bargain.

Recommendations:

De Bortoli Windy Peak Pinot Noir 2011, $14

TarraWarra Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, $59

Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages 2011, $18

Eldridge Estate PTG 2012, $25

Which red wines do you drink over summer? Share your recommendations using the comment function below.