Summer wine guide

Know your Semillon from your Sav Blanc this summer.
Know your Semillon from your Sav Blanc this summer.  Photo: Getty Images

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Australian summers were made for wine. Balmy evenings, sun-drenched beach picnics, al fresco lunches and barefoot barbecues all call for the perfect drop.

With so many reasons to sip, and Christmas celebrations right in the middle too, it's useful to know your way around a selection of summer-suited wines. So how to find your perfect picks?

"A great summer wine, like any, must complement the meal, surroundings and environment," says Richard Kemp, general manager of Sydney's The Gantry Bar and Restaurant. "A formal setting might suit a more opulent Chablis or aged chardonnay, whereas a picnic - maybe a cheeky rosé."

Grape expectations

Although there's no single definition of a perfect summer wine, some varietals suit the season better. Instead of bold, rich, tannic wines, seek out light-bodied reds, whites and rosés with a fruit-forward profile and plenty of acidity for a more refreshing, crisp flavour. Generally, cool climates and high altitude tend to produce higher acidity.

Long summer days can encourage extended sipping sessions, so it makes sense to go easier on the alcohol. A lower ABV (alcohol by volume) – ideally below 12 percent - is your friend for summer wine.

Time on oak makes for heavier wines, so opt for un-oaked whites to keep things light. Most sauvignon blancs and the Spanish varietal albarino usually evade the oak; un-oaked chardonnay is far more summer-friendly than its big, buttery oaked incarnation, and a lean, citrusy un-oaked Hunter Valley Semillon is pure summer in a bottle. Cool climate, early picked verdehlo is another refreshing dry wine with a delicious, approachable tropical fruit character made for beach and poolside.

Summer is the perfect time to opt for a lighter, fruitier white for afternoon drinks.

Summer is the perfect time to opt for a lighter, fruitier white for afternoon drinks. Photo: Getty Images

While the majority of red wines are aged in oak, some varietals are decidedly lighter in character; look for pinot noir, gamay (the grape behind young, easy-drinking Beaujolais Nouveau), grenache and merlot. Among these lighter reds are some less-familiar varietals worth exploring in summer, such as graciano, barbera and dolcetto.

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"In the Aussie climate, I think interesting varietals work well with our diverse cuisine," says Richard Kemp.

Perfect pairings

It's Australian summer personified: fresh, succulent seafood, and a wine that makes those ocean flavours sing.

Freshly shucked oysters pair beautifully with summer-friendly crisp, un-oaked whites; try a Marlborough sauvignon blanc, Hunter Valley semillon or a Clare Valley riesling.

Scallops, sashimi and shellfish love riesling too, with Eden Valley and Clare Valley delivering ideal dryness, acidity and citrus. Grilled fish dishes marry well with medium-bodied pinot grigio, marsanne or vermentino.

Seafood is partial to pink, too, with a rosé style for every type. Lively, vibrant cabernet sauvignon rosé finds its match in zestier dishes, and a delicately dry grenache rosé marries nicely with simply cooked or raw shellfish.

Matching the right wine to seafood – or any dish – says Richard Kemp, is best done with the cooking style in mind. "I would match a wine depending on what you are serving with the seafood. For example, if you were to serve a creamy mayo with prawns I would pair a chardonnay, or if you used something lighter, maybe a Grüner Veltliner."

Match your seafood with the perfect wine this Summer to make your senses sing.

Matching summer dishes with the perfect wine will make your senses sing. Photo: Getty Images. 

Barbecues provide plenty of opportunity to break out those reds. Sangiovese suits the barbie's charcoal notes, while soft, fruity merlot loves roasted and grilled meats, and a sparkling shiraz is a festive go-to for a reason: it's the perfect companion for white meats and roasts while the chill and bubbles mitigate its heavier notes.

The chill factor

The old rule about serving reds at room temperature has been cast aside, and wine experts will tell you that many reds chill beautifully.

"I like to have chilled reds with my barbecue," says Richard Kemp. "Wines such as pinot noir, Argentinian bonarda or sparkling reds all work really well."

But be mindful that not all reds like it cold. Big bold wines with heavy tannins – cabernet sauvignon or malbec - will turn bitter as they cool down. And this isn't beer, so cool shouldn't mean icy. The best temperature for a chilled red is a moderate 15-18 degrees, easily achieved with just 20 minutes in the fridge.

"Also, remember that lighter whites should be kept colder than full-bodied ones," says Richard Kemp.

A sparkling summer

There's never a bad time for bubbles, but summer really suits the celebratory nature of Champagne, Prosecco or an Australian sparkling wine. Richard Kemp likes to match his bubbles to the mood. "I'd choose Champagne with fine beads for a more formal dining situation and then some lively Aussie bubbles or Prosecco mixed with some cordials (blood orange, passionfruit, lemongrass) with ice, fresh fruit and herbs – refreshing and delicious!"

Bubbles suit summer's sweeter moments, too, he says. "Sparkling Brachetto is lovely with berry-based desserts."

Sydney's The Gantry Bar and Restaurant is part of the Citibank Dining Program. By paying with your Citi card at The Gantry or at hundreds of other partner restaurants across Australia, you can enjoy a free bottle of wine when you dine.