Leave the white tablecloth and five-star wines safe in storage until autumn winds blow our dining indoors. Summer is time for finger-lickin' grilling and barbecues with wines that require minimum effort to enjoy.
In general, avoid cellar-worthy reds with firm tannin that tastes hard and bitter against the smoke, sugar and spice flavors of summer. Turn instead to fruit-forward reds, including domestic Zinfandel and Petite Sirah grapes, and regions including southern France, southern Italy and the Iberian Peninsula.
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Ross choice"Embers" Red
• Suggested retail and availability: About $15.99 at Whole Foods Markets, Mariano's and wine and spirits shops (distributed by Haus Wine & Spirits, Elmhurst)
The next phase of user-friendly packaging arrives with the Bonfire wine pouch. Perfect to grab and go to the beach, barbecue or music festival -- anywhere that glass is verboten. Also great to store on the counter or in the 'fridge (I enjoy Embers chilled), for easy enjoyment without the hassle of a cork or sticky twist-off top. With no oxygen contact, wine stays fresh three weeks after opening. Most important, from the dozens of wines in alternative packs this reporter has tasted, Bonfire is the most well-made and most delicious -- a juicy Petite Sirah blend with berry-licious flavors, mocha accents and plush texture. Reduce your carbon footprint from glass bottles by 80 percent and increase your wine-drinking enjoyment 10-fold with Bonfire.
Portugal has made a successful play to win over U.S. cognoscenti, with wines trickling onto wine lists and retail shelves. Indigenous grapes including Touriga Nacional and Tinto Roriz -- once known only for Port, Portugal's fortified wine -- now win fans for meaty, plummy flavors in dry reds. Favorites include the extra-value Charamba (under $10) and Alem, a Syrah-Touriga Nacional blend with plush texture and complexity beyond its $16.99 shelf price. Unless labeled "Reserva', choose wines from 2010 and younger.
This year's popularity of dry Rosť has surprised even the wine trade, who used to have to drink up remaining stock at summer's end. With ripe berry fruit, spicy accents, brisk acidity and delicate tannin, dry Rosť complements simple to spicy grilled meals and barbecues.
Spain's Rosť -- labeled Rosado -- combines bright fruit and peppery flavors with heft, stemming from the Garnacha grape. Borsao Rosado is the consistent quality-value leader (under-$10.)
For white, this is one time of year I recommend domestic Chardonnay, with oak flavors to echo the smokiness of grilled poultry, seafood and veggies (including corn and corn tortillas). In descending concentration of oak, look for Bernadus "Monterey County" ($22), Reata "Carneros" (under-$20) and great value Light Horse ($15).
Portugal has put shoulders on her white wine presence too, expanding from simple Vinho Verde to the more complex Alvarinho grape. Alvarinho offers green apple and stone fruit flavors and eye-popping acidity to enliven the palate after the juiciest sausages, grilled seafood and light meats. Favorites include Quinta de Solheiro (where the winemaker's sister is the local sausage-maker) and Muros Antigos, both about $25. Look for both at Alvarinho specialist, Lush Wine and Spirits in three city locations.
Don't discount sweeter wines. In the same way that molasses, honey or brown sugar balances the spice in Southern and Caribbean barbecue sauces, overtly fruity or sweet wine -- including sweeter styles of Rosť, French Vouvray and Riesling -- balances the spiciest sausage, sauce and rubs.
German estate-bottled Riesling of Kabinett or Spatlese designations offer thrilling complexity, but prices begin at more than $20. Unless your meal requires elegance, choose the more casual and affordable QbA designation.
Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler "Noble House" QbA and Dr. Loosen "Dr. L" QbA both offer succulent nectarine and brown spice flavors, creamy texture and long, vivacious finishes to add refreshment, not heat, to spicy dishes (both about $12). These stone fruit flavors also complement fruit-based barbecue sauces. For all QbAs stick to the 2012 vintage.
A wurst brett (sausage board) is a flavorful German antipasto and buffet-style main course for your outdoor meal. On one or several boards, arrange potato salad, pickled red cabbage, radishes or radish dip, butterkase and cambozola cheeses, sliced apples, Black Forest ham, mustard and grilled sausages.
Chef Martin's Alpine Brand offers a full range of sausages -- including knackwurst, smoked bauernwurst and curry brat (this reporter's favorite with German Riesling) -- made with natural ingredients and authentic recipes from Germany and Austria. Look for them at suburban and city grocers ($6.99 per 12 ounces/four sausages).
• Write to Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.