Most of us believe that finding the ideal wine for an occasion—even one as general as "summer"— requires wandering through aisles, comparing labels, shrugging, and then ultimately heading home with whatever seemed best. But Jeremy Allen, a certified sommelier and general manager of MiniBar Hollywood, has a trick that's much more simple. "I just think of parts of the world where it's super hot," he says. "Think about Spain, South Africa, and California, and then drink what they drink. They've already done the work for you."
Allen describes a summer wine as anything that falls into a bright white or pink category. Tasting them should help you imagine sun-soaked grapes, he says, much like the shades and tastes of a vinho verde, Penedes, or Arneis. "I like wines that evolve in the mouth—nothing complex, but maybe they start off creamy and clean up citrusy," he explains. "For summer reds, I still want them to sing with bright fruits, but have more cherry and tart berry flavors, as opposed to plums."
We asked Allen to make this selection process even easier by recommending 11 wines for summer that'll keep you from wandering without direction. And if you have trouble deciding what to eat with a bottle, Allen has you covered. "Go for anything fresh, raw, and cold: oysters, grilled stone fruit, white cheeses, and green herbs, for example," he says. "For hot foods, you either want grilled bread or tacos." Read on to get even more helpful tips.
"The soft fuzz of an early summer, barely under-ripe apricot will kiss you on the nose first, and then when you sip, it'll move to candy wax and then to lime," he says. "This sauvignon blanc is great alone or with food."
"This is soft and delicious, but still tart, dry, and elegant," Allen notes. "It has a great use of subtle, neutral oak and stainless steel, with a tiny percentage done in a concrete egg to make the hipsters happy."
"This is the perfect pale pink—pleasant and approachable—with strawberries and grapefruit starburst," he says.
"This one has a great nose and is a bit tropical and mouth-filling," he explains. "It's great for large groups."
"This has an organic and sustainable blend of chenin blanc (you're going to notice a trend soon), chardonnay, and viognier, and it has just the right amount of each," he says. "It has a tiny bit of the best musky oak on the nose, followed by Juicyfruit in the mouth. It's like a baby Vouvray, at a price where you can buy cases instead of bottles."
"This one tastes like a mango Popsicle dipped in coconut and lime, and it all comes from the fruit instead of wood," Allen says. "Chardonnay can be really beautiful if you don't hide the fruit."
"I can't say enough about this underpriced fake champagne," he says. "It's bright, dry, and creamy—a blanc de blancs that's cellared a minimum of 36 months before release. It's so inexpensive and so good."
"If you can get your hands on any of this, do so," he continues. "It's juicy and grape-y without being sweet, and it is tart enough to keep you thirsty. Palmina makes our house wine for Little Dom's, so we're at the winery a couple of times a year to smuggle out a few bottles of sparkling red when they're not looking."
"The biggest favor you can do for yourself in a restaurant during the summer is to ask if they have any cold red wines. If they do, you'll know that they know what they're doing," Allen says. "Cambon on a wine menu is a signal that someone cares—it's easy drinking with no tannins. It's good at cellar temp and great chilled."
"Technically this is a fortified wine, but they use their own riesling as the base, and their own grape-based spirit, and they grow nine out of the 10 botanical ingredients themselves," he explains. "Sip it on ice before dinner. It's a gentle cinnamon kind of apple cider thing that settles into peachy-toasty thing. It's also great with barrel-aged gin on ice."
"This Little Lilly is already a little creamy and milky white. Get a bunch of these single-serving bottles super cold and you basically have alcoholic sorbet," he says. "It's next-level frozé."