Drink These Reds On a Hot Summer Night With Steak

While most of the northern hemisphere seems to be sweltering, it is worth considering the argument that red wines aren’t appropriate for hot weather drinking.

The rationale seems commonsense enough: red wines are too heavy and warm when it’s hot and humid; they aren’t all that appealing coupled with the sort of cold foods served in summer; and high alcohol reds are not what you want to be drinking in the broiling sun.

White wines from an ice chest seem a more amiable and refreshing choice and go best with summery foods like fish, chicken, Caesar salad and pasta primavera. If there is a better gastronomic marriage than a steamed lobster with a great chardonnay, I cannot imagine it. With oysters, the classic match-up is chablis.

Rose is often the chilled alternative to red, and sparkling wines with low alcohol, like prosecco and Spanish cavas, are terrific aperitifs.

Nevertheless, summer is a time for grilling and barbecuing steaks and hamburgers. And that people dine in restaurants with plenty of air conditioning, evens out the playing field for wines. “I’m still seeing a lot of red wine sales this summer,” says Dale LoSasso, general manager and wine director for the new Tongue & Cheek restaurant in steamy Miami Beach.

Burger Companion

“Not huge cabernets or Bordeaux, but plenty of pinot noir and lighter style reds. We sell a lot of cheeseburgers and people order riojas and tempranillos from Spain and South America. What we don’t see as much are people ordering big red wines like shiraz and zinfandel,” she says.

Pinot noir is an especially good choice for grilled red meats in summer because it usually has softer, less pronounced tannins and lower alcohol levels than big-fisted cabernets. Pinots are also more adaptable to barbecue spices, as are the Spanish and South American reds LoSasso mentions. “We have a lot of Latin American guests and they are used to drinking lighter red wines with their meals year-round,” she says.

At a summer’s dinner earlier this month at New York’s Gotham Bar & Grill, I asked wine director Eric Zillier to choose wines to go with our meal. (Zillier left his job at the restaurant on July 13.)

For our dish of cheese-filled agnolotti with morels, fava beans and leeks, he served a white Burgundy. He went with a rich pinot noir from Burgundy, a 2006 Nuits-Saint-Georges “Aux Boudots” Jerome Chezeaux for our pork chop with strong flavors of roasted fennel, radicchio, bacon and apple in a balsamic reduction.

Alsatian Riesling

“I am always dish specific with my wine suggestions,” says Zillier. “With the earthy pasta dish I think you can taste the intricacies of the dish better with that white Burgundy. With the pork dish there’s a lot you can do, from a white Alsatian riesling with lots of spice to a red cru beaujolais or Loire Valley sancerre or chinon. The Nuits-Saint-Georges I chose had acidity and its own spice, and it’s only 13 percent alcohol.”

Then there is the steak quandary, which is no quandary at all for those will always order big red wines. “We seem to be an anomaly,” says Marc Passer, beverage director for Fourth Wall Restaurants, which owns the Smith & Wollensky steakhouse and Maloney & Porcelli in New York. “We can have a table of 10 guys who order Silver Oaks Cabernet with oysters, and we sell a lot of older vintages of Jordan. They love the big California style with their steaks.”

Summer Swelter

David Flom, general manager and partner of Chicago Cut Steakhouse agrees. “Americans have a love affair for steak with cabernet and it’s never going to change. Ninety percent of our guests order the same thing when it’s 95 degrees outside as when it’s 30 here in Chicago. But if I’m asked for something lighter, I’ll suggest an Oregon pinot noir, which has depth and rusticity but not the heaviness of a cab.” Flom also insists that the wine temperature should be served cool, ideally at 66 degrees.

Still, while I’m fine drinking cabernet sauvignon with a porterhouse cooked on the patio grill in 98 degree weather, my preference is to tone down the alcohol while still seeking body and texture. My favorite is a chianti classico. Then I can pretend for a moment I’m in the Tuscan hills, feasting on bistecca alla fiorentina.

(John Mariani writes about wine for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Jeff Burke on books and Warwick Thompson on theater.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.