Summertime is synonymous with pools, picnics, and parties. And that, in turn, leads us to discussions about the beverages that fuel the fun. Beer often leads that list, and frequently, lighter wines. But what about reds? As it turns out, red wine can fit the bill equally well, so we went out to find some outstanding but less well-known bottles to test the theory. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of options, and we were fortunate enough to receive samples from several esteemed producers that make a bold summer statement.
But first, a bit of housekeeping. Despite receiving these wines as samples, the opinions expressed in this article (and all of our articles) are solely our own. We never pull punches on our reviews, even at the risk of upsetting those providing the samples. Additionally, we don’t receive any compensation from the suppliers for writing articles (other than the supplied samples). We are an entirely independent and wholly owned news organization. This has been a PSA from Wine and Whiskey Globe!
Now, on to the roundup! The five selected wines are sourced from four countries: Italy, Argentina, Chile, and Spain. These nations are increasingly renowned for their wines and are as unique as they are varied. I feel fortunate to have this opportunity to explore these wines, and equally excited to share my findings!
Donnafugata is one of those vineyards that focuses on producing consistently high-quality but thoroughly accessible wine. Founded in 1983 by fourth-generation winemaker and female viticulture pioneer Gabriella Rollo and her husband, Giacomo, they’ve incorporated wine, music, and art to create wines of quality and distinction. The fifth generation of Rollos currently helms the operation. I had the pleasure of sampling two of their recent releases, and I was quite impressed.
The first, La Bella Sedara, from the Sicilia DOC, is a core yearly release for the winery, consisting primarily of Nero d’avola. A native grape suited to the hot, dry climate, Nero is one of Italy’s oldest indigenous grapes. It’s a deep, dark red grape, often compared to Shiraz, producing big, juicy reds and Marsal Rubino. This wine follows suit, with intense berry and plum notes backed by spicy black pepper hints. Think “tart cherries meet plum pie.” Firm but manageable tannins lead to a round mouthfeel with a mildly prickly red fruit finish. It makes for a great everyday food wine and would work beautifully for a summer BBQ of burgers, steaks, and ribs.
I also sampled their Dolce & Gabbana 2019 Tancredi. A blend of cabernet sauvignon, Nero d’avola, and Tannat, this beastly and bold red is the type of red wine that I live for! Aged for a minimum of 12 months in first and second-fill barriques and then three years in the bottle, it has all the earmarks of a library wine; complexity, depth, and body. Intense dark fruits, oak, and spice on the nose lead to hints of minerals, cooked cherries, eucalyptus, and peppermint. The mouthfeel is round and brawny with prickly tannins and a hint of cedar chips. It has layers of flavor, rotating between dark cherry, blackberry, and cooked plums. Secondary layers reveal mint, licorice, prunes, and cedar, and in the swallow, more dark fruit, vanilla, coffee, and a distant hint of leather. At the end, I detected distant hints of black pepper, tobacco, and cherry pie. This is an elegant wine, equally suited to chateaubriand, filet mignon, prime rib, or (dare I say it?) char-broiled burgers and other grilled meats. So, yes, it would be an ideal addition to your summer fun!
Bodegas Valdemar (Spain)
Bodegas Valdemar is another family-owned and operated winery, this one with over 130 years of winemaking history. Starting in the 1980s, they have been pioneers in winemaking innovation, including becoming the first non-American-owned winery in Washington state! With the knowledge imparted by their father, Jesús Martínez Bujanda, Ana and Jesús Martínez Bujanda are leading the two wineries into new and exciting winemaking ideology.
I recently had the opportunity to sample a 2018 Rioja DOC Conde Valdemar Crianza Tempranillo. This varietal has taken the world by storm, with many producers making world-class wines. This wine is no exception! Contrary to popular misconception, Tempanillo’s similarities to Pinot Noir are limited to its color and bottle shape. Inside, it’s a powerhouse red more akin to Cab Sauv, although typically a bit lighter in body. On the vine, it’s a nearly black grape that produces a deeply colored yet medium-bodied wine.
This specific wine is a Crianza, the second tier of classification for Rioja DOC wines. While Crianzas are a step up from younger styles common to less expensive table wines, this blend of 89% Tempranillo, 7% Mazuelo, and 4% Graciano spends 17 months in American oak barrels. It pours a deeply red color in the glass, with black-tinged edges. The nose leads with intense black cherry notes, backed by anise, chocolate, milked coffee, vanilla, and spice. It has a moderately round mouthfeel with notable oak overtones. The swallow reveals a mix of berry notes, including blueberry, black currant, and black plums. Cherry resurges on the finish, along with more oak, vanilla, and spice. Tannins are light, and its mild acidity amplifies the jammy fruit flavors. It is clearly one of the reasons that the winery receives such high accolades. It’s a lovely food wine, especially for lighter meats – ideal for grilled pork. I enjoyed mine with BBQ’d baby-back ribs!
Viña San Pedro (Chile)
Founded in 1865 (hence, their 1865 Select Vineyards line) in Chile’s Curicó Valley by the Correa brothers, San Pedro is one of the country’s leading wine producers and exporters. With multiple wineries and vineyards spanning Chile’s varied terroir, they focus on exploiting the nearly ideal growing conditions to produce a wide swath of superb varietals for international consumption. 1856 Select Vineyards, just one of their many brands, produces consistent award-winners. The 2019 San Pedro Select Vineyards Carmenère is no exception.
Carmenère originated in France, originally used as a blending grape but prized for its deep roots. It’s one of the original six red grapes of Bordeaux and is considered among the oldest, although its plantings in France have declined to the point of rarity. However, it found a home in Chile, which is now the world leader in the grape. Producing wines similar in color, body, and style to Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s used as much for blending as for producing stand-alone bottlings.
The San Pedro’s Select Vineyards Carmenère is a consistent award winner; big, bold, and robust. That said, the 2019 I sampled did not quite live up to its predecessors. Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s a great wine. It’s just a tad lighter and softer than previous vintages I’ve sampled. Which, of course, is why it made this roundup! That slightly lighter profile makes it more appropriate for the point of this article – summer fun! Well suited to grilling and hot-weather meals, it’s an excellent match for burgers and grilled meats. Carmenère has long been one of my favorite reds, so I always look for ways to expand its use.
This vintage pours a deep ruby in the glass, immediately releasing notes of plum, blueberry, and cassis. The fruit is backed by coffee, chocolate, and a noticeable layer of cedar. Moderately tannic, it’s definitely a food wine. Extended airing enhanced the roundness, but the tannins were still evident. I think a few more years in the library would help mellow the tannins. The swallow reveals a silky baked plum pie sensation, followed by hints of mint and winter spices. I preferred the 2018, but I did quite enjoy this bottle!
Graffigna Wines (Argenta)
Last but certainly not least, we have Argentina’s 2020 Graffigna Glorious Selection Malbec. Graffigna is another long-standing brand, founded in 1870 by Santiago Graffigna, an Italian immigrant who planted the first vineyards in Mendoza’s Valle de Uco. The oldest winery in San Juan, and one of the most historic in Argentina, the winery takes great pride in its original winemaking philosophy. Interestingly, it’s owned by the same parent company that owns Chile’s Viña San Pedro!
I’ve had prior Graffigna Malbecs, but it’s been years, and I don’t recall the vintage. This 2020 vintage is 100% Malbec and is aged 12 months in French oak barriques before bottling. Malbec is one of my favorite summer reds – typically lighter than cabs and well-suited to lighter meats. Don’t believe me? Try serving it up with grilled pork chops or dry-rubbed pork ribs. This particular Malbec pours a gorgeous ruby red with effusive aromas of currants, blackberry, raspberry, and fresh plum juice backed by hints of sweet cherries and winter spice. The swallow reveals noticeable oak supported by firm tannins, followed by an almost juicy mouthfeel. Hints of savory spice and floral notes round out the mildly acidic finish. It’s a distinctive well-built Malbec perfect for serving with food.
So many people equate summertime with light and fruity wines – after all, it’s hot! But I must disagree! Summertime is barbeque time, and that means grilled meat! What do you serve with grilled meat? Why, red wine, of course. By way of my impeccable logic, it’s evident that summertime is really red wine time. So, throw on those shorts, grab an inner tube, and crack open one of these beautiful bottles. You’ll be glad you did!