It's important to change your wine list to match the seasons, or you could be losing out on sales. Fiona Sims looks at summer's best wine options
If you don't change your wine list with the seasons you're missing a trick. All those dense reds and viscous whites will languish in the cellar while customers search out lighter styles for the summer months. But what to choose? Your first thought should not be about grape variety, but style - and as we're in the middle of summer, lighter styles and lower alcohol.
Over the past decade alcohol levels have been rising steadily - by about 2% across the board, thanks to our thirst for fruit-driven wines. These days the average white wine is 13.5%, with reds 14% or more. But who wants to chew their way through a 15% alcohol oaky fruit bomb on a hot sunny day? Fewer of us, it seems. A more crisp, fresher mouth-feel is important, yes, but it's the alcohol content that has become a major talking point in recent years as the trend for lower alcohol wines continues, particularly during the summer.
The latest figures from Wine Intelligence, which canvassed 1,000 regular drinkers in the US, China, Germany and the UK, show that a significant majority said their ideal wine would have less than 12% alcohol. In Britain, 22% said their ideal wine was 10.5% or less (with a similar response in Germany and the US). And guess what - it's the younger generation that is driving this trend. In the UK, 27% of the 18-39 age group said they would prefer wine with a 10.5% abv or less.
The survey was commissioned by German wine trade fair Prowein, which obviously has a drum to bang - namely the abundant choice of naturally lower alcohol German wines that they have to offer. But bang away they should - German wine is still woefully underrated in the UK, yet it's the first place you should look to when building up your summer list.
Elegant and mineral-rich, Mosel Rieslings offer a thrilling combination of piercing aromatics, zippy acidity and impressive length. With alcohol levels typically at 7-11%, they are a must-have for any restaurant that is serious about offering a summery list. Try the peachy, grapefruity 2011 RK Riesling QbA from Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt (£8.26, OW Loeb, 020 7234 0385). Get advice from your wine merchant as Mosel Rieslings have widely varying levels of residual sugar, and range from dry to off-dry, medium to sweet. And talking about sweet, lower alcohol wines, there are some fine Moscatos around - a good one to try is the 2011 Moscato d'Asti from Vittoria Bera in the Piedmont, with a 5.5% abv (£12.04, Les Caves de Pyrene, 01483 554750).
For more lower alcohol inspiration - and you can forget deliberate low alcohol wines, which invariably fall flat on the taste front, look to north west Spain and Albariño, and Vinho Verde just over the border in Portugal. Look closer to home, too - English wines, particularly sparkling, regularly score lower than average alcohol levels and are raking in the awards (see Sommelier Soapbox, opposite).
Summer reds? Sales are up in Beaujolais (particularly the crus) thanks to its recent ‘Picnic by Beaujolais' campaign, pushing chilled reds through the summer months. With an average abv of 12%, it's an obvious answer to the rising demand for lighter, chilled red wines. An enduring favourite is Marcel Lapierre's Raisins Gaulois, perfect for the carafe or by the glass, decanted from a five-litre wine box (Les Caves de Pyrene, £45.50, or in bottle, £8.19).
The Chileans also want in on the act. Cono Sur (available through Matthew Clark) has launched a ‘Keep Cool' on-trade campaign for its Pinot Noirs this summer with a plethora of merchandise to support any operator wanting to give it a go - including an interactive tent card with built-in thermometer strip.
"Ordering a chilled glass of Cabernet Franc in France is commonplace, so why not Chilean Pinot Noir?" shrugs Cono Sur chief winemaker Adolfo Hurtado, who makes five different Pinot Noirs, all of which are available to the on-trade. "Pinot Noir works well chilled, it has slightly higher alcohol and chilling it makes it taste softer," he explains. Even at 10e_SDgrC (Cono Sur's recommended summer drinking temperature for its Pinot Noirs), you can still taste plenty of the Reserva Especial's signature ripe black cherries, raspberries and plums.
"Why stop at Pinot Noir? Cooler climate Chilean Syrah is also great chilled," adds Hurtado.
SOMMELIER SOAPBOX: ENGLISH WINES
Laura Rhys, head sommelier, Hotel TerraVina, Hampshire
For years, English wines have been subjected to mockery and ridicule. In some cases this may have been justified, but in others, I think it has been unfair.
I understand that we don't have the history of winemaking that countries like France or Italy has, although the Romans did make wine here. We also don't have the huge wine tourism of countries such as South Africa and California. However, we have some great vineyard sites, albeit in selected parts of the country, and we have passionate winemakers, with ever-increasing levels of knowledge. I think we are really at the beginning of something very exciting.
Perhaps, at this point, it's good to determine where our strengths lie. We will not be fantastic producers of bold, ripe juicy red wines, but our sparkling wines have won great international acclaim and royal warrants in recent years, with some lovely examples of lighter white wines coming through, too.
The future for English wine is very bright, and with the support of UK consumers it can only continue to grow. Try the 2011 Bacchus Dry from the Camel Valley in Cornwall (£12.43, Enotria), and Nyetimber's 2003 Blanc de Blancs, made in West Sussex (£26.11, Liberty Wines), and "Britagne" Rosé NV, from Coates and Seeley, in Hampshire (£22.50, Liberty wines).
Caterer and hotelkeeper wine clinic
"I want an own label wine for my restaurant - how do I go about it?"
There are plenty of wine suppliers out there who will create own label wines for you - mostly working with larger producers to create something cheap and cheerful to shift as house wines, slapping a different label on to something already out there.
In fact, many of the big restaurant operators are already doing it - they get the label they want, for the price they want, and that's about as involved as it gets. But a growing number want something more bespoke - quality wine at a higher price point, offering diners something unique.
Check out the own label wines at Gaucho Restaurants, chosen by wine buyer Phil Crozier, who also helped to make them. He started with three entry-level wines and now has many different wines under his Terruño label, made for him by different Argentine wineries in a range of price points. These make up the bulk of his sales - and Crozier uses agents to import them so he doesn't have to fiddle around with any tricky paperwork.
"I'll go out there and oversee it, though I try not to meddle with the winery style too much. I just ask them to bring out the fruit, make the wine with more acidity, more freshness," he says.
Five summer wines that will leap off your list
1. David Round
020 8965 2000
2011 Moscato d'Asti, Paolo Pizzorni, Piemonte, Italy £7.00
Simply the best wine for a summer's day. This lively fizz is very aromatic, with distinctive grapiness and terrific freshness. It is low in alcohol (5.5%) and beautifully balanced, making it very drinkable on its own, while its sweetness makes it a perfect partner for all manner of fresh fruit desserts.
2. Steve Daniel
01582 722 538
Gaia Wild Ferment Assyrtiko 2011 PDO Santorini, Gaia Estate £12.96
Amazing modern wine from the oldest vineyards on the planet. Fermented with wild yeasts in oak and acacia and stainless steel, this unique wine is loaded with volcanic mineral, lemon zest, spice and white flowers on the nose. An Aegean Le Montrachet! The palate is immense but beautifully balanced, with a finish that goes on forever, and a weight that makes it extremely versatile. Perfect with a tranche of turbot or chargrilled pork steak, but will also work with Indian cuisine.
3. Tony Allen
2011 Oakridge Chardonnay, Yarra Valley, Australia, £20.95
A single vineyard Chardonnay that is pristine, complex, balanced and versatile, and yet it has pedigree nervousness. It is fresh and well toned and carries no excess weight or bling. Gun flint, stony minerality, peach fuzz, white blossom and citrus all combine to showcase the best attributes expected from the new generation of Aussie Chardonnays. Great match with fish, seafood, lighter fowl dishes, salads or even farmhouse mature cheddar.
4. Philip Tuck
2010 Jean Luc Colombo Les Collines de Laure, Vins de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes £9.89
Made from young Cornas wines which are destined for this appellation when they come of age, making this truly fantastic value for Northern Rhône Syrah. Named after Jean-Luc's daughter, who is now making wine with him, it is packed with ripe, juicy red fruit characters with a spicy backdrop and a seductively smooth structure, which makes it approachable enough for a wine by the glass on its own or with a perfectly cooked juicy steak and chips.
5. Sophie Menegain
Meander MoscatoBreedekloof, South Africa - £5.49
Moscato as it should be - a flamboyantly fizzy and softly sweet wine with delicious mouthwatering flavours of grape and peach. Light in alcohol (7.5%), so ideal as an aperitif or digestif, or match it with that great summer dessert; Eton mess.