Summer glugging: it’s time for lighter red wines to shine

In warmer weather, we want reds that are low in alcohol but still high in flavour

Many of us drink lighter red wines throughout the year, but once summer comes around, it seems essential to avoid those big brawny red wines in favour of something more refreshing.

By light, I mean light in alcohol and body, but not lacking in flavour. Light wines don’t have to be cheap either – some of the greatest red wines of the world are low in alcohol. But for summer drinking, we are looking for something to serve lightly chilled, alongside salads, cold meats and seafood, possibly outdoors, so we don’t want to spend too much.

This week three of the featured wines cost less than €15 and all are under €20. All are 13% alcohol or less, perfect for summer drinking.

Some grape varieties naturally produce wines that are lower in alcohol. Otherwise it comes down to where your vineyards are sited, and when you harvest your grapes. As grapes ripen, sugar levels increase, and those sugars convert into alcohol during fermentation (unless you want a sweet wine).


Therefore, wines from cooler climates tend to be lower in alcohol and lighter in body. A producer in a hot climate can harvest earlier to produce a lighter wine, although it does change the character of the wine.

The two best-known regions for summer reds are Beaujolais and the Loire Valley, and I shall return to these later in the season. But today’s wines all come from other less obvious regions.

Portugal produces a wealth of lighter red wines that offer great value for money. Look for Bairrada, Dão or Lisboa on the label. Next door in Spain, Ribiera Sacra produces some stunning light reds, as do Ribeiro and Bierzo. Austrian red wine, made from Pinot Noir, Blaufränkisch or Zweigelt, has improved hugely in recent years.

Moving on to seemingly warmer climates, Swartland in South Africa has stunned the wine world with some excellent lower-alcohol wines; I featured the Leeuwenkuil Cinsault (€15, Marks and  Spencer) a few weeks ago, or take a look at for a superb range of South African wines.

Not too long ago virtually every red wine from Chile came in at 14% alcohol or more; these days many producers are picking earlier, and cooler regions such as Itata and Bío Bío now offer some fascinating light wines.

I have written before in favour of  drinking bigger, fuller-bodied red wines with barbecues, but actually lighter reds, with their refreshing acidity, can work very well too. Try one of the reds below with your next barbequed pork or burger.

Chilling a red wine brings out the fresh fruit and acidity. It also heightens the tannins, so avoid anything too dry and tannic. Chilling doesn’t mean ice cold; take it out of the fridge 20-30 minutes before serving. Then kick back and enjoy!

Bottles of the Week

Bairrada Messias Bairrada Selection 2014 12%, €12.95
Refreshing damsons with a lively acidity; perfect with rich pork dishes such as roast pork with beans.
From Karwig Wines, Carrigaline, Cork; 1601 Off-Licence, Kinsale, Co Cork; Select Carry-Out Off-licences

Costa Fresca Pinot Noir 2016, Casablanca, Chile 13%, €13.30
Vibrant, bright summer fruits; tasty redcurrants and red cherries with a pleasing ripeness. A seared breast of duck or maybe a rare tuna steak.
From Marks & Spencer

Cantina di Negrar Corvina IGT Verona 2015 12.5%, €13.95
A lovely light, juicy, fresh red wine with beautifully defined crunchy dark cherry fruits. Great value for money. On its own, or with a plate of charcuterie and some crusty bread.
From; Sheridan's Cheesemongers

Pitti 2016, Weingut Pittnauer, Burgenland, Austria 13%, €18.95
Very moreish, lively, pure blackberry and redcurrant fruits, with a lightly tannic dry finish. Posh sausages or a steak.
From Green Man Wines, Terenure; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4; Mitchell & Son, chq, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue and Dunboyne; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin; Morton's, Galway; D-Six Off Licence, Dublin